During review of a manuscript submitted to our journal, a dispute arose over some of the data used in the database that was described in the submitted paper.
The authors listed several preferred reviewers and also one non-preferred reviewer (without giving reasons). The journal’s submission site states that the editors will consider the authors’ preferred suggestions but are under no obligation to use any or all of them and that the editors reserve the right to approach non-preferred referees. Authors are asked to outline in their comments to the editor any particular reasons for requesting exclusion.
The paper was initially positively reviewed by two referees, one of them a preferred referee, and minor revision was requested. Neither of the initial referees responded to the invitation to review the revision (they neither declined, nor agreed, just did not respond) and as the senior author had already published with virtually all important scientists in this small field, the associate editor decided to invite the non-preferred reviewer. The non-preferred reviewer and one new reviewer agreed to review.
Shortly after accepting, the non-preferred reviewer emailed the editorial office asking whether it was journal policy to publish a reference to a database without any scientific study based on these data (the journal answered yes, citing a previously published database description) and stating “I discovered by examining this database that the senior author has used my data without permission. This applies to hundreds of measurements in country 1 and in the mountains, but also to data from country 2”.
The authors state on the database website that the database contains published data and in the manuscript that the “measurements in the database have been collected over the last 20 years from various sites around the world (references given) and are included with permission from the collectors”. The journal informed the non-preferred reviewer that, from what the authors were stating, all data seemed to be in the public domain, but advised him to put his concerns into his review or contact the authors directly, if the reviewer preferred.
By the time the reviewer received this reply he had already submitted his review and informed the journal that he also sent his full review to the senior author. The reviewer also pointed out in an email to the editorial office that the measurements published in one of the cited studies (of which the referee was the senior author) were not published in the form as they appear now in the database, and then accused the senior author of having used information which he collected as a member of the reviewer’s research group a long time ago, and publishing it without the reviewer’s permission. The reviewer thought that the reference to the paper was not sufficient and also stated that the conditions with the mountain data were more serious.
In the review, the referee pointed out three problems: (1) unethical behaviour on the part of the senior author. The reviewer stated that he could not remember having given permission to use the data, but had specifically asked the senior author not to use the mountain data for anything until the reviewer had finished his analysis. He included the original email in the review. (2) potential dual publication. The reviewer stated that because no analysis of the data was presented in the paper, a simple report on the existence of the database was not suitable for publication in a journal and went on to point out that a first version of this database was already published (as cited on the database website, but not in the paper) as a preprint article. As a comparison of the two manuscripts did not reveal any obvious differences in content, the reviewer questioned whether this constituted dual publication. (3) questions over the use of a particular method. The reviewer called the use of this method “scientifically unacceptable”, stating that the problems with this method have been published and concluding that it was unacceptable for the senior author to ignore these arguments (this was not mentioned by any of the other reviewers).
Checking the date of the above mentioned email and the publication date of the preprint article, the journal realised that the reviewer emailed the senior author shortly after the document was posted online. The dispute had thus been going on for over a year by the time the referee was invited to review, but the reviewer had not declared a conflict of interest.
The associate editor, having read both reviews (the second being positive), recommended rejecting the manuscript and inviting a resubmission once the authors either were able to present the permit obtained from the non-preferred reviewer or removed all unpublished data for which no data were available.
In the meantime (and before any action was taken), the senior author, prompted by the reviewer’s email to him, emailed the managing editor and the associate editor, informing them that the non-preferred reviewer used to be the senior author’s PhD supervisor. The senior author rejected as incorrect any claims over the inappropriateness of the method and the statement that the reviewer had not given permission to use what the referee claimed were his data. As the review implies several forms of unethical behaviour on the senior author’s part, he felt the need to clarify.
(1) the criticised method has been used in top tier journals such as Science, Nature and PNAS and has therefore been through rigorous quality control. Since the reviewer’s evaluation of the method did not contain any concrete arguments, the senior author assumed that the reviewer was referring to a polemic about the method by another author, published in the same journal in which the senior author countered these arguments. The method continues to be the most widely used, cited over 90 times (the associate editor points out that it was cited mainly by the senior author’s main group, but that none of the other reviewers have criticised the method). The senior author further points out that this method is not the only one used in the database.
(2) re the inappropriate use of data from country 1, the senior author assures the journal that the referee had been asked and had given permission (an email was attached), but that if the referee wanted to retract the permission, the authors would remove the data in question. Re the data from the mountains and the email sent by the reviewer, the senior author claimed that the email had been taken out of context. The senior author had indeed asked the reviewer about the possibility to perform a separate analysis on the mountain data. According to the senior author it was this request about the separate analysis that the reviewer declined and the request had not referred to making publicly available the data that had already been published in one of the references.
