Authors

 

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Joint Primary Authorship

December 2, 2008 to December 8, 2008
 
Summary: Some manuscripts indicate that the first 2 authors listed shared equally in the work. While describing specifically what each author’s contributions were would seem more precise and relevant, some promotion and tenure committees and funding agencies place great emphasis on order of authorship, so this distinction may be important for authors. This specification appears to be commonly permitted by journals.--MW
 
I recently received an inquiry about "joint primary authorship" from a prospective author. Does anyone have a policy about this for their journal? If so, would you be willing to share a copy of your policy with me?
 
Marcia Finlayson
Editor, Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy / Rédactrice en chef - Revue canadienne d'ergothérapie
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In such a case we add a footnote saying that both authors have contributed equally to the study.
 
Rob Siebers
Editor, New Zealand Journal of Medical Laboratory Science
Board Director, World Association of Medical Editors
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Another possibility is to list the authors in alphabetical order, and to mention this in a footnote/endnote.
 
Udo Schuklenk
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Whenever I see that "These two authors contributed equally to this work" footnote, it makes me wonder what the heck all the other authors in the by-line did—especially if the research being reported is simple and straightforward. I tend to assume they did very little aside from agreeing (or asking) to have their names added. 
 
Perhaps editors should ask all authors to agree in writing to the inclusion of that sort of note, even though this would be more paperwork and would probably not lead to many guest authors dropping off the by-line. 
 
Karen Shashok
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When I surveyed about 200 journal instructions, I found 4 allowed 'joint primary authorship'—they tended to be journals that report basic science rather than clinical medicine, but the practice is clearly not unknown. The complete survey is available here.
 
I've often wondered how academic assessment boards (eg, research assessment and appointment committees) regard such papers with joint first authorship (as I assume the reason that two authors both want to be viewed as 'primary' has something to do with academic credit).
 
My personal preference is for journals to indicate individuals' contributions and let readers decide who should come 'first'...but I also wonder how such contributorship statements are handled by the (in my view misguided) authorities who measure academic productivity by the weight of a person's publication list.
 
With a surname like Wager, I'll leave you to work out what I think about alphabetic listing (!)
 
Liz Wager
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I agree entirely with you, Liz Wager, that the issue of supposed joint primary authors would be best resolved by stating what each does and letting readers decide. Unfortunately, she is right in assuming that academic assessment committees, etc. place undue emphasis on authorship order. It is actually a remarkably non-academic exercise and it can often be funny to listen to the discussions around what importance to attach to folks in relation to the order they appear. 'Misguided' is a terribly polite way to describe this foolishness.
 
IB Pless
Editor Emeritus, Injury Prevention
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Now wouldn't it be fun if all journals decided to publish authors' names in an entirely random order.
 
Tim Albert
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Actually, it would be no fun at all. Authors would rightly go on a rampage. Depending on discipline there are some reasonably (yes, usually unwritten) clear rules with re to what the authorship order signifies in terms of the role a given author has played in the construction of the final paper. In the absence of clear descriptions as to what each author has contributed (my preferred way of dealing with the issue at hand), an order indicating weight of contribution is well worth the effort.
 
Authors, as well as journals, do not operate in a professional vacuum. Funding agencies, eg, will want to know how significantly the researchers they fund contribute to particular research outputs. I've seen funding agencies require explicitly to list the order of authorship in order to ascertain applicants' relative contributions to particular outcomes. The same applies to tenure applications. And yes, having sat on selection committees in more than one academic institution I can confirm my Prof Pless' statement on how the authorship order is read by many people on such committees.
On one manuscript that I worked with a team of authors on, we had gone through serious discussion on the authorship order. It did matter to us, we deliberately chose not to have an alphabetical listing. In the end we were happy with the order, only to see the medical journal in question change it ('to save space'). I got to be honest, this just is not on. We had a lengthy exchange with the editorial team of the journal in question (and nothing much came of it).
 
Sorry about this somewhat lengthy rant on this. My bottom line on this is that we should ideally publish a description of each author's contribution to a particular output, but also that the team of authors is very much entitled to order the list of authors in way they see fit. I doubt that the issue is any longer that funding agencies, selection- and tenure committees just 'don't get it', but that perhaps journal editors should acknowledge that their authors do not produce their scientific outputs in a policy/funding vacuum.
 
Udo Schuklenk
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Instructions to authors, like journal Web sites, need periodic updating to remain current, and even when current, they never list all of the actual practices of a journal.
Anecdotally, I see co-primary authorships on papers in virtually every clinical journal I read and would expect a rate of at least 50% rather than 2%; instructions to authors provide only the most tangential evidence on the current frequency of this practice.
 
Bob Dellavalle
Dermatology Section Editor, UpToDate
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We studied perceptions of author contributions by byline name postion  (EMBO reports 8, 11, 988-991 (2007)) and found that adding 2 more middle authors to a 3 person byline did not hurt the last (presumed senior) author's perceived contribution to the work.
 
A different paper elaborates an elegant solution to the problem of appropriately assigning credit for collaborative scholarship at the time of promotion evaluation: candidates for promotion identify up to 5 exemplary publications and describe the contributions of each author on electronic forms—their department then verifies the credibility of these descriptions and the department's assurance is evaluated by independent reviewers.
 
See page 88 paragraph 3 of
Feder ME, Madara JL. Evidence-Based Appointment and Promotion of Academic Faculty at the University of Chicago. Acad Med. 2008 Jan;83(1):85-95.
 
Bob Dellavalle
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The last author is not always "presumed senior" or the team/paper lead. In fact, this is commonly not the case these days. Take this paper as an example:  the most senior author/project P.I. is the second author out of seven named authors.
 
The best way to address this issue is to be extremely transparent about each individual author's specific contributions (published papers should have an 'Authors' contributions' section), even in case of joint primary authorship. Equal contributions are not necessarily the same.
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Liz has raised a very important issue on how authorities regard contributorship. My personal experience shows that this kind of innovative approach is not usually very welcomed by university boards, and they usually end up with "really, who has done this work! Show me the first author!".
 
Arash Etemadi 
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Blinding Reviewers to Authors’ Identity, Detecting Duplicate Publication, and Blacklisting Authors

September 4, 2007 to September 8, 2007
 
At our journal, we do not blind the authors when sending their manuscripts for review. One of the reasons for this is that reviewers are asked to check the author(s)’ previous publications to ensure that they have not published the submitted work before, either in full or in substantial part. It is also a check on their submitted work that they have not 'lifted' whole sentences, paragraphs, or sections out of their previous published articles. This practice does occur despite the fact that most journals ask the authors to declare that the work has not previously been published.
 
Recently, we received a manuscript for consideration and, upon checking, the reviewer was able to determine that the authors had previously published a substantial amount of the work in another PubMed-listed journal, despite the authors stating that it had not previously been published. Needless to say, we rejected the manuscript and have banned the authors from ever publishing in our journal in the future.
 
This brings up the point of should we have a "blacklist" of authors for other WAME members to be able to access. Not, in my opinion, for those authors to be automatically be excluded from all journals, but for other editors to be aware that these authors may choose their journal for their article which has been rejected by the other journal (because of previous publication). I believe that if we had blinded the authors from the reviewer, that we possibly would have failed to detect the attempt at duplicate publication. If we had accepted their article and subsequently discovered that it had previously been published, we would then have to go through the lengthy process of notifying our readers and the editor of the other journal, plus the authors' institution, of the duplicate publication. I believe it is better to try and stop this practice rather than having the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. What are the opinions of the WAME members?
 
Rob Siebers
Editor, New Zealand Journal of Medical Laboratory Science
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The suggestion of blacklisting authors who have done egregious things has come up before. I would vote strongly against this. Although I find it revolting that people would do such things, being placed on a blacklist could be fatal to one’s career. If we were to do this, then each and every instance of alleged attempted duplication of publication or fabrication of data or other type of fraud, such as that described by Rob above, would have to be formally investigated with a rigorous “due process.” Otherwise, serious and harmful mistakes could be made. And even if mistakes were not made, the consequences of such an action would be so dire that we could expect lawsuits for publishing someone’s name on such a list. Also, there are lots of grey areas. The surgical literature contains many papers where very prominent surgeons have regularly “updated” (ie, republished after adding a few more cases) the results of their series of cases of a specific procedure for a specific condition. In my mind, this is duplicate publication.
 
Rob’s diligence is the only way for us to guard against this type of fraud. It is clearly his right to prevent such an author (or team of authors) from publishing in his journal again, and we have done the same. But that can be done internally among the journal staff. An additional step they might take would be to present the evidence of attempted duplication of publication to the authors’ institution(s) and let them decide if some punishment is in order. When they behave badly, such authors cast a shadow on the reputation of their institutions. If I were a Dean, I would carefully investigate such allegations and severely punish those found guilty.
 
Bill Tierney
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Rob Siebers, I only second your views.
 
I strongly feel that blinding the review process is to be discouraged. I go a step ahead and would say that even the identity of reviewers should be revealed (as a sign of respect for their work and for holding them responsible for what they allow to be published) at the end of each paper. At the end of every year, the journal may also publish the list of papers rejected by them with indications of reasons.
 
I understand that there may be practical problems which is why many journals are not practicing it.
 
V Raveenthiran
Associate Editor, Indian Journal of Surgery
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The journal I previously worked on initially masked authors’ identities, then gave up because it was just too much work. We found no change in the kinds of reviews we received. Also, I believe some studies have been done of this that indicate masking does not improve the fairness of review—it just makes people FEEL it is fairer.
 
I think the benefits—as Mr Siebers outlines them—outweigh the risks. Also, it is nearly impossible to completely mask a paper without going to ridiculous lengths.
 
Lisa Dittrich
Director of Publications, ASBMR Publications
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I agree entirely with Lisa…and it is interesting that, although we offer masking as an option, in my 13 years as editor of Injury Prevention, I can only recall a handful...perhaps about 6 papers...where this was requested. The evidence suggests it makes little difference, but it may make some authors feel better.
 
IB Pless
Editor, Injury Prevention
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It is a shame that although many journals already warn about the seriousness of duplicate publication, some authors continue to take a chance. The same goes for disclosing conflicts of interest. Of course, some offending authors may be novices or may have made a mistake, and this needs to be investigated too before any blacklisting. I think the peer review process needs to be seen more as a team effort to ensure the quality of the scientific literature than a black box. Authors need to know that journals’ policies are there to protect not only the journal, the scientific archive and process, and the public, but also, by default, the authors’ reputation. Perhaps if open review is framed that way, everyone can be on the same page to achieve objectivity and transparency.
 
