A journal received a request for multiple changes to the authorship list after the manuscript was accepted. Originally, there were five co-authors. After acceptance, the journal received the following requests from author A, the corresponding author and co-first author: remove one of the co-authors (author D), add a new co-author (author E), reorder the list of authors, and change the designated co-first authors.
The publisher explained that before processing any authorship changes after an article is accepted, the consent of all co-authors is required. All authors except author D responded promptly, and author A ultimately had to chase author D. The response from author D was somewhat suspicious; it was from an unfamiliar email address (ie, not the one provided at the time of submission of the manuscript), the text matched verbatim the response from author A and was oddly phrased, and the email was unsigned. Given these peculiarities, the publisher quickly replied to author D, asking if they could reiterate their consent to the proposed changes, preferably via an institutional address. Author D never responded, even after sending a follow-up message. Without that confirmation, the publisher did not think they could presume to have author D’s consent to make the changes requested by author A.
Author A insisted on the changes but eventually said that to avoid further delays, the publisher could proceed with publication using the current author list. The article was published. After publication, however, author A contacted the publisher again, claiming there had been a misunderstanding and that they still wanted at least author E to be added. The publisher reiterated that consent from author D was outstanding, even for that one change. Author A again chased author D, and the publisher suddenly received a follow-up email stating they agreed to be removed as a co-author. However, that email was even more suspicious; a third non-institutional email address was introduced, the spelling of author D’s first name changed between the second and third email addresses, and the spelling of the author D’s surname in the body of the third email did not match any of the email addresses, any prior correspondence, or the published article. The publisher suspects the corresponding author forged both of author D’s responses, but this is a serious accusation, particularly without having definitive proof.
Question for the Forum
- Given the concerns about the validity of author D’s emails, how should the journal and the publisher proceed?
The Forum suggested contacting author D directly by telephone, rather than by electronic communication. The journal might also consider requesting handwritten signed agreements from all of the authors.
If the journal’s suspicions are correct, an expression of concern should be published, and author A’s institution should be contacted and asked to investigate.
The Forum suggested that the journal might consider trying to validate the authors by asking for ORCID IDs from all of the authors or some other form of validation.
The publisher tried calling author D, but that method proved unsuccessful. After sending several additional emails, author D finally responded from an institutional email address, agreeing to the proposed changes, and the journal published a correction updating the author list. The publisher considers the matter closed.