A manuscript was submitted to our journal. After review we asked for revision. At this time we sent a formatting checklist which includes criteria for authorship. Two authors were removed in the resubmission. Eventually the manuscript was published.
At this time one of the formerly included authors contacted us, asking why they were no longer cited. We asked the submitting author, who explained that the complainant should never have been listed as an author by our definition (which matches the ICMJE criteria), but should have been acknowledged. We are currently in communication with the complainant over the exact nature of their involvement with the manuscript.
During discussion of this situation, the submitting author revealed what may be institutionalised authorship problems at their university.
“According to the rules of the university, PhD students have one supervisor and several advisors. They have to publish at least one article with each advisor (whether the advisors help the students or not). Students do not choose their advisors and the university managers directly propose them to the students, so some of the advisors could not or do not want to help the students.
At that time, I submitted several papers concurrently and I had to include the advisors’ names in all of the submitted articles to get at least one acceptance in an international journal. Before my paper was accepted in your journal, another article with all of my advisors as authors was accepted in another journal. So my supervisor recommended that I remove the advisors’ names, because they did not help me in preparing this paper”.
We contacted the supervisor (senior author on the manuscript) and received confirmation that they had made this recommendation. Neither the submitting author nor the supervisor have indicated that they are aware that gift authorship is generally considered wrong.
Would COPE read this situation as a university in need of education, in addition to individuals in need of education? Would COPE recommend contacting the editor of the journal publishing the author's previous article and explaining this situation?
When the paper was re-submitted excluding the names of two authors, the journal should have sought agreement from these two before publication. Although not done in this case, the editor said that he would seek written consent from excluded authors in the future. Also, the excluded authors should have been acknowledged on the paper. The discussion that followed centred on the issue of gift authorship. The university is in need of education, and the editor should write not only to the authors’ departments but also to the faculty heads explaining the details of this case and emphasising the fact that gift authorship is an unacceptable practice.
We have written to the institution involved but have heard nothing back. We will try some other names at the institution. We have since revised our internal guidelines to require confirmation from all authors every time an author is added or removed from a paper. Trail has now gone cold now (1 December 2006).
In 2003 a paper was published in a specialist surgical journal following proper peer review. The paper summarised the experience of a group of clinicians concerned in treating malignancy in the Head and Neck using a novel method of therapy - and was a case series of 25 patients. The paper was not considered to be one of high priority but was published because of the paucity of information concerning this method of treatment in the literature. The principal author had 3 co-authors all of whom signed the relevant documentation stating that they had played a substantial part in the preparation of the manuscript and stating that there were no conflicts of interest to be declared. Copyright, following publication, was ascribed to the publishing journal.
In May 2005 the editor of a prestigious journal in the United States sent an e-mail to the current editor in this country stating that he had been in receipt of a manuscript, submitted electronically, which appeared to be an attempt at duplicate publication. He requested that a pdf file of the original article was sent to him and, in due course, confirmed that the new manuscript that he had received was a re-write of the already published paper with the addition of one extra case. The original paper was not cited in the new manuscript. The co-authors had mostly changed but the senior author and one co-author were common to both papers. Once again a covering letter had been received alleging that a substantial original input had been made by all the authors and stating that there were no conflicts of interest outstanding.
The American editor has now written to the senior author of the received manuscript requesting an explanation for this attempt at duplicate publication. To date no response has been received. He, together with other senior editors in the United States, has already published an editorial stating that plagiarism or proven duplicate publication would be punished by denying the individuals concerned access to publishing rights in the major American journals. No tariff was laid out in this editorial and the exact time for which those proven of fraud or fraudulent behaviour would be denied publication in the United States was not proscribed.
The situation is further complicated since the editor in this country is a professional colleague of the senior author who is alleged to have attempted this duplicity. In addition to this the senior author has already, in the past, been suspended from clinical practice for a period of four months while an untoward clinical incident was investigated and a Royal College of Surgeons inquiry was instituted.
Pending further explanation the senior editor in this country has already been in touch with the other British publication covering the same topic areas and both are agreed that they will, in principle, follow the American lead and will deny publication to those proven to have been engaged in duplicate publication or plagiarism. Both have also agreed to write a joint editorial on this issue once the outcome of this case is known.
However I would be grateful if advice could be given to us concerning the appropriateness of such action and also if some insight could be offered as to whether alternative action might prove preferable in this instance.
The committee thought that this was almost tantamount to blacklisting. COPE has never suggested blacklisting as a method. The journal should decide if there should be a notice of duplicate publication and then notify the authors.
The committee thought that it is not right to ban authors, blacklists raise a myriad of legal difficulties and also have a lack of due process. A better route is to contact the institution.
At the subsequent committee meeting in December 2005, the previous advice from COPE regarding the “blacklisting” of authors who attempt duplicate publication—namely, that such action could have serious legal implications and publishers and editors should be very cautious of going down this route—was re-emphasised by the chair. Any attempt to deny authors access to journals might put the publishers of those journals at risk of legal action. Faced with this problem of duplication publication, another less risky route might be for editors to develop a “grey list” of those authors who may have transgressed in this regard, in order that special attention may be paid to articles they submit.
A review article by an expert group plagiarised an article from another journal. It was largely a direct translation, involving large slabs of the text. Some of the authors are on the editorial board of the journal where the paper was published. There was no declaration that this was a translation of another article.
The editor is potentially in a very difficult situation, and someone will have to search through the work of the entire group to see if this has happened before.
The minimum charges here are that the authors have received gift authorship.
Write to all the authors separately and ask for an explanation.
Write to the authors’ institutions.
Inform the advisory board.
Retract the article.