From my experience, editorial offices are too busy to do manuscript masking properly, let alone do Web or non-Web searches to check for duplicate publication or plagiarism. Also, masking is difficult (self-identifiers can appear in any section of the paper, references, photos/figures, meta-data), and reviewers who know the literature well can guess. Why not take advantage of that expertise, make open peer review or at least single-masked review the norm, and routinely encourage reviewers to help out as the ethics police?
 
After all, the usual requests to reviewers are to check for scientific integrity, originality, quality, usefulness, etc. Detecting duplicate publication and plagiarism, which undermine those items, would make the checking more thorough. Add to that any ethical problems in the paper missed by the editorial office, as well as possible conflicts of interest that the reviewer may know the author has, which may have clouded the objectivity of reporting. In fact, disclosures of conflicts should really be forwarded to the reviewers too, again to reap the benefit of another fresh set of eyes in judging the quality of the paper. A standardised mini-CV (conflictionis vitae) could be designed for this purpose, and it should include all possible financial and non-financial conflicts of interest, as well as financial ones of family members and employer.
 
For journals opting to use open review, to be truly open, the articles should include the names of reviewers, with their brief statement of relevant conflicts of interest. It should be made clear to everyone, though, that the decision to publish is ultimately the Editor’s (or a proxy if the Editor is an author).
 
Trevor Lane
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We have found that the masking of authors and reviewers within a peer review process has been beneficial when an extensive degree of opinion is incorporated into results/conclusions, such as in clinical practice guidelines. Occasionally, a reviewer's perception of the perspective an author 'is coming from' has appeared to undermine the reviewer's objectiveness.
Perhaps the impact of masking relates to the type of peer-reviewed piece?
 
Thor Eglington
Editor-in-chief, The CCA•CFCREAB-CPG
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Authors Quoting Themselves Extensively in the References

August 12, 2007 to August 14, 2007
 
Are there any guidelines about how many times an author can cite his own published research in his article? I think I have a record for one journal I edit—3 out of 8 references cited. Should I let them all through?
 
Vivienne Miller 
Diabetes Management Journal
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If not redundant and appropriate I would let them go through. I have seen more!
 
Sam Sussman
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This is an interesting question, and we also like to know the policy followed by others. In our journal, however, we do not have any restriction on the number of times in citing one’s own publications in one’s latest paper.
 
M. Shamsul Islam Khan
Head, Publications and Managing Editor, JHPN 
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If the references are all relevant, and if the author has included all the other relevant papers by other authors, then that's fine. It's only a problem if the author is selectively referencing his or her own papers, and ignoring all the others.
 
Bob Bury
Editor, Clinical Radiology
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I do completely agree with Bob Bury.
 
Saleh Zahedi
Editor in Chief, International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism
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For what it’s worth, I agree with Bob Bury et al as well.
 
I would note, though, that sometimes a clue to duplicate/salami publication can be found in such references. Is the ms in hand really something new, or just a rehashing/different slice of the authors’ previously published work (as pointed to in references 1-5!)?  It may very well be new—but it doesn’t hurt to look...
 
Lisa Dittrich
Director of Publications, ASBMR Publications
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The flip side is when an author doesn't cite his or her recent related work. When you take into account the incentive that exists to boost their own citation count, it is a 'red flag' if the reference is missing.
 
It makes sense that authors cite themselves because they often do a whole series of work in the same area. If they're experts in the field, you'd expect to see references to their own work! The problem comes when they cite themselves to the exclusion of others, or cite their own work that is only very tangentially connected to the current study, or cite their own work when it is by no means the first or best example to cite.
 
Matt Hodgkinson
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Many authors are working on a single subject for years and for me it’s not unusual that an author cites his/her previous work. And, I also agree that as long as relevant references are used, we should let it be done.
 
Farrokh Habibzadeh
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I think one of the most important factors in evaluating a paper is the number of references released by the writers—especially the corresponding author. This, of course witnesses the proficiency of the writer in the subject, so logically we must not announce any restriction in this regard.
 
MB Rokni
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Thanks to everyone for their replies, it has been very interesting to discuss this with you all. I guess my point is that there must be some concern raised at some stage when the majority of references cited are contributed by the author that has also written the paper the references are mentioned in! There are very few experts publishing data compared with the number of authors, and obviously no one would be critical if a national expert cited much of his/her own research.
 
However, what about the non-experts? Even if the references are relevant, should there still be no limit at all to citing only your own stuff?! Here etiquette meets decency and common sense, in my opinion.
 
Vivienne Miller
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It would be interesting to know how a non-expert can write an article about a specific topic while he/she is able to use some other references of his/her own works that are relevant to that topic.
I think if an author can write about a topic while he/she has some relevant references from his/her previous articles he/she is not a non-expert even if he/she does not have the related academic degree.
 
Re: the main question about the number of references, I think the key point is the "balance and fairness". If an author wants to argue a topic in his/her Discussion and refer the audience to his/her previous relevant articles to prove that argument, he/she must use some other relevant references for the "counter argument". If an author considers this balance, I agree that he/she can use his/her previous articles as references.
 
Behrooz Astaneh
Deputy Editor, Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences
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Vivienne: certainly there must be balance. If this is not some obscure topic that only this particular author has done extensive research in, there MUST be other sources. I would certainly question it.
 
At my previous journal, we would sometimes point out relevant papers we had published—NOT in an attempt to raise impact factor, but simply because we knew of important research the author was clearly unfamiliar with. At the very least, ask the author to explain the situation. Clearly your instincts tell you something is fishy here, and you have a right to inquire.
 
Lisa Dittrich
Director of Publications, ASBMR Publications 
Authors' Review of Edited Proofs (posted January 22, 2007) 
Authors’ Review of Edited Proofs
June 21 to June 26, 2006
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Dear Colleagues,
 
My recent letter to the editor of Nature has been published in the recent issue of Nature "Education and training put Iran ahead of richer states" (Nature 441,932;2006). I have copied and pasted the text of the galley proof approved by the authors and the one published by the journal. Please read the two texts carefully. As you will kindly see, the only word dropped by the editor is "Persian"! We have used the term "Persian Gulf" to refer to the body of water in the south of Iran that of course has had the same name for about 2500 years.
Since the time I was a student in medical school,  they told us "Editor is the one you can trust"!
 
I really do not get it! The published letter does not match the galley proof that I have signed for publication. This cannot be explained by dropping a word due to the word limit as there is a lot of space in the published letter. Besides, the editor is not entitled to change the content without authors' consent.
 
I am not yet convinced about the reason for dropping this specific word. I am about to file a complaint against Nature.
 
Please advise.
 
Mohammad Reza Mohebbi
 
THE APPROVED GALLEY PROOF:
 
Education and training put Iran ahead of richer states
SIR - We read with interest your News report "Arab state pours oil profits into science" (Nature 441,132-133;2006). Other countries in the Persian Gulf have also tried to spend oil money on setting [ok?] branches of western universities, which is of arguable value when the infrastructure and the basic prerequisites of scientific research do not exist. Educating and training the personnel capable of doing research, as you describe in Qatar, is more important than spending on research and buying sophisticated equipment. Focusing on research and inviting scientists from overseas may lead to some short-term results, but it does not guarantee sustainable development without a solid, internal educational base. Iran is a good example of a country that has made considerable advances, through focusing on the education and training [Authors, correct?]. Despite sanctions in almost all aspects of research during the past 27 years, Persian scientists have been producing cutting-edge science. Their publication rate in international journals has quadrupled during the past decade. Although it is still low compared with the developed countries, this puts Iran in the first rank of Islamic countries. Considering the country's poor political relationship with the west and its brain-drain, Iran's scientific community remains productive, even while economic sanctions make it hard for universities to purchase equipment or send people to the United States to attend scientific meetings.
 
THE PUBLISHED LETTER:
 
Education and training put Iran ahead of richer states
SIR - We read with interest your News report "Arab state pours oil profits into science" (Nature 441,132-133;2006). Other countries in the Gulf have also tried to spend
oil money on setting up branches of Western universities, which is of arguable value when the infrastructure and the basic prerequisites of scientific research do not exist. Educating and training the personnel capable of doing research, as you describe in Qatar, is more important than spending on research and buying sophisticated equipment. Focusing on research and inviting scientists from overseas may lead to some short-term results, but it does not guarantee sustainable development without a solid, internal educational base. Iran is a good example of a country that has made considerable advances through focusing on education and training. Despite sanctions in almost all aspects of research during the past 27 years, Persian scientists have been producing cutting-edge science. Their publication rate in international journals has quadrupled during the past decade. Although it is still low compared with the developed countries, this puts Iran in the first rank of Islamic countries. Considering the country's brain drain and its poor political relationship with the West, Iran's scientific community remains productive, even while economic sanctions make it hard for universities to purchase equipment or send people to the United States to attend scientific meetings.
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Could this be a typist error? “The nations in the gulf” is incorrect English; and if the magazine did not want to get involved in the controversy as to Persian versus Arabian Gulf they should either use both names or refer to international standards, which have been decided on by international committees
 
Yosef Leibman
Founding Editor, Israeli Journal of Emergency Medicine
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This can not be a typo! The deleted word is not a preposition like "at, by, with, ...".
 
Mohammad Reza Mohebbi
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Dear Dr Mohebbi,
 
Editors based outside Iran often refer to The Persian Gulf as "The Gulf", as this is how it is referred to in our countries. I would personally never say "The Persian Gulf" as this is uncommon within the UK. As copy editors are trained to excise extraneous words, and print journals are pressed for space, "Persian" may have seemed unnecessary to the copy editor at the last minute. I am sure that no offence was intended, but Western editors need to remember the cultural sensitivities surrounding certain geographical terms in future. The New Internationalist is a paragon of virtue in this regard, for example referring to New Zealand as Aotearoa/New Zealand.
 
An article in the Guardian this month highlights the same happening with other publications.
 
Iran Bans the Economist Over Gulf Map
 
Tehran, Iran (AP) - Iran has banned The Economist magazine for describing the Persian Gulf as merely "the Gulf'' in a map published in the latest edition, state television reported Wednesday.
 
