Debbie Knight

My Name’s on WHAT?!

In observation on July 25, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Today, the blog “Retraction Watch,” reported the retraction of a scientific research article from the journal Cell Biochemistry and Function. 

They included this excerpt from the retraction notice written by the editors of the journal:

“The following article from Cell Biochemistry and Function, “Notch activation Is regulated by interaction between hCLP46 and the chaperone protein calnexin” by Xiaoqin Feng and Lixin Liu, published online on 3 April 2012 in Wiley Online Library (www.wileyonlinelibrary.com), has been retracted with agreement from the authors, the journal Editor, Nigel Loveridge, and John Wiley & Sons Ltd. The retraction has been agreed because the paper was submitted without approval from the co-author, Lixin Liu, and contains data that requires further experimentation in order to support the conclusions fully.

What? The paper was submitted without approval from the co-author?

I can tell you from my own experience that it happens.

And it’s easier to do now than it used to be.

Back in the day, most journals required that every author physically sign the submission form before the editors would accept a manuscript for review.  And sometimes it was a big pain in the buttocks to collect all those signatures (I know. I often was assigned this task). Of course I would look at published research with multiple institutions and oodles of authors and feel sorry for the person(s) who had to collect all those signatures.

Nowadays, manuscript submission is a little easier. Most journals use a digital submission process. And while I honestly don’t know the submission requirements of every single scientific journal, I do know that this signature requirement has eased somewhat.

Case in point: one of our collaborators included my name as well as my boss’s name on a paper she submitted.  No signatures were required. In fact, we had absolutely no idea she submitted it until we got an email from the journal that the manuscript had been received and would be reviewed.

What?!

We scrambled to get a copy of the manuscript to see just what it was about, how our data had been used in the report, and whether we supported the conclusions she had made.

While it may seem a windfall to have your name just “show up” on a published paper, the truth is: it’s not. The fact your name appears on an article implies you participated in the research process and you fully endorse the reported findings.

Scientific reputations are on the line.

In this particular case, it turned out okay. She drew the appropriate conclusions.  So we let it ride. And the paper was published. Of course, that doesn’t mean we were happy about it. Nor does that mean it was ethical of our collaborator to put our names on the paper without our knowledge.

(Note: This particular collaborator is now a former collaborator because of other unethical behavior (see post). I guess the incident describe above should have sent up a red flag, but it didn’t. Live and learn.)

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  1. Funding, publishing, more PhD’s than PhD jobs. The entire system is disorganized.
    Nice post to raise awareness of an “under the radar” issue.

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