Reviewer requests to be added as an author after publication

Case number:
15-05

Case text (Anonymised)

A paper was submitted to our journal. The associate editor assigned to the paper immediately assigned a reviewer who he knew was well qualified to give a good review, as they had worked with the authors before. The editor did think it odd that the reviewer was not an author on this particular paper, given the close collaboration. However, when invited, the reviewer (R1), did not flag up any conflict of interest or request that they should be an author on the paper.

The reviewer returned a very good review and along with another two reviews (R2/R3), and after revision (where the revision once again was sent to R1) the paper was accepted and published.

A few months later, the journal was approached by another researcher (E1 who is from the same laboratory as R1) who said that this paper had been published with an incomplete author list and that they wanted the paper retracted as they had not been included. After discussions with the editors of the journal, a corrigendum was agreed as the best way forward to amend the author list, as there was nothing scientifically wrong with the paper.

In the course of the conversations with E1, it became clear that R1 was involved in the publication from the beginning (specifically designing the experiment discussed in the paper). In the meantime, the corresponding author supplied the editors with the corrigendum text where a new expanded author list was outlined, which included E1 and R1, and the acknowledgements were also updated to include several other researchers’ contributions. Along with the corrigendum text, the corresponding author also included pdfs of emails they had received from all of the authors (including E1 and R1) in which they agreed to be named as an author.

The editor in chief has written to the corresponding author saying that it is not possible for R1 to be included in the author list as they had been a reviewer on the paper, and did not flag up at any time that they thought that they were an author. The editor in chief suggested that R1 be withdrawn from the author list proposed in the corrigendum. The corresponding author replied that there had been a meeting between the two laboratories affected, the content of the paper was evaluated and those people who should be listed as authors were identified. R1 was identified as an author during this meeting (as well as E1). The corresponding author acknowledged that there was a clear conflict with R1 having reviewed the paper, when they should have been a co-author. The corresponding author suggested that R1’s review be stricken from the record and the other two reviews used as the reason for accepting the paper.

The corresponding author wants to have R1’s contribution to the paper reflected in the author list and has requested that we publish the original corrigendum. The journal editors have discussed this and have come to the conclusion that although there is nothing scientifically wrong with the paper, it will need to be retracted as the peer review process for this paper has been compromised. They are willing to give the authors the chance to resubmit the paper with the full author list and have it re-reviewed (new handling editors and reviewers).

Question(s) for the COPE Forum
• Should the editors offer the option of a revise and resubmit following a retraction?
• If the authors do revise and resubmit, it is likely the paper will be accepted (as there is nothing scientifically incorrect with it) so there is a possibility that the journal will have a retracted paper and a published paper which look very similar by the same (if expanded) author list.  In this happens, would a cross linked editorial be needed to explain the situation?
• Is a retraction merited given there is nothing scientifically wrong with the paper?  A suggestion has been made to publish the corrigendum with just E1 as author (not include R1).

Advice: 

The Forum agreed that the peer-review process had been compromised and therefore the paper should be retracted. A correction would not be sufficient, even though there is nothing scientifically wrong with the paper, as the peer process has been corrupted. The Forum agreed it was would be acceptable for the editor to offer the author the option of revising and resubmiting the paper following the retraction. The new paper would have to be considered as a new submission and should be reviewed by a new set of reviewers. It was noted that a recent issue of The Lancet (31 January 2015) contained a re-published article that had originally been retracted. There was also a linked commentary explaining what had happened. It was suggested that the editor may wish to use this as a model if he wished.

The Forum questioned the behaviour of the reviewer. Has the editor asked the reviewer why he did not recuse himself from reviewing the paper? The reviewer does not seem to have conducted himself in an ethical manner.

An alternative suggestion was for the editor to consider whether or not he would have published the paper based on the two reviews of the original paper (excluding the review by R1). If it is the normal policy for the journal to have two reviewers and there were three in this case, but only one was compromised, perhaps the paper could stand? The editor would still need to publish a corrigendum explaining the revised authorship but he could justify publication based on the other reviews.  In a similar vein, a suggestion was for the editor to consider post-publication peer review of the article, especially as he believes it to be scientifically sound.

Follow up: 

The editor decided to follow the alternative suggestion put forward during the COPE Forum, and publish a corrigendum, where researcher E1 has been included as an author of the article and the reviewer R1 has been mentioned in the acknowledgements section. From the journal’s perspective, the case is now closed.

Resolution: 
Case Closed
Year: 

Comments

  • Posted by Julia Hargreaves, 27/10/2015 1.06pm

The Case Text is almost perfectly anonymised, but in the Advice we can see that everyone involved in this was, in fact, male. Phew, that's lucky! We women don't need to worry about this happening to us. As is obvious from the Case Text, to make this story relevant to all, you can use labels such as "the reviewer" and, additionally, "they" is nowadays understood as a substitute for "he", "she" or any of the ugly "he or she" mixtures.