It is the second time in two years that Iran has banned such an international publication for failing to use the term "Persian Gulf'' in a map. In 2004, it banned the National Geographic atlas when a new edition appeared with the term "Arabian Gulf'' in parentheses beside the more commonly used Persian Gulf.
 
Matt Hodgkinson-Barrett 
Senior Editor, BMC-series Journals
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Dear all,
 
I had responded only to Dr Mohebbi about the issue that he raised, and later to Dr Leibman who also made a comment. Dr Mohebbi then suggested that I should have directed my two cents worth to the list, so here it goes.
 
Fernando Alvarez
Associate Editor, Revista Biomedica
 
Dear Mohammad,
 
I fully agree with the point you make. I don't see why the Persian Gulf should be referred to simply as "the Gulf". There are many other geographical misunderstandings that the Americans and Europeans have popularized. For example, the people from the U.S. refer to their country as "America" and, hence, they are "Americans"; however, America is the name for the whole continent, from Alaska and Canada in the north, all the way down to Argentina and Chile in the south, and including all of the Latin American and Caribbean countries. Thus, all of us inhabitants of America are Americans.
 
Besides, you are right in objecting to the change that the editor made without your consent. The apparently minor change is not negligible.
 
Fernando Alvarez
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Dear Mr Hodgkinson-Barrett,
 
I doubt it is a simple change!! by the copy editor. First of all, as the author of the letter, I believe that the journal has misused my signature. I signed the galley proof, and they changed it after I signed it and published it without my consent as the author.
 
Secondly, a simple search in the previous issues of Nature as well as many other journals in UK, will show you that the name "Persian Gulf" has been used several times before. So, I don't agree with you saying "It's the way it is referred to it in our countries.”!
 
As regards the evidence for the name that has been there for about three millennia, you can find lots of historical maps in different languages (Persian, English, Arabic, and Latin) in museums around the world as your British Museum showing the name of "Persian Gulf" as “Persian Gulf,” “Golfo Persico,” “Mar de Persia,” “Bahre Fars,” and “Khalije Pars”.
In the end, I would like to reiterate that as the author of the letter, I do not agree with the published letter that has my name on it. I HAVE SIGNED A DIFFERENT LETTER!
I hope that Nature has a valid explanation for the big mistake.
 
Mohammad Reza Mohebbi
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Surely the important question here is not WHAT was changed, but WHEN it was changed (ie, after the author had approved the galleys). If journals think they have the right to edit/shorten letters AFTER the author has signed the proofs, this should surely be made clear to authors. I realise that letters are often squeezed into an issue at a late stage, so I'd be interested if other journals consider this reasonable practice and, if so, whether they would ever alter other types of papers AFTER proofs have been approved/corrected.
 
However, I suggest that WAME is not the correct place to debate the often sensitive topic of nomenclature, but it is a good forum for discussing journals' editorial practice.
 
Liz Wager
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I think is it right to ask the journal why the change was made after the corrected galley was delivered. All journals, regardless of whether their impact and resources are large or small, should treat authors fairly and with transparency. If the word was deleted by mistake (or even intentionally) by an employee of the journal, there should be no problem publishing a corrigendum (or clarification).
In my limited experience, I have found the attitude of the staff responsible for the Correspondence section can be not particularly flexible and the behavior not as transparent as one would wish.
 
A few years ago I and others complained to this journal about a letter in the Correspondence section that contained an unfounded accusation of scientific misconduct, and a few rather easy-to-spot misinterpretations of the retracted article (which had not been published in Nature) the letter was criticizing. One of the authors of the letter was a Big Name—too important to be ignored, I guess.
 
The author, whose retracted paper the Big Name criticized, submitted a rebuttal to Nature, but they made him shorten it until it was shorter than the damaging letter they had published previously—and they delayed publication for several months. So by the time the author’s refutation was printed, everybody had forgotten about the problem, and its impact on readers was probably very weak. I protested to Nature about this and so did other people because of the unfair and very serious implications of the letter by Big Name, but the decisions had been made and the deeds had been done, and nothing was done by way of redress. (Unfortunately, I can't make the names public because this information is based on private correspondence.)
 
I hope we'll hear about the outcome of Dr Mohebbi's experience on the WAME list. 
 
Karen Shashok
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Politically and religiously inspired squabbles and complaints are a nuisance and probably an important reason for editors leaving WAME.
We should keep these issues out of  WAME.
 
Josef Milerad
Scientific-Editor-in–Chief, Journal of the Swedish Medical Association
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I vehemently disagree with Dr Milerad. The main issue here is changing approved galleys. It is tampering and has no place in a respectable journal. Furthermore, another issue is respecting sensitivities by abiding to international consensus.
 
Principles are principles, and any intellectually honest person must worry about  this journal's intent.
 
Yosef Leibman
Founding Editor, Israeli Journal of EM
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I wholeheartedly endorse the remarks of Dr Leibman. The problem mentioned is exactly an issue of journalism and the way an editor should act. No matter what the changes, can a journal editor change a manuscript after the author signs the galley? If yes, to what extent? Is it necessary to show the final version of the manuscript, before publication, to the author and ask his/her signature again?
 
F. Habibzadeh
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Is this not akin to splitting hairs? If someone says to me 'the Gulf', I immediately think of the Persian Gulf, and I expect that so many Europeans/North Americans do the same. I doubt if there was any malice in the act of deleting a single word (an element of ignorance maybe, but I doubt malice).
 
On the other hand, changes should not be made in the fashion you describe. So, write a letter of complaint, and then let it go. Mistakes happen, apologies should be made, but life is too short for lengthy discussions about these things.
 
This is one of the several recent discussions that would convince me to leave the WAME listserve.
 
Moira Vekony
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I agree wholeheartedly.
 
The matter should have been resolved in private correspondence between author and editor and only brought to general attention if no satisfactory explanation or resolution could be reached.
 
I would have thought there were more important issues for us to be discussing.
 
David Ames
Int Psychogeriatrics
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I agree as well. Approved galley or no, before making inflamed assumptions, would it not be prudent to step back and at least consider that this might have been an honest error or oversight? First ask for an explanation! This usage is widely understood without question. I understand the author’s concern, but for him and others to immediately assume this was intentional is premature and serves no one.
 
I can’t understand why this would be broadcast to the listserve. I’ll likely soon sign off for the reasons others have cited.
 
Pat Curry
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I read with interest the comment of Dr. Mohebbi. I would not like to comment to call the area as Gulf or Persian Gulf; however, as a science community and looking after purely scientific journals, we should do our best to avoid political conflicts and concentrate on our fields.
 
M Almoamary 
Annals of Thoracic Medicine
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Could this be a typist error? “The nations in the gulf” is incorrect English; and if the magazine did not want to get involved in the controversy as to Persian versus Arabian Gulf they should either use both names or refer to international standards, which have been decided on by international committees.
 
Yosef Leibman
Founding Editor, Israeli Journal of Emergency Medicine
________________________________________
 
Dear Colleagues,
 
Perhaps I am mistaken, but I perceived WAME as being a forum for dealing with any concern regarding publishing. I believe, therefore, that even a complaint such as this Gulf issue deserves mention—the writer was not complaining in my opinion but, rather, asking advice. 
 
My journal is not a big one, and I think that as important as the larger issues are, I also look at WAME as a resource. This is a place where  big boys such as the BMJ and JAMA can trade ideas and concepts—as well as provide consultation to smaller countries.
 
I also believe that ethical concerns and political sensitivities are part of our jobs and daily lives. Whether or not Gulf is a political issue, in the eyes of the writer it is no less important  than CMAJ politics or ghost writing and deserves the proper respect.
 
In  conclusion, I am sick of editors who are so myopic that they threaten this treasured forum with their withdrawal because they find a discussion not worthy of their attention. 
Remember the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.”
 
Yosef Leibman
Founding Editor, IJEM
________________________________________
 
So far, the discussion of whether authors get final proof approval seems to assume that the proofs sent to authors are the last ones before printing.
 
It’s not my experience that that’s the case. Moreover, in 30 years of helping journals, I’ve seen that there are many permutations as to number of proofing cycles and the ordering of which proofs are seen by whom. The options are sometimes dictated by budget or just by a journal’s own tradition. Processes are often negotiable, but in no instance have I seen authors given final approval rights, though their wishes are highly respected.
 
Here are permutations used at two journals published outside an English-language setting. List participants might want to consider their merits or suggest changes. The author does not see the final proofs in either one!
 
1) In one English-language journal I now co-copyedit, before I joined, only one set of proofs was issued—sent to the editor, the copy editor, and the author all at once! The pagemaker was the one who tried to make sense of  the (often conflicting) corrections “ordered” by all three parties. (Yes! the pagemaker herself!) When I joined that journal, we co-copy editors assumed responsibility for reconciling the three sets of proof corrections. I also insisted on one more round in which only we see and approve how the corrections were input.
 
- NOTE: Clearly it’s quite possible that changes will be made in the proofs the author saw for that journal. If I thought a change was “substantive,” I would dialog with the author about it. (We also dialog with authors on changes during a month-long copyediting period; the author also approves the copyedited manuscript. That explains why the cut-rate one-and-a-half proofing cycle is feasible.) It’s also possible that the author might ask for a proof change that could not be accepted for language-related reasons. (Authors in that journal have varying levels of English language expertise.)
 
2) In another journal (this time a Spanish language one), three proof cycles have traditionally been used: first, to the author and back; second, to the copy editor and back; third, to the editorial board and then to the printer. Now, there is an unofficial fourth proof cycle because “to the printer” is replaced by “to the translation team” so that further changes, some substantive, may be made in the original version during the translation process. Those changes are always made based on dialog between the translation team and the author and fed back to the publisher to guarantee the two versions have identical content.
 
- NOTE:  The “author proofs” were the first ones available, not the last ones before printing! Note also, that although that is the current process of a journal in Spain, it was also the process followed by other science journals I copyedited in New York in the 1970s. Clearly it has a long tradition. Note further, that although the author is involved in the translation process in this case, author approval of the “virtual” English proof is not part of the editorial process at all. (In three years, this has never led to an author complaint about quality, however. If there were a complaint, the English version could be changed, as it’s not the printed, official original.)
 
Finally, in both processes, it’s my impression that authors appreciate the dialog during the manuscript editing and translation processes much more than they value the reading of proofs. The key is gaining the authors’ confidence that our goal is to respect their intentions, their messages, and give the non-English-speaking author a “voice” he or she is comfortable with and that is correct.
 
