I’ve been involved in research and publishing since 1987 and during that time I have had the usual run of tricky experiences with coauthors. You know the sort of thing, collaborations that break down so that the data never gets properly written up, authors who can’t agree with the direction a paper should take, and authors who never reply to communications about a manuscript while it is being drafted. Luckily though, I have never been in a position where coauthors have engaged in anything that I have felt uncomfortable about from an ethical point of view.
Then this week, out of the blue I received an email from a top international journal asking me to confirm that I was a coauthor on a paper submitted by an investigator who I had never even heard of, let alone collaborated with. Looking at the author list there was a whole group of eminent people from my field, none of whom really looked like they would be associated with the subject matter in the paper. Very strange.
I contacted the journal to deny all knowledge of the submission and raising it as an issue of great concern. I was very grateful to receive their excellent response, showing that they shared my view that this was a serious breach of research ethics.
Thank you for your note regarding … submission … . In fact, you
were not alone in being inappropriately added to the authorship list —
6 of the 15 listed authors denied authorship within hours of the
submission. I want to assure you that the journal shares your point of
view that this is a clear breach of ethics and constitutes unacceptable
authorship practices. Of course, the journal will not consider this
manuscript in any form further, and I have expressly notified the
submitting author that we considering this an ethical violation.
If this should happen again, you may wish to contact the submittingauthor’s institutional office of research integrity.
This left me with the errant author to deal with. I was curious to discover why he felt it appropriate to take my name in vain.
Please could you explain why you have used my name on a manuscript
submission. I have not participated in the writing of this paper and I am
not aware that you have ever discussed this with me.
I am confused.
No answer was received, so I took things up a notch.
I am yet to hear your explanation of why you have used my name in this
submission. Please respond as soon as possible or I will need to refer
this to your institution.
That did produce a response. A response to bizarre that I decided I needed to put it on the blog, in the hope that someone out there can offer an explanation.
Profesor S. Langley-Evans,
Your last note is out of cordial scientific interaction.
FIRST: THE MANUSCRIPT STATES CLEARLY WE DO NOT HAVE ANY CONFLICTS OF
INTEREST, which means a cordial invitation without any compromize, sort
of a flower for a COLLEAGUE I HAD YOU WITH GREAT ESTIMATION, BECAUSE YUR
WORK PLEASES ME VERY MUCH;
AND NOTHING ELSE.
I interpret this as he wanted to give me the gift of authorship on his paper as a mark of esteem. I suppose I feel touched by that, but that doesn’t make it ethically acceptable. However, things become more confusing now.
SECOND: I WANTED TO INVITE YOU IN OUR PREVIOUS PUBLICATION WHICH
APPREARED LAST JANUARY 2017 IN BIOCHIM BIOPHYSICS ACTA. YOU DID NOT
ANSWER ME THE INVITATION, YOUR WERE OUT OF TOWN AS FAR AS YOUR AUTOMATIC eMAIL REPLY WROTE TO ME. THUS I DID NOT CONSIDER YOUR NAME FOR THAT PUBLICATION. AGAIN WITHOUR ANY COMPROMISE, JUST FOR THE GOOD SHAKEASPEREAN SPIRITS TO SHARE WITH SOMEONE WHOSE WORK IS ALTOBELLIS’S OUTSTANDING.
Shakeasperean spirits? What is this?
THIRD: I PROMISE TO DISMISS MY AFFECTIVE CCONSIDERATION TOWARD YOUR
NAME; I WILL JUST CITE YOUR WORKS AND THATS IT BETWEEN US. BE ASSURED I
WILL NOT DARE TO THINK OF YOUR NAME, ONCE AGAIN.
Well, that is good news I suppose… Now the email moves to the dark and bizarre side.
FOUR: THERE WAS A STRANGE SMALL GROUP OF ADULT MALES AT THE BELLAS
ARTES PALACE IN MEXICO CITY (DOWNTOWN, LA ALAMEDA) CITING YOUR NAME AS IF GREETNG ME (¡) DURING 2014-2016. I AM NOW CONTACTING THE UNITED
KINGDOM EMBASSY TO NOTICE ALL THESE UNLAWFUL AMBIENTAL CITATIONS FROM THESE INDIVIDUALS. COMMONWEALTH IS HUGE INCLUDING NOT ACCEPTED INVITED ONES. PLEASE BE ASSURED THAT I TURN
DOWN ANY OF THESE INTERACTIVE INDIVIDUALS CONCERNING MY PROFESSION.
I am most thankful for your keen attention to these facts. In fact, I
stop visiting THE BELLAS ARTES PALACE ALL THIS YEAR AND I TRY TO KEEP
UNDER THE BRITISH EMBASSY EYES.
Am I being threatened here? Am I a spy in Mexico? Is he? Who are these strange adult males at the Bellas Artes Palace? Is this some sort of Mexican fan club who chant my name in public places? I am bemused to say the least.