  • Posted by Ian Stolerman, 26/11/2015 1.48pm

Reviewer R1 and possibly the Editor as well seem to have behaved inappropriately. R1 should have declined to review due to conflict of interest. If this happened with the journal that I edited I would regard it as a rather minor ethical breach and would inform the author of my view, but not take any further action unless the offence was repeated.

Ideally Editor should have been aware of the possible association of R1 with the other authors. If he/she had known of their collaborative arrangement then R1 should not have been invited to review.

  • Posted by Ricardo, 26/11/2015 7.01pm

Case number:
15-05

If the editor knew that the original authors of the paper were colleagues or previous colaborators of R1, he should not have send him the article in the first time, as a conflict of interests is evident. Furthermore, if R1 is later claiming its co-authorship in a paper HE REVIEWED, the editor should not have make any changes to the status of the article, and send a warning to the authors so they do not repeat this behavior; as not being sure of the authorship of their work is not something minor, or even not to publish them again.

  • Posted by Antonello Grippo, 3/2/2016 3.27pm

I totally disagree with the decision, I also believe that the peer-review process have been compromised .
The authors behavior was unethical and whatever the good results induce doubt about ethics of publishing and behavior in scientific world

  • Posted by Ajuju, 3/2/2016 3.28pm

R1 knew that he had collaborated in the work he inappropriately reviewed without letting the editors know. He knowingly and deliberately compromised and tainted the review process. Moreover the editor knew or expected the reviewer to be part of the work submitted for publication, yet did not bring this up with him or her when assigning the paper for review. Thus both the editor and R1 contributed to corrupting the review process. The best solution is for the journal not to accept the entire manuscript irrespective of whether R1 is included in the author list or not. This is the only way contributors will have complete confidence in the review process and the only way this type of practice can be discouraged, and the journal can maintain its integrity.

  • Posted by Anonymous, 3/2/2016 3.36pm

At least, the name of R1 has to be removed from the list of Reviewers.
About the manuscript, in my oppinion it has to be submited to an extra Reviewer.

  • Posted by Prof. Dr. Gamal..., 3/2/2016 3.36pm

This paper must be rejected no othre chance to be given.

I do believe all authors knew the situation in advance.

  • Posted by Jan H. Göthlin, 3/2/2016 4.04pm

A very judicious advice

  • Posted by Gary Lewis, 3/2/2016 4.40pm

The issues raised suggest the institutions involved do not have strong or detailed authorship policies.
R1 should probably have informed the journal that he had a role in the design of the experiment. But design is a long way from the publication of findings/results. In other words - you can contribute to the study, but if you did not contribute to the paper and the findings your should not be an author. A review of a paper may make a contribution, but it does not constitute authorship. Another more negative way of defining authorship would be - if the publication was later found to have serious methodological problems or the data were manipulated to assure a result, would R1 and E1 accept responsibility and consequences.
Recommendation: when you start, identify authors and contributors to be acknowledged.

  • Posted by Eugenia FAGADAR..., 3/2/2016 6.15pm

The misconduct/questionable behavior of the reviewer is clear, but in my opinion it might be also a problem of ethics of the whole group of authors.
When proposing a reviewer, the corresponding author receive the advice not to belong from the same country, so the same group of collaborators is even more restrictive and it represents a clear conflict of interests.

  • Posted by Doug Belfry, 3/2/2016 7.14pm

l'm surprised how little l've thought of this issue. ln this case the conflict of interests of R1 would be insignificant had there been many other reviewers.

  • Posted by Sabino A. Bufo, 3/2/2016 8.11pm

Perhaps, it is not ethically correct to add the names of other authors after the article was published, unless the error has been made by the publisher. In a case as I'm concerned, I was noticed that the data obtained in a project I was responsible for had been fraudulently published in an article without my name. I protested to the corresponding author who asked the editor to add my name, but he refused.

  • Posted by Igor Vodyanoy, 3/2/2016 9.39pm

I would not allow the unethical reviewer to review any other papers period. I also would request to resubmit the paper as a new submission but still without the unethical reviewer, the other omitted author (E1) can be added if other authors agree. I would also write an editorial note on the case.

  • Posted by Garry Wang, 3/2/2016 10.32pm

I believe it is the corresponding author's responsibility to ensure the authors list is correct prior to submission. The journal and publisher do not have to be involved in this. In this case, E1/R1 should
take proper actions to against the authors in the paper.

  • Posted by Dr. P.H. Bamaiyi, 4/2/2016 1.25am

Interesting case indeed. In addition to what the editor did, in my opinion the reviewer should be reprimanded for an unethical behaviour by not raising the issue of conflict of interest when he was approached for a review of a paper that he was a party to.

  • Posted by Prof. Suresh Ku..., 4/2/2016 3.10am

Yes,
I completely support that only E1 should be added as a author and not the Reviewer R1. If R1 wanted to be a coauthor, he should not have accepted to be the Reviewer and should have pointed out immediately to the Editor when he was asked to Review the manuscript. This is correct that R1 has not acted in an ethical way and thus cannot be put as an author, even if the paper is resubmitted.
I strongly support this view so that the Reviewing Process is never ethically compromised.
Most of the time, no body asks you to solve a problem. Thus ethical approach is of utmost importance in scientific issues. One additional paper for R1 in his/her list of publications may not matter much, but it is against the ethics to ask for the authorship after reviewing a paper.

