The PhD supervisor and a co-supervisor published a paper. The paper contained the work of a PhD student; approximately 90% of the paper was from the thesis. The PhD student found out when the paper was electronically pre-published. He contacted the supervisor. The supervisor’s first reaction was “How did you find out”? The supervisor did not want to include the PhD student as an author since he himself had done most of the work. The editor decided to remove the paper from the journal until the case was decided.
The editor contacted the supervisor and he stated that he would have included the student as an author when the paper was accepted. Contact with the co-supervisor (and co-author) showed that he was not aware of the paper. He found the quality too low and did not want to be involved. He informed the editor that a similar case with the supervisor had occurred in another journal, 2 years earlier. (The editor contacted the editor of the other journal who confirmed that a similar case had occurred and the paper had not been published.) The paper was finally removed from the journal; no paper version had been printed.
What do we do in this case? We want to ban the supervisor but allow the student to publish. The editor told the PhD student that he could submit a paper himself. However, the quality may not be sufficiently high for it to be accepted. To date, the PhD student has not submitted a paper to the journal.
The Forum emphasised the fact that if something is published online (especially it it has a DOI number), then it should be considered published. Hence, an editor cannot simply remove a paper from their website. A paper should only be removed from on online site if it has been formally retracted. In this case, the paper should be re-instated on the website, with an expression of concern. The editor should contact the author’s institution at a high level—perhaps the head of department or dean of the university—and request that they conduct an investigation into this case. An expression of concern can be published on the website while the editor is waiting on the outcome of the investigation. Depending on the outcome, the editor may then decide to retract the paper. COPE does not recommend banning any author because of the legal implications. The editor may want to discuss this with his publisher.
I followed the advice from COPE and contacted the university in question and asked them to investigate the case. They have responded that they will investigate and come back with their results.
Follow Up (December 2010):
The editor contacted the institution and asked for their decision but they did not respond. The editor now considers the case closed.