(3) re dual publication, the senior author stated that a beta version of the manuscript, with a completely different code and user interface and only a very reduced set of data, was posted on a preprint server, not a regular journal publication (the associate editor saw no major changes in the number of data entries and that both discuss the database in a similar way, but thought that the submitted manuscript was more detailed than the earlier (preprint) article. Figures are not identical, but basically follow the same scheme. The associate editor left it up to the editor whether he considered a full-length paper that builds upon something that has been published on a preprint server as sufficiently novel).
The senior author finally adds that because of previous similar experiences, the authors had listed the reviewer as non-preferred.
The corresponding author emailed the editorial office offering to remove from the database any data that have been collected with the reviewer’s participation but emphasised that by doing so, the authors do not acknowledge any form of wrongdoing on their part, but seek to make it easier for the journal to make a decision.
After discussions between the editors, the editorial office and the publisher, the decision was to reject the manuscript but to invite resubmission. The letter pointed out (a) the disputed use of data in the database; (b) the question of dual publication; and (c) the scientific criticisms expressed by both referees. It of course included both reviews in full.
The editor confirmed that the journal did not have a policy on whether they will accept material that has already been posted on a preprint server. Preprint servers are not peer-reviewed, so some journals will accept material that has already been posted, but all such prior presentations should be disclosed to the editor in the covering letter. All agreed that the editor should not get involved in an author dispute. The editor could suggest that the authors find an independent adjudicator, that both sides find acceptable, if the authors cannot come to an agreement among themselves. It was suggested that the editor could go to the author’s institution and ask them to adjudicate. The editor should also clarify their policy on preprint servers in the journal’s instructions to authors.
We recently published article A by author group X on our website ahead of print publication and subsequently received a formal complaint from author group Y alleging that the paper constitutes a breach of their intellectual property rights.
Group Y state that the described work is based on a jointly developed concept, initially resulting in a joint report (published 2004). In their view, article A therefore contains their intellectual property, which is documented by frequent email exchanges, delivery of all relevant reagents and two visits by the senior author in group X to group Y's laboratory.
Group Y further state that there has been a previous unauthorised publication of a report that also contained their unacknowledged input (intellectual input and reagents), resulting in group Y prohibiting any further publication on the same topic by group X without their authorisation (!?).
In article A, the authors state that they used commercial reagents, although group Y allege that their reagents were available to group X at this time. Group Y are seeking what they perceive to be correct acknowledgement for their contribution, and there is an ongoing legal dispute, which they are threatening to expand to include article A unless a suitable solution is found.
We approached group Y to clarify if they thought they should be acknowledged on the paper, or even included as authors, but they did not answer, as they believe that group X should be asked to clarify their position.
We approached group X for their response to these allegations. Group X maintain that their collaboration with group Y was their idea, as an obvious extension to their previous clinical publications. Group Y are chemists and had not published on any clinical topic prior to the collaboration with group X. Group X state that the collaboration came to an end in 2006 when the senior collaborator in group Y demanded that either s/he should be named as the last author or one of the junior members of group Y named as first author on any manuscript resulting from the collaboration. Group X considered this to be unreasonable and continued their studies using commercial reagents.
The editors of the journal in question believe group X's response to be appropriate and complete, and find no grounds for taking group Y's complaint any further. The editors would like to proceed with print publication of article A.
Is proceeding with publication at this stage appropriate? The editors are concerned about the threat of legal proceedings, so should they therefore be more cautious in accepting one version of events above another—do they need to request “proof” and, if so, what would this proof consist of? The Forum’s advice on the next steps that they should take would be appreciated.
The Forum agreed that the paper should be considered published. It is irrelevant whether this is online or in print. Although one suggestion was to let group Y have their say, perhaps in a letter to the editor, others cautioned against this approach in the light of unresolved legal issues. If legal proceedings are threatened, the editor should withdraw from the dispute and not investigate the matter further. The response from group X could be shared with group Y only after explicit consent from group X. The advice of the Forum was to go ahead with the print publication of the paper but the editor should not get involved in correspondence between the two groups and should seek legal advice.
The Editor took COPE’s advice and no further action resulted. The editor considers the case now closed.
