Authorship Disputes: Tips to avoid conflicts

Tips to avoid Authorship DisputesAuthorship’ denotes the practice of providing truthful credits for intellectual contributions and innovative concepts. It not only helps authors acquire the credit for the work, but also ensures that they assume responsibility for the research conducted and presented. Moreover, it is perceived as a tool for personal satisfaction, prestige, and especially, a stepping stone in a writer’s academic career. Though the term sounds interesting, it involves high risks and problems in practice.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) often receives disputes regarding authorship. These cases usually involve disputes like the omission of a deserving junior researcher’s name from the authors’ list or a proposal by a sponsor for including the name of a non-contributing author. However, it also received a shocking complaint from a female author, who said that her name was replaced with that of her boss in the final version when she was away on maternity leave.

Apart from having a direct impact on the publication in question, authorship disputes can also have repercussions on a writer’s fair credit, collegial relationships, future collaborations, and reputations.

Following the adage that prevention is better than cure, the following are some guiding principles to avoid conflicting situations like authorship disputes.

  • Adhere to the authorship criteria of the publication

Each publisher follows specific authorship guidelines enunciated by organizations such as the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), World Association of Medical Editors (WAME), Council of Science Editors (CSE), Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), and Good Publication Practice (GPP2). Non-compliance with the concerned guidelines—i.e., unequal application of authorship criteria, granting authorship to undeserving individuals, and/or omitting authorship to deserving individuals—is considered to be a serious offense in the academic world and can be construed as  research misconduct.

  • Hold prior discussions with co-authors

All the authors of a paper should discuss and finalize the authorship order and contributions along with respective responsibilities before beginning to prepare a manuscript and, if possible, even before starting a study.

  • Stick to the plan of action

In few cases, it has been observed that even if the authors have agreed to the sequence of authorship and contributions, fraudulent authors make last-minute changes in the manuscript or research paper just before submission. This leads to conflicts in publishing the paper, and some even end with retraction of the paper. To avoid such anomalies and unpleasant situations, it is advisable to comply with the agreement made between the author and co-authors.

However, even the best plans sometimes fail. So it is better to track and revisit the issues and monitor any changes or modifications in authorship or contributions. If one discovers any changes before publication, it can be revised after discussions with the co-authors. Conversely, if the detection is made post-publication, one can contact the journal along with the written agreements and evidence of contributions, and request for a correction or a retraction of the paper.

Retraction of Publications

Your published articles give you recognition as a writer and boost your academic credentials. However, there are special circumstances when an article might be withdrawn or cancelled even after its publication. This process is called retraction of publications.

Research articles go through a review process prior to publication. However, there are occasions when major errors are detected in a research paper after it is published. In such circumstances, the journal is forced to issue a retraction notice to withdraw the publication. Retraction enables journals to alert or inform readers about the errors in the findings or conclusions of the paper. Some journals, however, retract papers without citing specific reasons because they fear a loss of credibility in the journal. In recent months, there is a discernible increase in the retraction rate in the publication industry.

According to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), publications can be retracted by journal editors if:

  • They have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g., data fabrication) or honest error (e.g., miscalculation or experimental error).
  • The findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper cross-referencing, permission or justification (i.e., cases of redundant publication).
  • It constitutes plagiarism.
  • It reports unethical research.

Even though retraction of a publication is the decision of the journal’s editor, sometimes the author of the paper may also be asked by the editor to formally issue the retraction. In some journals, both the editor and the author issue the retraction notice. Nevertheless, the journal’s editor can retract the published paper unilaterally in case the author refuses to do so.

The retraction notice should cite the reasons for the retraction and clarify whether the retraction is for misconduct or for honest and genuine mistakes. The notice also needs to mention whether the publication is being retracted by the editor or the author. Retracted publications should not be removed either from online or printed copies of the journal; instead, the status of the retraction should be clearly indicated in the publication.

Retraction of publications is likely to have an adverse impact on the credentials of both the author and the journal. Therefore, it is important to take precautionary measures to avoid such a scenario.