Check all the articles from the authors.
Remove the offenders from the editorial board.
The paper was retracted by the authors, who gave all sorts of explanations, from trying to get around the allegations, to saying they shouldn’t have been listed as authors. The editor wrote an editorial on the paper, which attracted considerable media coverage. Members of the editorial board were removed and the institutions involved took the matter very seriously.
Sixteen randomly chosen papers were examined from a PubMed search of 370 publications between 1995–2000 by the same author. Two papers were virtually identical, differing only in the form of the introductory paragraph and the list of authors. Neither publication acknowledges the other. Another paper reported a “second ever published case”, and two subsequent papers reported the same “second” case without reference to the earlier published paper. The text was again very similar. Subsequently Journal A received a paper which was rejected. Apart from a change to the list of authors, it was identical to a paper that had been published two years earlier in a different journal. A paper with the same title and introduction had also been published in another journal. This could not be inspected as the journal is not available in any UK research library. Two further manuscripts were submitted to Journal B, one in the form of a letter, and the second a full research paper. The letter was lifted directly from the paper; furthermore one of the tables was identical to that presented in the paper. A further paper which had originally been rejected was resubmitted to Journal B, albeit slightly expanded, but with an entirely new list of authors. An independent statistician reviewed both papers and found that the content of two tables was identical except for the p values. Many of these had acquired a significance not suggested in the first manuscript. Further to this example and the examination of just a few of the listed publications, clear cases of duplicate publication and attempted duplication were found. It’s worrying that seemingly similar work can have different lists of authors, which suggests “gift” authorship. Changes in details of treatment and statistical significance throws the veracity of some of the work into question. Furthermore, the group’s general failure to cite its own publications suggests a deliberate attempt to cover up duplication. The editor of Journal B wants to inform the author that his publication will not consider any further submissions from this group. There is no guarantee that manuscripts would be original and issues of copyright are unclear. The editor would also like to alert the editors of the other journals involved. Is this a reasonable course of action to take?
_ A wider enquiry would have to be made; merely writing to the authors would not be enough. Independent assessment had been obtained in which the author’s misdemeanours were very evident. _ This was a matter for the author’s institution(s) to investigate. _ Previous cases of gross duplicate publication had been detected by simply undertaking searches on MedLine. _ The role of all of the co-authors whose names appeared on several of the papers was also questionable, although many might be unaware of their involvement due to gift authorship. It would be unwise not to consider any publications from this group until all of the authors had been approached. _ The main issues for the editors were retraction and notice of duplication of known articles and referral of the authors to the head of their institutions, raising the issue of the wider crime of fraud. _ Overseas regulatory bodies often don’t reply, perhaps because they are uninterested or feel it is not COPE’s business to investigate misconduct. _ Check the submission letter to see if all of the authors have signed it. _ The editor should present a fuller version of the case presented at COPE to the corresponding author and all co-authors who were repeatedly linked to this work, asking for a response. _ If there is no reply, or only an unsatisfactory reply is received, then send a second letter asking for a response, giving them a set time limit in which to reply. _ If still no reply is received refer the matter to the authors’ institution(s). _ The journal editors should jointly publish a retraction and unravel the story in an editorial. _ A further option would be to send a letter to a national journal such as The Lancet or the BMJ, exposing the duplication.
The corresponding author had signed the submission letter on the other authors’ behalf. In view of the large numbers of co-authors involved, the editor considered it impractical to write to them all, but contacted the editors of three other journals where there was evidence of duplicate publication. One editor said that his journal was already refusing to consider any more work from the corresponding author. The other two editors indicated that they would take up the cases of duplication publication with the corresponding author. One of the three journals was in the process of publishing an apology, along with a fourth journal, concerning a separate case of duplication from this group. The corresponding author had also been contacted and indicated that the cases of duplicate publication emanating from his group could have been due to insufficient care being exercised by some of his staff. After consulting the journal’s editorial board the editor decided not to consider any further manuscripts from this group because they could not be confident that the work would be original.
A paper was submitted for which there were seven contributors, but no corresponding author. The only identification of who had sent the paper was an accompanying e-mail from a public relations company. When contacted by the editorial office, the PR company confirmed that the paper was to be considered for possible publication. The named contributors were then contacted and asked whether they had given permission for their name to be attached to the paper, asked who was the corresponding author, and also if they wished to declare any conflict of interest. This produced a very interesting flurry. One author said the paper had been produced as a result of a seminar to which he and the other contributing authors had been invited. He himself believed that he was simply giving advice to the drug company concerned, for which he had received a fee. He believed that a misunderstanding had led to the PR company to send the paper for review, but that he had no knowledge that they had done so, and suggested that the paper be shredded. Another author telephoned to say he could remember very little about it and certainly hadn’t seen the final document. A third author telephoned in some distress, anxious that he might be accused of some form of misconduct and had never thought that his involvement would lead to a paper being submitted to a journal. The most interesting letter of all was from the first named author who had subsequently written an editorial for the journal that was fairly critical of the drug concerned. The PR company who was acting for the drug company, she said, had submitted the paper on her behalf without her knowledge. Guidelines about the drug had also been published, with which she was not happy, but she had eventually signed an agreement to let her name be used in connection with these. The company told her that she was the only person among all those attending the seminar who had refused to do so, and as such, was creating unnecessary difficulties. The same company had previously published another article to which they had put her name, but which she had not written. This author feels very abused, particularly as she wrote to the PR company requesting that they did not use her name again. The intriguing finale to the story is that a Royal College had been negotiating with the PR company to represent it. On hearing of this incident, the College decided to make other arrangements.
A case for the record, and one that could be used when reviewing the COPE guidelines.