Our journal has received a paper describing a study that originated as more than one trial in more than one country, with collaboration by researchers in another country. The DSMB considered and agreed a proposal to combine the trials. It took many months to finally submit the manuscript to the journal after the end of trial.
The delay in submission was caused by a dispute with an author (X) from one of the participating sites. X informed the study writing team about scientific and ethical objections to the submission of the manuscript for publication. The writing team (along with various national institutions) tried to resolve the problem, but could not reach a consensus with X. The funder recommended that the writing team should document the opinion of all the members of the team and make a decision about submission of the data based on the majority opinion. The majority (95%) of members provided support; of those who did not, X was one. The journal sent the manuscript out for external peer review, and wrote to the corresponding author to invite a revised manuscript, adding that the journal could not proceed to publication unless the authorship dispute was resolved. The journal received the revised manuscript, and the corresponding author stated that it was the consensus of the writing team that they were unlikely ever to receive support from X, even for this revised manuscript.
Thus far, communications were between the journal and the corresponding author. However, after submission of the revised manuscript, the journal received an email message directly from X, stating that the way the data from the participating site in question are presented (even after peer review and revision) is a misrepresentation. X also stated that those data cannot be used without X’s permission, and asked that, if the journal chose to publish the manuscript, those data should be deleted. The journal wrote to the corresponding author to ask who owned the data. The reply was that the data are owned jointly by the institutions involved in the collaboration at the participating site.
The journal then wrote to the funder to ask for their response to the dispute, and received a statement saying that the funder has been kept fully informed about the problems during preparation of the submitted manuscript. The funder confirmed that the investigators in all countries were able to reach a consensus in every decision-making situation until they resorted to decision-making by majority vote. The funder stated they are confident that there has been no breach of research integrity on the part of the authors and that every effort has been made to achieve consensus on the submitted manuscript. The funder further stated that it has no concerns that would prevent their acceptance of the research findings reported in the manuscript submitted to the journal.
The journal has also written to an independent organisation (other than COPE) to ask for their opinion, and their reply is awaited.
The editor told the Forum that she is planning on publishing the paper and then allowing the dissenting author to write a letter in response. Some members of the Forum argued that the paper should not be published until the authors sort out their disagreements and it is their responsibility and not the editor’s to resolve their dispute. Others considered this was an exception to this general rule in that the dissenting author appeared to be acting unreasonably and the editor felt that every effort had been made to sort out this dispute and that it is very unlikely that the complaining author will ever agree to publication. The Forum noted that this raises the question of data ownership and also questioned why the author has not been more specific in his criticism of the data.
The editor told the Forum that she is planning on writing an editorial to accompany the paper, and the Forum agreed that the whole story should be told clearly in the journal.
A paper was submitted which described the outcomes of a clinical trial evaluating a particular device. The device was claimed to represent a placebo version of an active device intervention. The paper was reviewed fairly critically and one reviewer pointed out that from the reference list it did not seem that the authors had developed this type of placebo device, while the title of their paper suggested that they had. We invited the authors to respond, asking them to address this and other criticisms. The revised paper was then evaluated inhouse and by the academic editor, who commented that the authors still claimed development of the device in the revised paper, citing their US patent. However, the academic editor had previously published work suggesting that his team had developed a similar device before the patent was given (however, the academic editor had not contested this legally at the time). An inhouse editor compared the patent with the previously published papers and the devices did seem very similar.
Before we could write back to the authors with our decision, the corresponding author chose to withdraw the paper for unrelated reasons.
We think that the author will want to publish the paper elsewhere, but wonder what our obligations are as regards to following up the claims regarding who developed the device?
The general consensus of the Forum was that this was a patent issue between the authors and the academic institution. Although it is conceivable that two individuals could have come up with the same idea, the advice was that the journal should not get involved. The view of the Forum was that the editor should not pursue this issue further.
The editors of a scientific journal were sent a letter of complaint from Drs A and B who noticed that a paper had been published online ahead of the print edition authored by Dr C.
Their primary complaint was that they were not included in the authorship and should have been. Other points made in their (rather confusing letters) were that: they had contributed to the paper in the sense that Dr C had used a clinical database which Drs A and B had created and which was at the heart of the research; they had previously asked Dr C to wait before publishing the paper until they had published another paper on a related issue (the “mother paper” on methodology, but this had been delayed by a number of years due to sickness); and Dr A had been the line manager of Dr C (although Dr A has now left the institution). Dr A held the IRB. Dr A had instructed Dr C not to publish until the mother paper was completed.
