A research letter was submitted from a team of investigators,A, B, C, and D. In their covering letter they reported that: A was involved in planning the study, collecting patient samples, and in writing the manuscript; B measured IL-10 polymorphisms and analysed the results; C was involved in supervising the measurement of polymorphisms and in writing the manuscript; D was involved in planning the study and writing the manuscript. The letter was peer reviewed and published. The corresponding author was D. Ten days later a letter was received from B and C who work at a different institution from D, inviting us to publish an erratum. Their substantive corrections were noted, together with the comment that “in addition, we wish to point out that B and C contributed equally to the content of this report”. C also enclosed a copy of a letter to D stating that he was very unhappy about the fact that the others had never seen the proofs so that the mistakes,as shown enclosed, could have been corrected. C considered it unethical not to show coauthors the proofs. Further strong comments about the breakdown of the research collaboration followed. D replied “surprised and saddened.”He argued that in the collaboration “the idea for this research was therefore entirely generated by us”. Furthermore, he said, B and C “saw and agreed to all the changes in the short manuscript and the final version that was submitted to the journal with all our signatures.” He went on: “I had to review the proofs within 24 hours and fax them back. There was no time to send this to the other authors for their approval (and we do not do this routinely in our department as it is usually the responsibility of the corresponding author). I am very concerned that you have sent off a letter to the journal without the courtesy of letting us see it beforehand. This is most unusual behaviour and can only have a damaging effect. The erratum is curious as these changes should have been made in the original manuscript.” What do we do about the alleged and apparently disputed erratum? Should journals have a clear policy about authors (all, some, the senior, or only the corresponding) seeing galley proofs? If so,what should the policy be?
There is responsibility to ascertain if there really is an error. The editor thinks that if there is, then it is an interpretive rather than a substantive error. The authors did not see the edited manuscript. It was agreed that it is the corresponding author’s job to clear changes with other authors. D removed B and C from the collaboration. This whole situation is not the fault of the journal, but the authors themselves. The editor should: either: invite B and C to write a letter to the editor and show it to A and D for comment. This way, the editor can ventilate this problem as a duty to readers; or: go back to the authors’ institution and have them resolve the dispute.
In March 1996, journal A published a case report about an eye condition with two authors credited, Drs X and Y, both radiologists. Exactly two years later, one of their former colleagues (Dr Z) wrote to the editor claiming that she had been responsible for the patient’s care; she was the ophthalmologist on call the night the patient was admitted. She argued that, as the clinician responsible for the patient, her name should have been on this case report. Indeed, the clinical facts of the case were, she alleges, inaccurate.
Dr Z wants journal A to publish a full case report with additional facts about the case history. The editor of journal A wrote to the corresponding author of the original case report. Dr X discovered that the patient’s chart was missing; it had been taken out at the request of Dr Z. It turns out that Dr Z was “moonlighting”in the hospital at the time that the patient was admitted. The clinical history remains disputed. What should the editor do next?
Authorship should have been resolved before.
The authority needs to hold an inquiry.
The true facts or a retraction should be published.
After looking at the available evidence, it was felt that the claimant did not have a strong case for authorship
An author submitted part of his PhD thesis as a paper. The section editor of the journal asked the PhD supervisor to review the paper. This induced a very heated response from the reviewer who made various claims regarding the paper:
The author does not credit one of the tests he uses in his work
There is no proper acknowledgement of co-workers who perhaps should have been co-authors (including the reviewer himself).
The manuscript is similar to others—one published with the reviewer’s name but without his consent
The author is taking credit for work done by others—most notably the reviewer
The author has refuted many, if not all, of the allegations
What should the editor do now? He has invited advice from the university who awarded the PhD, but is not sure what standpoint the university will take, particularly if there is any allegation of misconduct at a scientific level which can be supported by hard evidence. At the moment, the editor is inclined to go ahead with publication and call the reviewer’s bluff. However, this might be expensive in litigation.
COPE advises the editor to back off this one and let the university sort it out. The editor should certainly not publish the paper or do anything further until the university reaches a judgement.
The editor informed COPE that the reviewer who had complained about the author plagiarising his work had backed down. The paper was re-reviewed in the normal way.
Last year, a paper was published with four named authors. The journal concerned then received a letter from another person claiming that they should also have been credited with authorship. That person (Dr M) had been the second author on an abstract with a similar title presented at a conference, on which the authors of the published paper were also named authors. The journal wrote to the first author of the paper (Dr L). She responded as follows: “The abstract was one of three submitted by our research group, describing early findings from two separate studies that investigated the epidemiology of gonorrhoea. All of the abstracts were written by Dr L several months before the meeting. Dr M was not involved in the published study, but as part of the research group, and could potentially have contributed at a later stage. With the benefit of hindsight Dr M’s name should have been included only on abstracts from the study in which she was participating.” According to the first author of the paper, Dr M’s involvement in the research had been to conduct interviews with patients and enter data from those interviews. Dr L goes on to say in her letter: “Dr M did not participate in conception or design of the published study which started before her contract began. She did not contribute to data collection, data entry or editing, statistical analysis, interpretation of results, drafting or revision of the manuscript.” Dr L then goes on to describe the contribution of the other three named authors of the paper, all of whom seem to have contributed to conception, data collection and revising of the manuscript. The point of issue here seems to be that Dr M was part of the research group, although not directly involved in the study which was published in the journal, despite the fact that her name was included on the abstract when it was presented at the conference. According to Dr L, the project on which Dr M worked directly has not yet been written up. According to Dr M, as second author on the abstract, she was not told that her name would be omitted from the list of authors when the paper was submitted for publication.
· She sounded like a contributor, not an author.
It is common practice to put people on abstracts even when they had only had a small part.
It is dangerous practice to involve someone at one level (in this case the abstract) but not at another (the paper), without making the arrangements explicit at the outset.
Doubts that this is the business of editors.
There was an extensive literature on authorship that people could be referred to.
This is an institutional problem. Conclusion The editor should ask whether Dr M had even discussed the matter with Dr L; Dr M and Dr L should be asked to get together and agree what their contribution was in the light of the Vancouver guidelines (irrespective of what happened with the abstract). If they failed to agree then the matter should be referred to their institution.