Accuracy is the goal and getting to it is a collaborative effort. The editor ultimately answers for lack of accuracy if he or she doesn’t oversee processes that converge to give the level of quality possible in the circumstances.
 
M.E. Kerans
________________________________________
 
To say that you can't change an article after the author's approval is nonsense.
 
The editor is ultimately responsible for everything that is published in a journal and, as such, is able to make changes at any stage. Clearly, it is best to have the author's approval, but, on a busy weekly journal or if an author is hard to contact, it is not always possible to seek approval. Editors should be employed because they exercise judgement, not because they are robots merely dealing with publication process.
 
Now, whether or not an editor makes an appropriate change to a manuscript is a different matter. It is then for the journal's community (readers, authors, owners)  to pass judgement on the editor's performance.
 
Kamran Abbasi
Editor, JRSM
________________________________________
 
To quote from the World Intellectual Property Organization Web site: "Copyright protection also includes moral rights, which include the right to claim authorship of a work, and the right to oppose changes to it if that could harm the creator's reputation."
 
Copyright is usually signed away or licensed to journals as a condition of publication, and the conditions of copyright transfer need to be examined and understood by the journal publisher and the authors who sign the forms. If Nature's copyright form authorizes the journal to make changes after the author has delivered "final" proofs, it appears there is nothing to be done other than file a complaint with the journal for insensitive editing or poor judgment. (Of all the words they could have deleted if it was a problem of space! Was it really necessary to delete that particular word?)
If the terms of copyright transfer do not make it clear whether the journal reserves the right to make further changes, it may be prudent for the publisher to remember that one of the authors' moral rights is for no further changes to be made without permission from the author.
 
Karen Shashok
________________________________________
 
I tend to agree.
 
I think an author should certainly inquire about changes made after proofs are approved. I would worry more about a change that altered MEANING rather than one, like this, that truly would not mislead the majority of readers, if any. A polite inquiry would be the first course of action, because indeed the reason could be an error, perhaps on the part of the typesetter, not the editor.
 
Another person on the list brought up a much more egregious case of editorial "overstepping"—when a rebuttal letter was drastically cut—and, while not knowing the full story here, I think that person may have more of a reason to truly complain. But the cutting of a single word THAT DOES NOT CHANGE THE MEANING, whether or not it was done with the authors' permission, hardly seems like "editorial misconduct." Yes, inquire. But please, let's not go overboard. 
 
Lisa Dittrich
________________________________________
 
Dear Doctor Mohebbi,
 
How can you conceive, that Nature will formulate an excuse to you about a previous error in your manuscript, after you have tried to make this error a scoop in an expert forum listserve?
After they did accept your manuscript, wouldn’t it have been wise for you to contact Nature directly about the error?
 
HNID
________________________________________
 
As I have mentioned in my first letter, I was seeking advice from the expert forum.
 
Did I ever write anything about an excuse?
 
Mohammad Reza Mohebbi
________________________________________
 
Dear Doctor Mohebbi,
 
I know very well that you did not mention an excuse, but suppose that Nature wanted to apologize after their mistake. At this stage (after the discussion in this forum), it is indisputable that Nature will feel ridiculed, especially if Nature is not guilty (and I m sure they are not guilty of what you presume).
 
I think that you have to apologize to Nature because you were too fast in your deduction! The proof? They have accepted your manuscript!
 
HNID
________________________________________
 
I must agree. A few weeks ago we discussed a possible decline in copyediting. My sense of that discussion was that proofing and copyediting had declined in quality and had been increasingly handed over to authors because of the cost of high-quality editors.
 
I would note that this discussion began with my recounting several recent incidents when I had been given page proofs, returned them, and some or all of the changes hadn't been made. In NO case was I given a final set of clean proofs (this was part of my complaint). Here the problem was that changes were NOT made when they were supposed to be; however, the key point in both cases is that there was a presumption that editors can make changes and publish after the manuscript leaves the hands of the authors.
 
This is clearly stated in most copyright agreements I have signed, which say that my work can be changed to meet the needs of the journal. I always find this scary. For example, as we can see here, the names by which cultural groups refer to themselves are quite sensitive. There is nothing in my contractual agreements to stop a journal from changing a carefully chosen label I have used to describe my participants with one I or my participants would be uncomfortable with. This has, in fact, happened to me. It doesn't happen often because (a) it is usually changed prior to the proof stage and (b) authors complain loudly when it does and publish elsewhere.
 
So complain. But I don't see this as an issue of ethics.
 
Nancy Darling
Associate Editor, Journal of Adolescence
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
 

Requesting Raw Data from the Author

June 28 to July 3, 2006
 
As the editorial team we requested the raw data (database in SPSS or ...) from an author to check their analyses. The author refuses, and we have to present evidence that this is the right of the editors to request the data. I have seen such a policy somewhere in another journal, but now I don't know the source. In WAME, I did not find any sentence supporting our request. Could anybody help me find the evidence? Besides, is it really necessary to persuade the author?
________________________________________
 
Although I agree with the points made (ie, it is the *right* of the journal to request data and the *right* of the author to refuse), I cannot forsee any instance when I would request raw data to analyze. Kim keeps me busy enough reviewing data, let alone analyzing data. *I* think  this is a waste of your board's resources. Either the authors respond to criticisms or, if you doubt the veracity of the data, simply reject the submission. This also sets a bad precedent, when do you request data, when don't you analyze data? Journals are not in the data analysis business.
 
Gregory E. Gilbert
Editorial Board, Journal of the National Medical Association
________________________________________
 
I could not possibly disagree more. Allowing oneself the option to investigate further (by requesting raw data) is not tantamount to obligating oneself to do so. If authors know that they may be compelled (at least as a condition of publication) to provide raw data, then they may be more diligent than they currently need to be in ensuring that the summary data tabulations are supported by the raw data. Note that this is true whether or not the journal actually checks. The implicit threat of an audit may suffice.
 
Vance
________________________________________
 
On this topic of releasing raw data, WAME readers may be interested in this commentary by Andrew Vickers in Trials, "Whose data set is it anyway? Sharing raw data from randomized trials". He argues that "Journals and funding bodies should insist that trialists make raw data available, for example, by publishing data on the Web".
 
Matt Hodgkinson-Barrett  
Senior Editor, BMC-series Journals 
________________________________________
 
As seen below, the ethical guidelines of the American Psychological Association states that data must be shared for verification after publication and implies (but does not state) that it may be asked for in the review process.  
 
8.14 Sharing Research Data for Verification
 
(a) After research results are published, psychologists do not withhold the data on which their conclusions are based from other competent professionals who seek to verify the substantive claims through reanalysis and who intend to use such data only for that purpose, provided that the confidentiality of the participants can be protected and unless legal rights concerning proprietary data preclude their release. This does not preclude psychologists from requiring that such individuals or groups be responsible for costs associated with the provision of such information.
 
(b) Psychologists who request data from other psychologists to verify the substantive claims through reanalysis may use shared data only for the declared purpose. Requesting psychologists obtain prior written agreement for all other uses of the data.
 
8.15 Reviewers
 
Psychologists who review material submitted for presentation, publication, grant, or research proposal review respect the confidentiality of and the proprietary rights in such information of those who submitted it.”
 
Out of curiousity, what prompted the decision to request data? I can only imagine doing so if the results were so counter-intuitive or against the grain of the literature that I thought the author was in error.
 
Nancy Darling
________________________________________
 
Bill makes some excellent points (as usual!) -- and of course editors can only ASK for data, they are not like courts which can subpoena material. If the author refuses to supply the data, this must leave lingering doubts in the editor's mind, and I wonder how this fits with COPE's guidelines for editors which state:
 
'If editors suspect misconduct by authors…then they have a duty to take action. This duty extends to both published and unpublished papers.'
 
and goes on to state:
 
'If the editors are not satisfied with the response, they should ask the employers of the authors...or some appropriate body...to investigate.'
 
It seems to me that refusal to supply data in cases of suspected misconduct constitutes a definitely unsatisfactory response. By simply rejecting the submission, the editor has not fulfilled his/her responsibilities to investigate (which COPE notes, is 'an onerous but important duty') (and presumably the author will simply submit to another journal). However, I also appreciate that editors may be reluctant to raise concerns with employers or authorities on the basis of suspicion rather than evidence (which is presumably why they need to see the data).
 
I'd be interested to hear what other WAME members think. If you have suggestions about other aspects of COPE's guidelines, we would also like to hear them (perhaps best to send them off-line so we don't clog up the WAME listserve) as the COPE Council is currently reviewing the guidelines and plans to revise them.
 
Liz Wager
(Member of COPE Council)
________________________________________
 
I'm not sure if Farhat Farrokhi's initial question was about asking for raw data to investigate possible fraud or misconduct, or simply to understand the analyses in the paper concerned. If the journal just wanted to understand more fully the analyses, it would have been routine and non-contentious to ask for more detail by posing some very specific statistical questions. I don't see why the authors would have refused.
 
Asking to see raw data—particularly a whole dataset—is a much bigger request. It tends to imply that the editors mistrust the authors' work in some way. If that's what we're discussing here, WAME members may find this editorial useful: 
 
Jane Smith and Fiona Godlee
Investigating allegations of scientific misconduct  BMJ, Jul 2005;331:245-246;doi:10.1136/bmj.331.7511.245
 
It said:
 
"In practice there's a limit to what journals can do—because they have  neither the resources nor the authority to conduct investigations to  resolve suspicions about data. Yet they are, as Smith points out, in the  position of "privileged whistleblowers." Privileged because it is often their expert peer reviewers who first raise the suspicions about odd looking data in a research study; because they can ask authors for raw data and ask them to explain discrepancies (which may remove or strengthen the existing doubts); and because they can then ask a legitimate authority (such as an employer, university, or funding body) to investigate. The problems arise when there is no authority or the authority doesn't see it as its task to investigate."
 
And the BMJ's policy goes a bit further than the general guidelines from COPE by referring anonymised cases to the journals' own ethics committee.
 
These links will tell you more:
 
 
Lastly, here's a detailed case study:
 
EDUCATION AND DEBATE:
 
Caroline White
 
Suspected research fraud: difficulties of getting at the truth. BMJ, Jul 2005;331:281-288;doi:10.1136/bmj.331.7511.281
 
Trish Groves
Deputy editor, BMJ 
________________________________________
 
Leading scientific culture denoting trust, dignity, and prestige among its members to spy work and surveillance activities undervalues knowledge and those who have strived for it throughout their lives. Let's remain trustful of one another and be confident that time reveals the truth in case of fraud or any cheating act.
 