Dr C was asked by the editors to comment on these points, and he responded by saying that: the intellectual contribution from Drs A and B was minimal; he (Dr C) had added the relevant addendum to the IRB myself; Drs A and B had threatened to ruin his career if he did publish; Drs A and B were preventing publication of the paper by insisting that the mother paper be published first, and yet showed no signs of completing this mother paper; and Drs A and B had now left the institute and the database belongs to the institute. The institute research director (Dr D) knew about the issue and sympathised with Dr C. Dr C was still working at the institute.
The editors felt that it was clear that relationships between Drs A and B and Dr C were poor, and a number of subsidiary points had been made in the letters. However, the journal considered that the issue revolved essentially around whether or not Drs A and B met the criteria for authorship.
The journal website clearly states that the journal follows the guidelines of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors regarding criteria for authorship.
The journal took the following course of action
(a) The editors wrote to Drs A, B and C and asked first that all three liaise with each other to see if they could come to a consensual agreement about authorship. No agreement was reached.
(b) The editors then wrote to Dr D, the new research director of the institute, and ascertained that the database did indeed belong to the institute. Dr D was asked, as research director, whether he would be prepared to adjudicate on the issue if necessary and he agreed in principle to do so.
(c) The editors then wrote to Drs A, B and C explaining the dispute as they saw it. They stated that they understood that Drs A, B and C believe that they should have been included as co-authors on this paper. That is, they believe that they made substantive intellectual contributions to Dr C’s research study. As authors, they would need to approve the submission of the manuscript to the journal. The editors emphasised their journal’s adherence to the guidelines of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors regarding criteria for authorship, which are contained in the Instructions for Authors. The guidelines state that the author list should include those individuals who have made substantial intellectual/conceptual contributions to the work. Such contributions involve participation in: (a) experimental design, data acquisition, and analysis and interpretation of data; (b) drafting and/or critically revising the article with respect to intellectual content; and (c) final approval of the manuscript version to be published.
The editors of the journal told the authors that they would adopt the following procedures in resolving this issue:
(1) Given the guidelines above, the editors hoped that the authors might reach an agreement among themselves as to the appropriateness of co-authorship for Drs A and B. Such an agreement would be the best option for resolution. The authors were given a deadline of two weeks to resolve their disagreement on their own, and to inform the journal of the agreement reached.
(2) The editors informed that authors that if an agreement could not be reached on their own, the journal would like to seek mediation from a third party. The editors proposed asking Dr D to make a decision about authorship on the paper in question but noted that all three authors would need to agree to this process, and to abide by Dr D’s determination. Again, the authors were asked to inform the editors of their decision within two weeks (assuming option 1 was not possible).
(3) The authors were told that if they could not reach agreement among themselves, and did not accept the alternative proposal, the journal reserves the right to make the determination itself, from the input provided in the authors’ letters and after discussion with Dr D. The authors were told that the journal would proceed with this third option if any one of the authors informs the journal that neither option 1 nor option 2 is acceptable, or if a response was not received within two weeks.
The issue is ongoing. The editors would be interested in COPE’s view on this dispute and the suggested remedial actions. The editors would be interested to know COPE’s advice in relation to this dispute and how COPE would have attempted to resolve the issue.
Members of the Forum congratulated the editors on their excellent handling of this case. The steps taken by the editors were applauded by the Forum, although the deadline of 2 weeks was thought to be a little strict and perhaps 4 weeks might have been more reasonable. Also, it was felt that the editors should not make the final decision themselves as it is not the job of editors to adjudicate in such matters. In the event that the case cannot be resolved, the advice was to publish the letters from both parties with a statement from the editors.
At the meeting, the following update was provided by the editors. The case has now been resolved. Dr C has agreed to add Drs A and B to the paper. The editors removed the original paper (with 1 author) from the website. An abstract had been published previously on the website with the names of the 3 authors. The editors are planning on publishing the new paper which will have the names of all 3 authors.
Members of the Forum were a little dismayed that the original paper had been removed from the website, especially as the abstract had already been published. When the new paper is published, the advice was to add a note from the editors, as the paper will have two DOI numbers. The editors were also advised to contact PubMed in relation to the fact that there are two DOI numbers for the same paper. The Forum also cautioned that the editors should ensure that Drs A and B sign the author forms before the new paper is published.
A paper was submitted describing a novel technique for preparing tissue, which was noted immediately by a referee to be a modification of a method used by another researcher. The other researcher is thanked but is not included in the author list. The referee asks for advice as he feels that he is in a grey area of ownership of an idea and the degree of novelty needed to make it a “new” idea. The referee knows the other researcher and requests permission to enquire whether or not he/she is aware of the new paper.