Prof. S.K.Aggarwal, BARC, Mumbai, India
[email protected] gmail.com

  • Posted by Steven Tumwesigye, 4/2/2016 8.14am

In my view, it was even wrong to include author E1 on the paper. Everybody involved in the process made a mistake but the journal and editors made the biggest mistakes. The guidelines spell out the issues of Ethics and other guides before a paper is accepted. There are always lines which state, 'when you submit, you will nolonger be able to edit the document.' In my perspective, that should have been final. Now, if there are complaints later, which can also call for legal matters, and the journal commissions an inquiry, and it is found that there was a mistake the paper should have been withdrawn from the publication journal and not published at all however much it was scientifically sound with an appealing impact..

I earlier suggested that there should be 'blind reviews'. I also suggest that immediately after the paper is submitted, before the editor sends it to different reviewers, he/she would first come back to authors to ask a second time if there are serious and significant issues to sort out.

Additionally, I take this opportunity to suggest that the journals revisit their corresponding guidelines and refine them. Take an example I have encountered in many elsevier-mediated journals. Here it goes, "The paper must not exceed 8 figures/tables". Following, I have seen articles with varying illustrations: some totalling to 8 illustrations, others with 8 figures and additional tables or vice versa. I suggest that some parts of the journal guidelines should be revisited for purposes of clarity to authors since manuscript inventors will always be at different comprehension levels.

  • Posted by Bendiabdellah A..., 4/2/2016 8.52am

I believe that this kind of problems may taint the credibility of the journal. The journal editors should be above these situations and should never involve themselves in these kind of conflicts. They should not offer the option of a resubmitted or revised paper after retraction. In fact, the reviewer R1 (the pretended author) should assume fully his responsibility. If he claims now his contribution in the paper, he should have refrained himself from reviewing the paper from the beginning, as he can not be the judge and the guilty at the same time. Although there is nothing scientifically wrong with the paper, the ethical and deontology aspects can be raised. So the author E1 has full right to be the author of this paper once accepted by the reviewer R1 (and not the author) and the two other reviewers R2 & R3.

  • Posted by Mehmet Numan Alp, 4/2/2016 9.06am

I primarily prefer to focus on the editor’s behavior. Like me, one may think that the editor sent the manuscript to R1 on purpose in order to put the authors in an ethical trouble. R1 also purposely did not flag up that he/she had a co-authorship relation with the authors. I do not know why R1 was not included in the authors list at the beginning, but there is something wrong. I agree with the FORUM, not to include the R1 as an author. Moreover, R1 seems to lost his/her reviewer’s trust characteristics. Scientific excellence includes ethics, without ethics it is only a raw data, but nor science…

  • Posted by VASULU T, 4/2/2016 9.39am

With so many complications and conflict of interest between the author and reviewer etc., the best for the journal to return the paper to the concerned so that they may get a chance to submit it elsewhere, in the meanwhile, giving a caution to the concerned that lack of ethical respects and scientific spirit will not to be entertained here after

  • Posted by Mr M, 5/2/2016 2.11pm

I believe these options for E1/R1 were only provided because Heavy-Weigh Authors were involved, and/or are friends of the Editor. The ethical guidelines are clear in most Journals and no other author should be allowed to be part of contributors. It is a major flaw from the Journal, Editor in chief and the Editor involved in the case. It is a shame this happens as it is so difficult to publish a paper and for much less one is rejected.

  • Posted by Alicia Gibello, 5/2/2016 6.08pm

This is an interesting case. in my opinion the reviewer R1 and the researcher E1should not be added as authors of the paper. R1 should have declined to review due to conflict of interest, so the behabiour of R1 was not ethically correct and he/she should be censured. I think that after submission it should only change typographic mistakes in the names or surnames of the authors.

  • Posted by Wasim Khaliq, 6/2/2016 5.20pm

I feel the R1 breached ethics twice, once by not raising conflict of interest and reviewing the work of the authors he knew well, and then by showing interest to be an author on the paper he had reviewed as an independent author. Actually his second action accentuates the first breach and unethical behavior, otherwise if he was ethically strong his independent review could been credited. In any case the whole peer review process has been compromised with an onus on associate editor as well. I feel a stricter decision should have been taken, like retracting the paper and disallowing it to be published in same journal. The final decision is quite lenient and mild.

  • Posted by Ashish Badiye, 10/3/2016 6.13am

Such situations will keep on arising if appropriate measures are not taken to create awareness among the researchers (authors) regarding "Ethics in Publishing". Guidelines should be clear and stern. It must be included as a compulsory part in the foundation/refresher courses. Ethical committee of the institution must be well versed with the latest developments and guidelines issued by COPE and the same must be taught to the students/researchers.