Dr. Manoochehri
________________________________________
 
Trish makes good points, and the BMJ has been a real leader in this area. It seems to me that if the editor, based on reviewer input, has questions about the integrity of the data, he or she has only 2 recourses: reject the manuscript or allow the authors a chance to convince the editor that the data are correct. Assuming that an author would not want his or her manuscript rejected, then what are the options to asking for the data (if the editor, the journal's biostatistical reviewer, or the external peer reviewer is willing to evaluate  them)?
 
Should the editor ask the authors to convince him or her that the data are correct? The authors have presumably already made their best stab at it in the manuscript. It was suggested that sending the analyses might help. Yet they can edit any output from any statistical package to say what they want it to say.
 
One commenter on this exchange suggested that we trust the authors to be honest, and that eventually, dishonest authors and bad data are uncovered. First, we have no idea how much bad data and dishonest authors are published, only what has been uncovered. Second, in almost all cases, we DO trust the authors and don't ask for data. The results make sense to the reviewers and tell a compelling and consistent story.
 
However, sometimes, as in the case that started this all off, there are questions about the integrity of the data and the honesty of the authors. The easy way out is to simply reject such a manuscript (knowing that the authors will likely submit it to another journal). The journal editor willing to check the data is actually providing a service to the author. The author can refuse to comply, of course, which would result in rejection because the question of data integrity cannot be answered.
 
Bill Tierney
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
 

Editorial Actions in Response to Personal Misconduct of Authors

May 12 to May 16, 2006
 
I would like your opinion on the following case:
 
We published an editorial on treatment of anxiety syndromes. The author was a well-known expert from another Nordic country.
 
Now, several months later, the author has been found guilty of serious professional misconduct-he had a sexual relationship with a patient. The incident happened in 1999, and the verdict (his medical license being withdrawn for 3 years) was upheld by the supreme court in 2005.
 
We had no knowledge of this. An antipsychiatric advocacy group posted the verdict on their Web site and also urged us to "take action."
 
Has anybody encountered a similar case? What do you think should be done?
 
The editorial was about a pharmacological treatment that is the author's area of expertise.
 
Joseph Milerad
Scientific-Editor-In-Chief, Journal of the Swedish Medical Association
___________________________
 
I believe a revocation of a medical license is just to prohibit practicing medicine and not publishing research. It was peer reviewed as usual, I assume, so the information is still sound. You are not obligated to do anything.
 
Kimberly Taylor
Publications Director, Journal of the National Medical Association
___________________________
 
I have not encountered a similar case, but as reprehensible as the author's conduct may have been, it does not appear to bear any relation to the contents of the editorial you published. As long as the contents are sound, I fail to see why your journal should take any action. It is up to the justice system to dictate the sentence, as has been done by revocation of the license to practice medicine, and the advocacy group should not impose its own agenda by putting pressure on you.
 
Naturally, the situation would be altogether different if you had published a research paper in which one or several of the study subjects had been forced by the author to engage in sexual activity or something of that kind. This not being the case, I do not think you are ethically or morally obligated to take punitive action of any sort.
 
María L. Clark
Managing Editor, Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública/Pan American Journal of Public Health
___________________________
 
I'd do nothing...
 
Barry Pless
___________________________
 
I think the same: forbidding someone from practicing medicine is not the same as forbidding them to investigate and publish, as that is not medicine's exclusive province.
So, if it's not related to the incident, just publish it.
 
Noel Rojas Bonet
Director de Protomedicos.com, Revista Virtual de Estudiantes de Medicina (http://www.protomedicos.com)
___________________________
 
In my personal opinion, finding a person guilty of professional misconduct does not in any way necessitate a journal to take any action unless it is related to fraud or plagiarism.
The withdrawal of a license only means he cannot practice; he can still be involved in active research, and publish.
 
Since the paper was reviewed, I personally feel no action need to be taken.
 
Vinod Scaria
Executive Editor, Calicut Medical Journal (www.calicutmedicaljournal.org)
___________________________
 
I agree with doing nothing. Taking action conflates a private life mistake with scientific fraud.
 
Nezih Oktar
JNS, Journal of Neurological Sciences (http://jns.dergisi.org) 
___________________________
 
I have not seen the article. I have not known the author either. Also, I believe that personal issues should not affect the capability of researchers in doing research. And in this specific case the editor should do nothing (in my opinion).
 
But lets broaden the discussion and consider that when a doctor who knows he/she should not have this kind of misconduct in his professional life and does it deliberately, it is very probable that he/she repeat the behavior again and again.
 
Is it possible that this psychiatrist (doctor) assumed his relationship was a type of treatment (right or wrong)?
 
Is it possible that this psychiatrist (doctor) prescribed medication for his/her patients at the same time?
 
Is it possible that this psychiatrist (doctor) published an article about the efficacy of the drug he/she had prescribed?
 
If it is so, we cannot say "OK publish it. Judge will give his verdict. That is not our business."
 
Like to hear colleagues' opinion.
 
Behrooz Astaneh
___________________________
 
Professional misconduct is indeed reprehensible but the person has already been judged for that. I do not think the journal should take any action.
 
Ashok Shah
Editor, The Indian Journal of Chest Diseases & Allied Sciences
Associate Editor, The Indian Journal of Tuberculosis
___________________________
 
Professional Misconduct
 
There are 3 issues involved here:
 
  1. The legitimacy of the editorial
  2. The charge of professional misconduct and its bearing on the publication of the editorial
  3. Standing among peers, post-professional misconduct
 
1. As far as the legitimacy of the editorial goes, the journal is answerable to the charge whether it went into the expertise of the author invited. We can rest assured that must have been taken care of, since no journal would invite a non-expert to write a guest editorial. Similarly, no journal would willfully invite a tainted researcher to write such a piece. So, the editorial stands as a legitimate piece from an expert, and need not be withdrawn at all, unless the editorial board has any doubts about the expertise of the writer. I see you have no such doubts, even today.
 
2. However, the second charge is worth a close look. Professional misconduct of an expert has come to light. If it is relates to the contents of the article under question, it has to be retracted. For example, if it is an editorial about anxiety, and the writer has not revealed a compromising conflict of interest, which comes to light later, the journal is well within its rights to retract such a piece. However, no such thing has happened here. No one in his wildest imagination would claim that a guest editorial on anxiety syndromes is in any way connected with sexual relationship with a patient. That claim can also be disposed of.
 
3. The final point must now be taken up. It cannot be dismissed that easily. In inviting a guest editorial, a journal not only goes in for a person's expertise, but also his standing among peers in the medical community. This standing, in the light of the Supreme Court judgment, is seriously compromised. If it were just a charge it would be different. Here this is a judgment from the supreme law of the land. In such circumstances, the journal will be well advised to write a small note to its readers about the news that has come to its attention, and when it got it, and allow the readers to formulate their opinion about the guest editorial.
 
Not to do so would mean keeping the readers in the dark, which is not pardonable in this age of greater transparency. The readers are free to formulate their opinion in their own best judgment.
Hence, a brief letter to the readers in this case would be appropriate. The editorial board may not stand by what the guest editor wrote. (It need not do so, in any other case too.) But, in this case it owes its readers a proper, judicious explanation. Not alarmist, not covering up. Just the facts, in as matter of fact a manner as possible.
 
Ajai
___________________________
 
One thing remains in my opinion. Though I agree with the idea of a note on the author's professional misconduct verdict, without going into unnecessary details, I am not sure that criminal laws in all countries would allow public announcement of decisions made in judiciary system, especially those related to professional misconduct. I think the last part must be left to the local regulations and judiciary policies.
 
Arash Etemadi
Scientific Writing and Publishing Advisor, Vice-Chancellor for Research, Tehran University of Medical Sciences
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
 

Sudden Withdrawal of Paper

April 28 to May 8, 2006
 
One author has just written to withdraw his paper after it has been scheduled for publication. Please advise.
 
Thank you.
 
Clement O. Adewunmi
Editor-in-Chief, African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines(http://www.africanethnomedicines.net/ojs2/index.php/ajtcam)
___________________________
 
If they signed the copyright transfer agreement then it is up to you to concede to their withdrawal.
 
Your scenario has only happened once to me in 5 years. If the withdrawal request came with a good explanation, appreciation for time spent, and an apology I would just let it go. If it was abruptly withdrawn—as happened to us once, we just made a note not to accept any manuscripts for review from that particular lead author. It is disappointing when things like this happen, especially so late in the process after so much time and effort has been spent—but it isn't the end of the world. Had this happened to me after our layout artist (outside vendor) had copyedited and formatted it for publication, I would ask the lead author to reimburse her for her time, since that is an actual cost that we would have to assume.
 
Kimberly Taylor
Publications Director, Journal of the National Medical Associatiom
___________________________
 
There must be a very strong reason that the author have asked to withdraw at this stage. I suggest not to publish this type of shady paper.
 
Ijaz A. Khan
Associate Editor, International Journal of Cardiology
___________________________
 
Unfortunately, such an experience is not uncommon in many journals published in developing countries. Many of authors who do not have a good command of English submit their manuscript to the Journal Office. If the work passes the peer review process, it enters the editing process. After this phase, when the manuscript is almost ready, we may ask the author some minor questions or send him/her the galley proof and the copyright transfer form. And this exactly the point where the author who can see the resulting edited manuscript is arranged in a form that can be presented in better journals, might withdraw and submit his/her work to another journal with a higher profile. The original manuscript could not be presentable to that journal, but thanks to the good work of so many people in the editorial team of the first journal it now can be presented. Many editors working in developing countries witnessed such a problem several times.
 
Farrokh Habibzadeh
___________________________
 
Tackling such a problem in developing countries needs national resolution. As most authors in those countries are supported by medical universities, it can be a good idea to perform a national code of conduct regarding this unethical issue by the ministry of health in those countries. Mild fines or scientific sanctions can be the first step.
 
Behrooz Astaneh
___________________________
 
I was just wondering if the author has mentioned any reason for the withdrawal. We need to know the reason for withdrawal before questioning the scientific system of the entire developing world! This is not fair.
 
