Unethical authorship practices have become increasingly common in academia in recent years. Inappropriate listing of someone as a co-author may be due to a misunderstanding over what constitutes a contribution worthy of an authorship credit as opposed to an acknowledgment; however the existence of unscrupulous practices such as “gift authorship” raises serious concerns for journal editors.
The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) defines gift authorship as “when somebody who has made little or no contribution to a research project or publication is included as an author.” This practice is often a benign mistake, e.g., an inexperienced author incorrectly believing that a co-author credit should be granted if their work builds on a more senior figure’s research. Less innocently, co-author names may be added to a paper in the mistaken belief that the work will be reviewed more favorably if an academic heavyweight is attached. Both practices are inappropriate, and careful checking of co-author details can be the first step toward educating less experienced academics on correct practices.
Double-checking the validity of all co-authors’ contact details at the submission stage can help to prevent peer-review or publication delays later on, as any disputes or inconsistencies can be spotted early and referred back to the authors for resolution before editor time has been invested. After all, it is the corresponding author’s responsibility to ensure that all co-authors consent to be named as such prior to submission for peer review. The ScholarOne ManuscriptsTM submission system offers functionality that can send an email alert to each listed co-author when a new manuscript is submitted, notifying them that a paper has been submitted in their name. As this presents a valuable opportunity for authors to respond if they have been named on a paper submitted without their approval, we encourage editors to enable this feature if it isn’t already in place. Once the co-author alert is sent, if the co-author email address listed is incorrect, or “dead,” the alert cannot be sent and a delivery failure notification or “email bounce-back” will be generated. If you receive one of these “bounce-back” emails, it is important to go back to the submitting author and ask that they supply an alternative email address for the co-author that is current and valid, preferably at their institutional address.
If you notice that a paper has been submitted with only the submitting author named in the Co-Author List but the manuscript itself lists additional names, the paper should be unsubmitted and returned to the corresponding author with a request that they supply full contact details for each co-author. Unsubmitting a paper is not the same as rejecting it; the submission form and manuscript documents will all be saved in their Author Centre under “Unsubmitted Manuscripts,” allowing the addition of any missing details before the paper is resubmitted.
Checking co-author(s) details in ScholarOne Manuscripts
We have put together the following guidelines on how to double-check co-author(s) details in ScholarOne ManuscriptsTM, and what action to take if the information given by the corresponding author is incorrect:
a) Co-authors are missing from the manuscript details in ScholarOne ManuscriptsTM
- Click the Manuscript Files tab to Unsubmit the paper, returning it to the corresponding author.
- In the accompanying email, explain the reasons behind your decision to unsubmit the submission, and the steps the author should take to rectify any problems and resubmit the paper for further review. See our top tip for details.
b) The co-authors’ contact details are incorrect; there are author email delivery failures in the journal inbox; the co-authors’ email addresses appear to belong to the corresponding author (e.g., the corresponding author is called Jim Jones; co-author Joe Bloggs has an email address firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Email the corresponding author and ask for the correct contact details of the co-authors. See our second top tip.
c) Co-authors have been added, removed, or rearranged from the authors’ list of a revised or accepted manuscript
- The corresponding author should include in a cover letter the reason why an author should be added or removed, or why the authors’ names need to be rearranged.
- The co-authors should provide a written confirmation that they agree with the addition, removal, or the rearrangement of authors.
All correspondence should be recorded in the Audit Trail in ScholarOne ManuscriptsTM.
Please note this article was first published in the Peer Review Systems Bulletin.