The committee felt that any correspondence from the reviewer to the other researcher should go through the editor, and it should be the editor’s decision whether or not to contact the researcher. The reviewer should not contact the researcher directly.
Reviewer accepted suggestion and incorporated edited version of comments into report. These have now been sent to authors based on two referee reports with rubric major changes based on the two reports.
Further update (April 2007) The final decision was to reject and resubmit if major changes could be made, including anonymised comment about the existence of the other previous work in the referee reports (as it happens raised by at least two). No revised version has been received.
A concise report on a rare disease was submitted and sent out to an internationally renowned reviewer in the field. He felt that some of the data had been obtained in his unit, and this had not been acknowledged by the authors. The authors responded that the tests had been performed in their own laboratory, but that the scans had indeed been done elsewhere. The editor suggested that perhaps the authors should consider an appropriate acknowledgement with the agreement of the unit where the scans had been carried out. The authors agreed to this, bur the reviewer would not agree until he had seen the final version of the paper. The manuscript was forwarded to the reviewer, who was no longer the official reviewer for the paper, because of the conflict of interest. He revealed his identity by writing directly to the authors, and asked for extensive changes to be made to the manuscript. The authors complained that the reviewer had abused his position by requesting such extensive changes. Both of the subsequent reviewers thought the study was sound. They were unaware of its history.
- Many journals have a policy of requiring the authors to obtain the signed permission of the person being acknowledged to prevent disputes. - Any acknowledgement must be agreed by the person being acknowledged. - The second unit is really disputing the authors’ interpretation of the results so it might be better for the second unit to write an accompanying commentary setting out their views. - It is the editor’s decision as to which reviewers’ comments will be taken into consideration, and a reviewer does not have the right to demand that certain alterations be made to a paper. - Ultimately, this case is analogous to a dispute between co-authors, and they should sort it out for themselves before publication goes ahead. - The editor should clarify the review procedure for the paper with the authors and ask them to sort out the dispute before publication can go ahead. - One option might be to publish a letter alongside the article setting out the points of dispute, if the authors cannot resolve it.
A submitted paper detailing the negative experiences of overseas doctors applying for a training post in a district general hospital was poorly presented and scientifically weak, but on a topic of great interest and importance. The study consisted of an analysis of the CVs of the applicants and an analysis of responses to questionnaires sent to them with their rejection letters. Over a third of the questionnaires were returned. The editors were concerned that the authors had used the applicants’ CVs without their permission, and that the applicants were unaware that they would be used for reasons other than a job application. The CVs were not anonymised before the authors analysed them. And the study did not seem to have been submitted for ethical review. The thinking was that the overseas doctors might have been subtly pressurised to complete the questionnaire. In response to these concerns, the authors said that the study had been approved by the human resources department, who "own" the CVs, and the postgraduate tutor, who is responsible for pre-registration house officers. The study had also been informally submitted to the local research ethics committee whose view was that as it was an audit formal ethical approval was not warranted. The authors added that they did not ask for "permission" from the doctors as they felt implicit in the questionnaire was the fact that their answers would be used as part of the audit. The questionnaire was completely anonymous, they said, so to have asked the doctors “to sign a statement would have destroyed feelings of confidentiality which we felt were so important to the study.” The authors also enclosed a copy of a letter from their director of personnel and development in support of the above. The editors also wrote to the postgraduate dean and the chairman of the research ethics committee. The postgraduate dean replied that he was not aware of any formal approach for approval of the study, although he acknowledged that the postgraduate clinical tutors operate with a high degree of autonomy. The dean also stated that, in his opinion, the work was research and not audit. The chairman of the local research ethics committee wrote: “The part of the study involving sending questionnaires to the unsuccessful applicants was essentially research. …If consulted, we would probably have suggested that this part of the study required ethical approval. Individual consent would not have been required. However, the collection of individual comments may well have met with a different response. It is likely that we would have requested that further information outlining the purpose of the study and details of potential dissemination would have been required. We are not in a position to give retrospective ethical approval for research. We felt it was important that this information, having been obtained in good faith, should not be wasted. There was, however, concern that such a retrospective study, without adequate scientific scrutiny, may have introduced biases.”