Mohammad Reza Mohebbi
___________________________
 
Farrokh Habibzadeh, MD, wrote: "Unfortunately, such an experience is not uncommon in many journals published in developing countries."
 
One American journal has a policy in place that prevents the scenario that Dr. Habibzadeh described from occurring with authors from developing countries whose first language is not English. (I will not name the journal here because I do not speak for it; I am a freelance medical copyeditor whose services are used by some of the non-American authors whose work is published in the journal.) After such articles are reviewed, they are accepted for publication on the condition that the authors obtain the services of a freelance copyeditor—at their own expense—to polish their writing. These articles then are reviewed a second time by the journal and given full acceptance. Once the articles are scheduled for publication in a particular issue, the journal's own freelance copyeditor reviews the writing, at the journal's expense, just as for all other articles the journal publishes.
 
Since the journal instituted this procedure, no authors from developing countries have withdrawn their articles. Perhaps having to pay the expense of getting their articles into the best shape possible makes the authors realize the gravity of their obligation to the journal.
 
Katharine O'Moore-Klopf
KOK Edit
___________________________
 
I guess the experiences of journals are important to reflect on. But let us also remember that the editor of the journal who has requested advice, though from the developing world, has not identified the residence of the author(s). It may not be a developed nation or developing nation author. This does not mean that it is not appropriate to give examples and I appreciate the attention that authors like me, from developing nations, are getting in this discussion. Can we think of a different way to deal with this problem that is non-punitive and reserve the punishment for recalcitrants? We also appreciate that many authors have not yet had the privilege of understanding what editors go through and to them, it may be helpful if they are not punished for lack of knowledge. Although in legal terms, ignorance is no defense, but I guess as educators, editors need to think of other ways before thinking of punishing.
 
Adamson S. Muula
___________________________
 
These are valid points. I agree that the author in question should not be dealt with in a punitive manner.
 
The policy of the journal that I wrote about is not meant as punitive. It is meant merely to ensure that the journal's articles are in the best condition possible, to be of the most service possible to readers. But it does have the effect of helping authors to feel that they have more of an investment in the publication of their articles.
 
Katharine O'Moore-Klopf
KOK Edit
___________________________
 
One possible solution to this problem is assignment of copyright. At our journal, we insist that authors of all papers for which we have asked for revisions send the assignment of copyright form along with the revised manuscript. So at that point, if the article is accepted, the author cannot withdraw it because the journal (or in our case, the society that owns the journal) owns the copyright to that manuscript, not the author. The original journal can publish the paper even if the author wishes to withdraw it. So if the author sends it to another journal, that would constitute duplicate publication which would be illegal and cause for legal actions against the journal (which could plead ignorance), the author, and if the copyright owner desired, the author's institution.
 
This ignores the whole discussion about who should own the copyright of articles that emanate from publicly funded research. (In fact, our journal no longer requires copyright assignment but rather an Exclusive Licensing Form [ELF] that gives our journal the exclusive right to publish the work, even though the author retains the copyright to it.)
 
Using the copyright assignment form or ELF would be a reasonable means of preventing an author from pulling a manuscript from a journal that has spent substantial time improving it.
 
Bill Tierney
Co-Editor-in-Chief, Journal of General Internal Medicine
___________________________
 
This is a common problem, especially with authors from your country. We have followed up such authors (searches online etc) and discovered that in fact many of them send their manuscripts to more than one journal at a time.
 
We blacklist them and refuse to take their work as it overburdens our editorial staff and reviewers.
 
James K Tumwine
Editor-in-Chief, African Health Sciences
___________________________
 
I experienced this when I worked as managing editor of AJRH and JMBR, but I think it is wrong to generalize that authors from a particular country do so. Authors from other countries also do it. My impression of such authors is that they are not confident enough to believe that their work could be published in a particular journal so they want to submit to as many as possible. Sometimes, too, it could be a matter of impatience. Some authors would send an article to a journal expecting it to be given "VIP" treatment, and when they don't get it they are dissappointed. It's frustrating, though, but you cannot stop them as long as the article has not been published. I also do not think that you need to blacklist certain people because you have had cases of abrupt withdrawal of manuscripts. I believe every article submitted should be given a fair treatment to the best of your ability. It is not possible to satisfy every author. You don't need to be disturbed that one or two authors are withdrawing their manuscripts, especially if you have many others to work on.
 
James Falaiye
Science Writer/Editor, International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)
___________________________
 
James K Tumwine wrote: "This is a common problem especially with authors from your country. We have followed up such authors (searches online etc) and discovered that in fact many of them send their manuscripts to more than one journal at a time.We blacklist them and refuse to take their work as it overburdens our editorial staff and reviewers."
This author is not from my country. The truth is that the problem could be global. The authors of this paper are from China. The paper was submitted in the last week of March, reviewed by Chinese and Egyptian reviewers. The proof was read, and 4 days later, the paper was withdrawn. The paper was handled online.
 
Thank you.
 
Clement O. Adewunmi
Editor-in-Chief, African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines(http://www.africanethnomedicines.net/ojs2/index.php/ajtcam)
___________________________
 
William Tierney wrote: "One possible solution to this problem is assignment of copyright."
 
Sending assignment of copyright with revisions seems problematic. As an author, I have often been asked for revisions (sometimes multiple serious revisions) and subsequently had the manuscript rejected. Had I assigned copyright with the revisions, I would have lost right to submit it elsewhere. Usually these manuscripts are accepted first round elsewhere.
 
As an editor, we usually accept manuscripts that have been revised, but that is certainly not always the case. We ask for an assignment of copyright with the proofs.
 
Query: What would happen if the author assigned copyright and then the journal changed the manuscript prior to publication? I recently had a set of galleys come back to me that had a lot of errors in it (including listing my institution as a co-author). I corrected them, and presumably the problems will be fixed, but do I have any recourse if that—or other changes—are made AFTER I sign a copyright form?
 
Nancy Darling
Associate Editor, Journal of Adolescence (www.elsevier.com/locate/adolescence)
___________________________
 
I agree that copyright assignment can work, but if the copyright is assigned and yet another journal is publishing the article then it still amounts to the same thing—withdrawal. Even though the author is not withdrawing the paper officially, one of the journals will not be able to publish it, because of the issue of duplication of publication.
 
We should also remember that the author can decide to withdraw his copyright notice as long as the work has not been published if he has a strong reason to do so. The author has his rights as well as the journal. In such case the journal may ask him to pay for it, but the payment cannot be enough to compensate for the time and effort expended on the review process.
 
I think one solution is for journal publishers to interact more with their authors and educate them better. Many of the authors are ignorant of the implications of what they do at times.
 
James Falaiye
Science Writer/Editor, International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)
___________________________
 
Dear Clement,
 
Sorry if I imputed that the culprits are from your country. It can indeed happen anywhere. All I did was to share the experience of our journal. I apologize for any inconvenience.
 
James K Tumwine
Editor-in-Chief, African Health Sciences
___________________________
 
This would not be the case if advance publication online was in place.
 
Kevan Wylie
Sexual & Relationship Therapy
___________________________
 
I think you should ask your authors to send their copyrights before saying that the paper is accepted or not, in order to avoid this situation.
 
Also, you should consider to ask authors to sign a document which automatically transfers their rights to you after submitting a paper.
 
However, it can takes too much time, so it's your decision. I think you could forbide this author to publish in your journal, and let him go out.
 
Noel Rojas Bonet
Director de Protomedicos.com, Revista Virtual de Estudiantes de Medicina (http://www.protomedicos.com)
___________________________
 
This is a distressing situation, certainly for the journal, but possibly for the authors. There are many possible reasons for withdrawal of a paper. Have you discovered the authors' reasons for their request to withdraw? Before recommending an action, I would like to know more information before implicating the authors.
 
Is it possible that they found an ethical problem with the study (eg, falsification of data) and are withdrawing this paper in an appropriate manner (most likely an appropriate action)?
 
Did the communications about this paper's acceptance get lost, so the authors were unaware that your journal was planning on publishing the paper (an error in communications)?
 
Did they find another journal that was willing to publish their paper more quickly or did they submit to several journals at once (inappropriate actions on the authors' part)?
 
I am sure that there are many more possibilities that could be added to this list. Would you mind sharing more of the details about this situation so that the full picture can be reviewed?
 
Claire Johnson
Editor, JMPT
___________________________
 
Noel Rojas wrote: "I think you should ask your authors to send their copyrights before saying that the paper is accepted or not, in order to avoid this situation.
 
"Also, you should consider to ask authors to sign a document which automatically transfers their rights to you after submitting a paper.
 
"However, it can takes too much time, so it's your decision. I think you could forbide this author to publish in your journal, and let him go out."
 
It is inconvenient and annoying to have an author withdraw a manuscript at the last minute after you've committed resources to it. But it would be devastating to an author to submit a piece and have to transfer copyright to the journal prior to publication just to have it considered. Most papers are rejected and the author would have lost rights to their manuscript and wouldn't be able to resubmit.
 
We (now) ask authors to affirm a statement upon submission saying that the paper adheres to ethical standards, that all authors have agreed and stand behind the manuscript, that it has not been published elsewhere and will not be submitted elsewhere until they've heard back from us.
 
It won't stop dishonest people from being dishonest, but it does mean that people shouldn't submit simultaneously to multiple journals out of ignorance.
 
Nancy Darling
Associate Editor, Journal of Adolescence (www.elsevier.com/locate/adolescence)
___________________________
 
I totally agree with Claire Johnson's comments. We had one author withdraw their paper due to incorrect data and ethical issues as our investigation later revealed.
 
Comfort Osonnaya
Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Medicine (IJM)
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
 

Refusal to Supply Authors With a Copy of Their Work

February 16 to February 17, 2006
 
Colleagues,
 
Wearing my hat as an author, I have just had the interesting experience of, on learning a paper of mine had just been published and e-mailing to request a PDF from the publisher, being told I could not have one. Here is their reply:
 
"The Journal's policy is that it does not provide PDFs of individual articles to authors. While we understand why authors may request a PDF, there are a number of factors that have influenced this decision.
 
