Like many journals, we do not collect actual signatures of each co-author, asking the corresponding author to declare on a form that, among other things, he/she has the authority to submit on behalf of the others
A paper was published in our journal in April 2010. Shortly afterwards, we were contacted by one of the authors saying that he and his colleagues had been unaware of the existence of this paper and that the corresponding author, who had been visiting their department from another country, had taken data from their database and written and submitted the manuscript without the permission of the department or hospital. His first knowledge of the article was when the publishers had sent him a set of proofs (since the corresponding author had not responded to their emails); unfortunately, he did not tell us then, before publication, but contacted the corresponding author directly in an attempt to stop publication and had assumed it had been dealt with
I asked him to check the data and he did so, saying that while they were not inaccurate or unreliable, they presented an incomplete picture and the paper ought to be considerably revised to incorporate other data and a fuller discussion, in order to put it into context
Meanwhile, I have written to the corresponding author without response. My intention is to contact the corresponding author's institution(s) if there's still no response by the end of May. I have also written to the research ethics committee at the hospital concerned to check that approval was given as claimed in the paper (so far also without response).
My suspicion is that the claimant is correct, that the corresponding author has behaved improperly. In due course my intention is to publish a notice to this effect, that will include any response (or lack of) from the author and his/her institution; clearly, I will need to gather more information if possible and give the institutions time to respond.
My question is whether it would be better to do this in the form of a correction, setting out the circumstances and including any supplementary information supplied by the claimant, or to retract the paper and allow the claimant to re-submit a revised version, accompanied by a notice of some kind. And whether it would be worth publishing a statement of concern in the meantime while investigations are ongoing. The paper itself is a review of patients of a particular type, undergoing a particular treatment, so it does not claim that treatment X is better than treatment Y although it might contribute to treatment decisions in terms of counselling/offering that treatment to these patients—thus does have clinical implications.
The advice from the Forum was that there has been serious misconduct and so the paper should be retracted, even though only the corresponding author was involved in the misconduct. Although the data are not in question, most believed that the paper should be retracted. If the investigation is going to take a long time, then the editor should publish a notice of concern. Going forward, the advice from the Forum was to always contact all of the authors, and not just the corresponding author, when the journal is dealing with any manuscript.
I intend to issue a notice of retraction after the final deadline for the authors’ institutions to respond (or be listed as having not responded). I have had confirmation from the ethics committee that they did not know about the study, even though it was claimed that ethics approval had been granted. The remaining authors say they have a revised manuscript in preparation and we will consider this as a new submission if/when it is submitted. In the meantime, the journal has adopted the suggested policy of emailing all of the authors, and not just the corresponding author, when the journal is dealing with any manuscript.