A paper from Finland in a controversial area of vaccine research was peer reviewed and provisionally accepted. At the revision stage, the journal received a letter from a researcher based at an immunotherapy company in the United States, raising serious doubts over the analysis of the Finnish data. This author claimed to have been involved in the research, and proposed an alternative interpretation of the data. This letter was forwarded to the authors, who acknowledged that the American author had highlighted some major errors which they corrected in a further revision of their paper. But they disputed his interpretation of their data. The Finnish authors acknowledged the advice given by the US author, but did not declare any financial input from him. They denied that he should have been cited as a contributor on the original paper. In due course, the paper was published. The American correspondent continued to telephone and e-mail various members of the editorial team, seeking to have published alongside the paper a short report, carrying his opposing interpretation of the data. This request was declined, on the grounds that he was not the author of the paper and therefore had no ownership of the data. But he insisted that the original idea for the study had been his, and that he had contributed more than £500 for secretarial support to enable the study to be carried out. Should he have been cited as an author?
_ The American did not do the research; he generated the hypothesis that the Finns tested, using the data they had generated. _ He could be a contributor, therefore, as he meets the criteria for authorship, and his money was also accepted, suggesting collaboration. _ The American published a letter in the journal about the Finnish data, so he has been able to respond to the findings. _ It is not up to the editor to determine who is a contributor and who is an author; it is up to the Finnish employees to decide _ It is not for COPE to dictate on this issue, although COPE inevitably gets drawn into author disputes.
The case has prompted a formal complaint to the Finnish employers and to the relevant journal committee.