On review of a paper for Journal A, a referee recognised entire paragraphs of the manuscript from two published review articles that he himself had written. Both reviews were referenced in the manuscript with regard to particular topics, but the verbatim paragraphs were not attributed to the previously published reviews. The editor rejected the paper and pointed out the apparent plagiarism to the authors. The corresponding author replied: “…This review article was ‘written’ by Dr X, whom I have never met. He sent the article to Dr Z, who was on sabbatical in my institution. Because of my interest in the subject of the review, Dr Z asked if I would review the article, make some additional comments and act as corresponding author. At no point, did it cross my mind that some paragraphs copied verbatim were already present in it …” The corresponding author went on to say that he accepted full responsibility, would never again co-author an article with someone he didn’t know, and asked that his explanation be forwarded to the authors of the review articles with a further apology. The editor has taken no further action, but wants to know whether the head of department, the ethics committee of the institution, or the scientific misconduct committee of the corresponding author should be informed.
_ The issue of authorship is a secondary problem in this case. _ The editor has an obligation to contact the head of the institution. _ It could be recommended to him/her that a document about the responsibilities of authors be circulated to employees of the institution. _ The original letter of submission should be checked to see if all of the authors had signed it.
After discussion with the editorial team the editor decided not to contact the senior author’s head of institution. The editor spoke to the senior author, who, it turned out, had participated only peripherally in the paper. This had been submitted by a very junior foreign scientist who had been a guest in the senior author’s laboratory for a few months. The senior author was mortified and very upset. He felt betrayed by the first author—however, he had taken responsibility for the validity of the manuscript by agreeing to serve as a co-author. He replied ruefully that he thought he was just doing this foreign scientist a favour. The senior author informed the first author that his manuscript was plagiarised, that it was disgraceful, and that he insisted the manuscript be withdrawn from further consideration and that he wanted no further interaction with him, scientific or otherwise.