An invite for a review was made by journal A. The first revision was done six months after submission, and the second revision two months later. Three weeks after submission of the second revision, the editor’s decision was minor revision. At this point, the corresponding author, author X, informed the editor of journal A that the authors were reluctant to respond to the comments of the second reviewer. However, they did not formally decline to revise or withdraw their manuscript from journal A.
Then, author Y contacted the editor of journal B, a review journal which normally commissions its content, to ask if the review would fit into the scope of journal B. The editor of journal B agreed to a submission. He was aware that the review was previously submitted to journal A. Author Y indicated that he wanted to remove the article from journal A and publish it elsewhere. The editor of journal B sent the review for peer review.
Two months later, the editor of journal A contacted author X as the deadline to submit the third revision to journal A was approaching. Author X accepted an extension to submit offered by the editor of journal A. One day before the deadline, the authors contacted journal A to withdraw the paper from publication and mentioned that the review was accepted by journal B.
A month earlier, after one round of peer review in journal B, the first revision of the review was accepted by journal B.
The editor of journal A contacted the editor of journal B, stating that there was simultaneous submission. The editor of journal B contacted their publisher, and the production process of the review was stopped. However, at this stage, it was too late to stop the “in press” version from appearing online. Journal B began an investigation and contacted journal A and author Y. Author Y said he was submitting the case to the ethics committee of his institution. Journal B decided to wait on a final decision until the report was received. Journal B communicated this to journal A. Meanwhile, journal A was concerned that the review was appearing as “in press” in journal B during the investigation. Journal B then temporarily withdrew the “in press” version of the review until a conclusion to the case was reached.
Journal B concluded that this was a case of simultaneous submission without aiming at duplicate publication. Journal B received the report of the ethics committee of the institution from author Y. The report did not find against the authors because they did not submit a revision to journal A while the paper was being peer reviewed at journal B. Author Y said that the authors would like the review to be published in journal B. Journal B forwarded the report to journal A.
Journal A would like journal B to keep the review as withdrawn. Journal A is also clear that it does not want to further consider publishing the review as a matter of principle.
Questions for the Forum
- Does the Forum agree with the conclusion of journal B that there has been simultaneous submission without aiming at duplicate publication?
- Does the Forum agree with the conclusion of journal A that there has been unethical behaviour on the part of author X (on behalf of the other authors) because they did not formally withdraw the article from journal A while waiting to see if the review would be accepted by journal B?
- Does the Forum agree with the conclusion reached by the ethics committee of the author’s institution?
- Given that there is no scientific problem with the review and that there has been no duplicate publication, should journal B publish the review with a note mentioning that the review was initially submitted to journal A?
- Should journal B keep the review as permanently withdrawn as there was simultaneous submission? If yes, could the Forum advise on relevant text for the note?
- Are there any other recommendations?
The Forum noted the policy of dual submission has not been honoured but there is little than journal A can do.
In this case, it seems that the dual submission was not deliberate bad practice on the part of the authors. The authors made the mistake of not withdrawing their article from journal A before submitting it to journal B. The authors may have wrongly thought that journal A knew they wished to withdraw their paper when they stated that they did not want to respond to the comments of the second reviewer. However, they should have engaged with the journal to formally decline to revise or withdrawn their manuscript from journal A at this point, or when journal A offered them the extension. The authors were in the wrong but perhaps they should be given the benefit of the doubt of deliberate dual submission.
Journal B is not at fault as the authors did not make it clear that the paper was still under consideration at journal A. Dual submission in itself may not be sufficient reason for retraction, although it results in wasted time and resources for the journal and reviewers. Journal B should be allowed to re-instate the paper. But journal A should contact the authors about their behaviour, explaining what they did was not good practice.
Some journals state in their information for authors that dual submission is grounds for automatic rejection. There could also be copyright issues if the authors have signed an agreement with the journal.