Access to electronic versions of papers decreases the need to access library copies of the Journal. This influences the libraries' subscription patterns. There are a lot of budget pressures on institutional libraries; periodicals that are not used are more vulnerable to being dropped off renewal lists. This may be particularly obvious where lecturers/tutors provide electronic or paper copies of articles to their students, saving them a trip to the library. There is an opportunity cost in providing a PDF: The author can easily send it on to numerous other computer users and anyone with a copy of the file can easily print out and distribute multiple copies of the article. This decreases the potential for reprint sales. Potential readers of an article who can obtain a copy of the PDF are less likely to order a copy of a specific Journal (or be swayed towards membership or Journal subscription). While PDFs are cheap and easy to produce, the administration and production of the Journal itself is a costly exercise. These costs must be met by the members and Journal subscribers.
 
The issue is under regular review as technology use and conventions change. In the meantime, we hope you will understand why PDFs are not provided as a standard practice."
 
I replied, in part, "Let me give you the perspective of how your policy seems from an author's viewpoint. Basically, you are saying to authors (without whom the journal would not exist) "Please write and send us articles that we can profit from in the form of library charges and subscriptions. Once you send it to us, and (hopefully) see it attract a lot of attention, people will buy multiple copies/pdfs, the journal's reputation will be enhanced and it will blossom. But if you want to have a copy, please pay us to get your own work back?" Your policy is like a publisher saying to an author of a book:
 
"Thanks for your book which we hope will make us lots of money. Now if you want a copy, please pay for it." I trust you can see that this is very mean-spirited, amateurish, and most importantly, disrespectful to authors."
 
Am I missing something here? Do any other journals treat their authors this way?
 
Simon Chapman
Editor, Tobacco Control
___________________________
 
I guess they are just being honest, even if short-sighted.
 
For one thing, most authors who have been short-changed like that will most likely just go ahead and distribute their proof copies (or the Word documents from which the proofs originated).
 
And these editors miss the point that the popularity of a single article is not worth nearly as much to them as the reputation and awareness of their journal among the academic and clinical public. Sharing useful articles around widely is the best way of getting that awareness up.
 
Tony Helman
Editor-in-Chief, Arbor Clinical Nutrition Updates
___________________________
 
Your "case study" reflects the distant criteria and objective differences between editors and publishers... And I just want to add our experience in Gaceta Sanitaria (in English, Public Health Bulletin, The Scientific Journal of the Spanish Public Health Association, a federation of several public health-related societies: epidemiology, public health, health economy, etc).
 
When the journal is ready for the Internet, we e-mail the corresponding author the PDF file with a short acknowledgement note for his/her contribution to the journal. The objectives of such action:
 
first, to acknowledge the authors, because without them the journal does not exist, but also because we want to stimulate the use of the paper, and as mentioned, the author effort to spread the word is very important (if this, in turn, contribute to improve the number of citations should be assessed with an adhoc trial...).
 
Our journal as a hybrid open-access format: the 3 most recent issues (6 months) are available only to society members and subscribers (although some key papers are opened) and full free access applies only to papers published more than 6 months ago. As most authors are society members, they would have access to the PDF, but we believe that this small sign of recognition (providing them with the PDF) will increase their confidence in the journal.
 
The publisher did not agree with this policy (providing authors with the PDF) but finally agreed-the owner of the journal is the society. They holds the copyright, not the publisher.
 
Esteve Fernández
Editor-in-Chief, Gaceta Sanitaria (Journal of the Spanish Society of Public Health and Health Administration) 
___________________________
 
This is a consequence of signing away the copyright of one's work to get it published. Clearly, the journal has the right to do this if you did sign the transfer of copyright form. So they are taking the stance of maximizing short-term financial gains by selling your work, including to you. (By the way, nothing is preventing you from obtaining a paper copy of your article through interlibrary loan and then scanning it into a PDF file.)
 
However, they are hurting themselves over the long run because authors who dislike this policy will not submit their work to this journal again. In the end, the profit is in the quality of the work submitted to the journal.
 
William M. Tierney
Co-Editor-in-Chief, Journal of General Internal Medicine
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
 

Sharing Reprint Revenues With Authors

January 15 to January 18, 2006
 
In 2005, we made a policy decision to share reprint revenues with the authors. We sold the reprint rights of a paper to a German firm and shared 10% of the total amount received. A cheque for Rs 12 000 was given to the authors with a request to use the sum for research and academic purposes.
 
I would like to know whether any other journal shares their revenue with the authors and if so what is their experience so far?
 
(IJP is owned by the Indian Pharmacological Society and is a not-for-profit journal.)
 
R Raveendran
Chief Editor, Indian Journal of Pharmacology (JIPMER)
___________________________
 
Very interesting! That idea hadn't even occurred to me. We charge authors and others who order reprints from the poorer countries only what the printer charges, and in most cases subsidize the cost. For people who order reprints in the US, we make a VERY small profit—maybe 5%—and therefore not worth the accounting staff to keep track of splitting that amount.
 
Kimberly Taylor
Publications Director, Journal of the National Medical Association
___________________________
 
I think perhaps what revenue might be shared is that from commercial reprints or rights sold to book publishers, etc, rather than income from reprints purchased by individuals for, say, educational purposes. For example, if a book publisher wants to reprint an article our journal has published and we charge them a fee for it, should part of that fee go to the author of the original article?
 
My husband works for a small humanities journal, and they give a portion of such revenue to their authors. We don't, and I sometimes wonder if we should, although it would be a small sum.
 
Lisa Dittrich
Managing Editor, Academic Medicine
___________________________
 
I support Kimberly's response. Most times, what publishers charge for reprints only cover the cost of production and postage, with little or none left over. If there is any, it is insignificant. The reason is that if you are thinking of making a profit from reprints to the extent that you have enough to share with the authors, the cost would have been too much and the person ordering the reprint may reconsider his/her decision. Article reprints are meant to further disseminate an article to specific persons or organisations who need them but may not have access to the whole issue of the journal, or to those who need copies of a particular article for specific purposes.
 
You may only make some profit if another publisher is reprinting the article and paying you for that purpose. In that case you incur no costs.
 
WJames Falaiye
Science Writer/Editor, International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)
___________________________
 
Another point that I factored regarding charges for reprints was our impact factor. Our impact factor was pretty low; therefore, I want to encourage the distribution of reprints—so I charge the least possible amount for them. The hope is that the more affordable the reprints are, the more likely they are to be bought in greater quantities and distributed. With the wider distribution, more people will come to know the journal (97 years old) and perhaps go to it as a source either for publication or research. Our impact factor went from .4 to 1 since I have been here (4.25 years)—so we're working on it.
 
Kimberly Taylor
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
 

Photo of the Author in Scientific Literature

October 13 to October 15, 2006
 
Dear all,
 
Some medical journals print a photo of the author of the article in their journal. Is it suitable for a peer-reviewed journal to do so? What is your opinion?
 
Hesam Abbasi
The Journal of Tehran Heart Center
___________________________
 
Oh no! We will need a statement on "authorship and photographsmanship" (!) As a member of Editorial Policy Committee, I have tried to provide a light-hearted draft. Hope you don't take it seriously, Bob will not fire me from the Committee, and ICMJE will not sue me for plagiarism!
 
Just for a change:
 
Authorship and photographsmanship (!)
 
A “photographsman” is generally considered to be someone who has made substantive graphic contributions to a published study…..
  • Photographsmanship credit should be based on 1) substantial contributions to the paper; 2) having a passport-sized photo belonging to the past six months; and 3) approval of the final photo to be published by family and friends.
  • When a large, multi-center group has conducted the work, the group should pose for a group photo with the first six authors standing in the first row followed by et al!
  • All persons designated as authors should submit a photo, and all those who submit a photo should be an author.
  • Each author should provide written statement that the photo is original and that it has not or will not be submitted to any other journal for publication.
  • Only the corresponding author can submit a color photo.
Photos of Contributors Listed in Acknowledgments…
 
Arash Etemadi
___________________________
 
It has been a tradition for unknown reasons (except that the publishers want to save money for colored photos) that scientific journals do not publish photos of the authors. If we see other types of literature, we find a little more ''respect'' toward the author, and photos of the author may appear on the cover of a periodical. I just want to hear from WAME members (Editors and Publishers alike), what they think about this, given the advantage that researchers may know each other when they meet in conferences one day!
 
Khalid Al Aboud
Medical Director, King Faisal Hospital
___________________________
 
We used to print a black and white photograph of the author/s, but it was difficult to get photos from all the authors. So we'd end up with articles that had photographs of some of the authors and articles with no photographs. In the end we decided to stop printing photos because it was just an administrative mess and it didn't look professional.
 
Liselle Viljoen
Managing Editor, Health SA Gesondheid
___________________________
 
The tradition is understandable. It was to keep the personal looks of authors from positively or negatively influencing the readers who were supposed to consider only the scientific merit/demerit of the paper. Morever, scientific papers are often multiauthored, and it becomes so difficult to accomodate 4 or 5 photographs with a 2 to 4 page paper, fighting for space saving that most journals have to do. Not seeing the author sometimes adds to the mystique, and charm, of the author too. Putting a photograph may make a staid scientific journal look like a tabloid, which conservative researchers/journal editors may mentally scoff at.
 
Having said that, however, I think there is much to commend in bringing in the photograph in even a scientific journal, if space, layout aesthetics, and commercial considerations permit. It helps break the monotony of reading, and may bring some solace in an otherwise intellectual assault that some papers can turn out to be. Some much needed solace, maybe!
 
At MSM, we insist on a passport-sized photograph of the author. They are happy to oblige. More than happy, I guess.
 
Ajai Singh
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
 

How Authors Learn Writing Skills

October 19 to October 22, 2005
 
I'm revising an essay on scientific writing and citation skills, and am tempted to make the following claim:
 
"The training of scientists and physicians as writers in their discipline is haphazard. It usually ends, in any formal sense, in undergraduate composition classes, but sometimes is cultivated as mentored co-authorship during postgraduate training and, rarely, under the guise of "copy editing."
 
I had a wonderful experience this past year with a prominent review journal in which I thought I learned interactively a great deal about writing from both the shepherding editor and the copy editor. But this is not the usual experience, and the journals for which I usually review articles do not seem to have a mechanism (as if they had the time) for mentor editing. Hence I include the practice but qualify it as rare. But is it rare in fact?
 
John R. Rodgers
Department of Immunology, Baylor College of Medicine
___________________________
 
I think that, essentially, you are correct. I say "essentially," because although most authors learn how to write, they learn how to write in the tradition of the humanities, not in the tradition of the sciences. In my opinion, this situation has profound implications on any number of fronts.
 