- One way to rectify the use of the applicants’ data without permission would be to write to them and ask for retrospective permission. - The attitude of local research ethics committees varies and the authors might have found it difficult to obtain a review because the research did not concern patients. Nevertheless, the authors should have attempted it. - An ethics committee could have helped them draft a statement to potential applicants. - The human resources department does not “own” the CVs. - The likely harm from sending out the questionnaire was minimal in this instance, but the seemingly casual approach to the maintenance of confidential personal information at the trust was a cause for concern. - The editor should write to the authors to inform them of COPE’s views. - The editor should also ask the trust’s chief executive to look into the use of confidential personal information in the trust.
A review by three authors, with Dr X as the lead author, was published in Journal A. Five months later, the editor of Journal A was informed by Professor W that a figure in the review by Dr X had originally appeared in a research paper, co-authored by Professor W in Journal B in 1990. The professor also said that Dr X had published the same or very similar figures in journals C, D (research papers), and E (review). The Journal C paper was reference 5 in the Journal A review. Dr X denied that he had “stolen” the figure. However, after an “expert review” Journal C concluded that the figures were the same and the journal’s editors retracted Dr X’s paper. Dr X has since started legal proceedings against one of the editors of Journal C. Professor W is pushing for a complete retraction of the review in Journal A. Dr X is willing to voluntarily retract the paper, but his co authors do not support this, because the figure in question makes no difference to the uncontroversial conclusions of the review. Journal A published a statement noting the retraction by Journal C, and Journal E has published a similar statement. Journal D recruited an expert to examine Professor W’s original pathological material. Journal A has collaborated with this investigation. The expert concluded that the figures published by journals A and D are the same as Professor W’s original slides. Dr X has been told by journals A and D that they will request his institution to investigate the allegations made against him. This case refers to the same disputed figure brought to COPE by another member journal in case 02/02.
_ If the figure was originally Professor W’s and published in 1990, then the original journal would have copyright over the figure. _ If the review was adequate without the figure, then the journal could either withdraw the figure or acknowledge the original copyright holder. _ The original slide would have to be studied to make a correct assessment of the professor’s claim. _ How could a figure belonging to one author come into the possession of another? The journal has been told that Professor W and Dr X were collaborators in the past and that the image had been entered into a database of clinical images and had allegedly been extracted from there. _ Had any copyright documents been associated with the deposit of the image on the database? _ If Dr X’s co authors do not wish to retract the paper, then the journal could publish an addendum/erratum explaining the issues surrounding the figure ownership, acknowledging the original copyright holder. _ It is not the journal’s duty to resolve the dispute between Professor W and Dr X. _ The editor could decide on a course of action after hearing the results of Dr X’s institutional investigation. _ The editor should try to get more information on the Trust’s investigation. _ The editor should take his concerns to the doctor’s and medical director’s regulatory body, notifying the doctor and the Trust of his intentions. As a registered physician, the editor has a duty to report any serious concerns to the regulatory body. _ The editor is a member of the regulatory body. which imposes a higher duty to report his concerns and act on them. _ The editor’s case for reporting was strengthened by the fact that he had taken the advice of COPE on the matter.
A paper from Finland in a controversial area of vaccine research was peer reviewed and provisionally accepted. At the revision stage, the journal received a letter from a researcher based at an immunotherapy company in the United States, raising serious doubts over the analysis of the Finnish data. This author claimed to have been involved in the research, and proposed an alternative interpretation of the data. This letter was forwarded to the authors, who acknowledged that the American author had highlighted some major errors which they corrected in a further revision of their paper. But they disputed his interpretation of their data. The Finnish authors acknowledged the advice given by the US author, but did not declare any financial input from him. They denied that he should have been cited as a contributor on the original paper. In due course, the paper was published. The American correspondent continued to telephone and e-mail various members of the editorial team, seeking to have published alongside the paper a short report, carrying his opposing interpretation of the data. This request was declined, on the grounds that he was not the author of the paper and therefore had no ownership of the data. But he insisted that the original idea for the study had been his, and that he had contributed more than £500 for secretarial support to enable the study to be carried out. Should he have been cited as an author?
_ The American did not do the research; he generated the hypothesis that the Finns tested, using the data they had generated. _ He could be a contributor, therefore, as he meets the criteria for authorship, and his money was also accepted, suggesting collaboration. _ The American published a letter in the journal about the Finnish data, so he has been able to respond to the findings. _ It is not up to the editor to determine who is a contributor and who is an author; it is up to the Finnish employees to decide _ It is not for COPE to dictate on this issue, although COPE inevitably gets drawn into author disputes.
The case has prompted a formal complaint to the Finnish employers and to the relevant journal committee.