However, what instruction is available in the sciences is most likely to come from the mentoring you mention. From my perspective as a professional medical writer, such instruction is still woefully inadequate, but it is often the best available.
 
Tom
Tom Lang Communications and Training
___________________________
 
Perhaps this is disciplinary? I felt that much of what I learned both in graduate school and as a post-doc was writing. This was done entirely through working on dissertations and published papers with my mentors. My former graduate students will certainly tell you that this is much of what I tried to teach them! I don't think my experience is unusual in psychology, although my husband certainly did not have this experienced as a biologist.
 
I do think learning to write from editors is rare however. One of our former editors, however, was very good at this and spent a lot of time shepherding especially junior and less prepared authors through the publication process. He is in the process of phasing out of our journal and going to a smaller journal (the size we were when he started 20 years ago) partly so that he can continue that very time-intensive process.
 
Nancy Darling
___________________________
 
John Rodgers writes: "The training of scientists and physicians as writers in their discipline is haphazard. It usually ends, in any formal sense, in undergraduate composition classes, but sometimes is cultivated as mentored co-authorship during postgraduate training and, rarely, under the guise of "copy editing."
 
From my experience in a UK Medical School I say that you are absolutely right. I used to run one-day workshops for biomedical PhD students, but in one day all you can do is tell them what they have to do, but not how to do it. There was no instruction for undergraduates whatsoever. It would seem to me that unless a student is unusually gifted in the art of writing that the PhD thesis is likely to be a reflection on the input of the supervisor and/or other willing individuals (some students even employ copy editors, if they can afford to). Sadly, this inadequacy continues when these same individuals write up their research, and it usually falls to the copy editor to improve the composition.
 
Moira Johnson-Vekony
___________________________
 
Moira Vekony writes: "some students even employ copy-editors."
 
I would add that they learn to do so from their supervisors as part of being mentored during co-authorship. Indeed, in places where English is not the authors' first language (E2 situations), one of the behaviors a student needs to learn is effective interaction with an author's editor. Effective interaction gets all the help and guidance needed, but it leaves the authors feeling that the paper is still theirs, including its words.
 
Especially in the system by which an E2 student needs to have published a certain number of papers to be bound to be called a thesis (Am: dissertation), it's often a mentor/supervisor who pays to send a student to an author's editor for guidance on revision and copyediting before and after submittal. The supervisor/mentor may attend a session along with the student. The student gets a lot of writing instruction this way, from me anyway. Before I understood this system, it was sometimes the supervisor alone who brought or sent me the paper and the student never learned how it had all come together. Later, however, I began to insist on receiving the students.
 
It's best when some sessions can happen face-to-face. However, I have managed to give mini-lessons on specific writing points during the editing process to authors as far away from me as Chile and Turkey. To make such instruction/editing a bit more widely available, I am currently working on an online semi-tutorial course to guide students from the earliest writing of a paper through to first submittal (2 tutorial courses), with final editing; a third tutorial course will deal with revision and re-submittal after peer review.
 
The courses are based on needs described by a group of instructors from a local university who work with doctors in the Caribbean—not all cities have author's editors on hand. But I have an additional working hypothesis: that in many cultures it is embarrassing to admit you might need help with writing course and this prevents people from signing up for traditional classroom instruction if not obliged to or it prevents them from assimilating all but superficial information if they don't really want to be there. So, I expect local students might be interested in such face-saving instruction that culminates in at least one draft of editing of their text.
 
M.E. Kerans
Barcelona, Spain
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
 

Supporting Authors With Writers' Block

June 26 to July 2, 2005
 
Are any editors aware of support groups for authors who have something original and important to say but suffer from obsessive anxiety that inhibits their ability to pursue their ideas to fruition? I have been working with such an author for many months. The ideas are exciting, original and important. The author can set out logically and clearly all the necessary facts and inferences, has an excellent literary style, but has repeatedly baulked at the final stage, cannot and will not submit a paper for publication because of an obsessive and groundless fear that the work will be judged worthless by peers in the discipline. My admittedly rather superficial inquiries about the prevalence of this condition suggest that it is not uncommon among creative artists and writers, which leads me to wonder whether there is/are support group(s) for victims. If so, the location of afflicted individuals would not be an impediment in this electronic age. Any helpful ideas will be gratefully received.
 
John Last
Emeritus professor of epidemiology, University of Ottawa
___________________________
 
John Last asks, "Are any editors aware of support groups for authors who have something original and important to say but suffer from obsessive anxiety that inhibits their ability to pursue their ideas to fruition?"
 
The peer review "system" can be seen as distant, omnipotent, inaccessible and not open to appeal. John's author may have had bad experiences with earlier manuscripts that reinforced his anxieties.
 
The article by Juan Miguel Campanario "Rejecting Nobel class papers and resisting Nobel class discoveries" (available athttp://www2.uah.es/jmc/) contains short narratives by a number of Nobel prize winners about their experiences with rejection and incomprehension. It may not be much of a consolation to the insecure author, but then again it may help him understand that rejection is a normal and inevitable part of peer review for highly original ideas.
 
Best wishes,
Karen Shashok
___________________________
 
I deal with blocked scientific authors fairly often-being blocked is among the reasons an author might seek out an author's editor like me. Being a non-native English speaker isn't the only reason.
I'm surprised by your description of an author that "can set logically and clearly all the necessary facts and inferences, [and] has an excellent literary style." I'm confused because that implies the author has submitted the paper to you already. Otherwise, how can you tell that that's true? Through conversation or e-mail? Being able to explain ideas in conversation or in e-mail—for an interlocutor who gives immediate verbal and nonverbal feedback—is very far from being able to write a good paper for remote readers who may come in all shapes and sizes.
 
In fact, for novice authors—who are not unintelligent persons or persons with no ideas or persons who can't express themselves well—drafting a paper is far from the final stage. It's more like a brave first step in coming out and exposing oneself to criticism or just lack of interest. Speaking as a "recovering blocked writer," I know.
 
The persons charged with helping a novice author, traditionally, are wise mentors and supportive colleagues. Unfortunately, not all authors find those. I don't know of any self-help groups for writers. Arty book store/cafes sometimes have literary circles, but I can't imagine a young scientist there, can you?
 
So, to start unblocking a scientific writer, I get him or her to talk about why the work is important on the phone. As soon as I see s/he has a clear idea, I cut off the stream of information. (No time for long conversations, but besides, I want to leave him/her hungry to tell the story.) Asking why the work is important is just a litmus test to see if the author has enough passion and a grasp of what the research was really about—you'd be surprised how many doctoral students have had their hands held throughout their research experience and don't have clear thoughts. Then I switch to a new question: Can you describe the research design for me? If I get another confident barrage of information (usually the case) I again cut him/her short once more and say something like, "Yes, why don't you write that down, more or less the way you've told me. Just tell the story chronologically in the first draft. Then imagine you have to explain it to an intelligent undergraduate—make sure enough detail is there. Then look at the target journal and mold your draft of the research design story so it resembles the Methods section in that journal. When you've done that, call me again."
When the author calls again, I explain how to draft the Results section—often s/he has already taken that step, enthusiastic about being unblocked! If s/he seems to have more confidence, I ask questions designed to focus the approach to the Introduction. And so on until there's the makings of a paper I can begin to "author's edit".
 
There are variations on that process, but the key to unblocking scientific writers for me has been not to start at the beginning. Not from the Introduction and never from the Abstract. Work from the Methods section forwards and backwards. Later, through revision rounds of the full paper, different sections are perfected at different rates.
 
At some point the author clearly feels pretty good about the paper, even exhilarated. Then s/he's generally eager for the opinion of whatever peer reviewers a journal editor feels like throwing at it!
It may seem inefficient to fluent writers, but it seems to work. It's certainly no less efficient than weekly support groups!
 
M.E. Kerans
Barcelona, Spain
___________________________
 
I agree with M. E. Kerans. I think one point to start unblocking scientific writers is to educate them. For that reason since some years ago, at a Latin American congress of medical students, we include a workshop dealing with these matters (with participation of med students and medical editors; eg, David Sharp, Deputy Editor, The Lancet, Paraguay 2000) and trying to educate those medical students how to write a scientific paper with a high quality to be published at any peer-reviewed international biomedical journal. We have also a Latin American med students' journal that is peer-reviewed, indexed at Imbiomed, called CIMEL, that serves an option to publish for these med students.
 
This is an important activity that should be followed by many organizations, specially professional ones.
 
Most people don't know it, but in these medical congresses we encourage students to submit their research papers with the similar guidelines or instructions to authors used by most medical journals, which we consider better than just submit a brief abstract. Then, those papers are more easily adaptable to any journal.
 
In one med students journal where I serve as Editorial Advisor we strongly support any student who needs to be helped in the final stage of his/her research, just previously to submission to the journal. And additionally the med student scientific society to which belongs the journal, also help in early stages, including planning of medical research and referral to scientific mentors or advisors.
 
I think this could be also implemented in some scientific societies' journals.
 
A. J. Rodriguez-Morales
Caracas, Venezuela
___________________________
 
I have found that those with deep-seated fears of rejection, so deep that they cannot mail a manuscript, almost never become productive scholars. However, in the work I have done in Kenya, I have found that the problem is not necessarily fear of rejection, but rather not understanding the structure of a manuscript. They often write in a stream-of-consciousness way that is almost impossible to edit into a decent manuscript.
 
To overcome that, I have tried to tell them that a scientific article is not creative writing; it is a structured report, and the structure can be learned. To facilitate that process, I have created the table below that I ask them to fill out. I then cut and paste the contents of the table's cells as the paragraphs which can then be edited into a serviceable manuscript. This has not been used a lot yet, so I can't tell you how useful it is, but I've had a lot of people (both Kenyan and American) ask me for it.
 
TITLE PAGE
Write the paper's title below:
List the study's authors (one to a line, including middle initials and highest degrees):
List the paper's authors' institutions (in the same order as the authors):
 
INTRODUCTION
Provide a brief discussion of the general topic: Why is it important?
Provide a brief discussion of prior work by you and/or others:
Provide an explicit statement of your study question/hypothesis:
 
METHODS
Describe your study site:
Describe your study population (source, inclusion and exclusion criteria):
Describe your recruitment methods in detail:
Describe your intervention (if an interventional study):
Describe the data you collected and how you collected them:
Describe your data analysis in detail (dependent variables, independent variables, comparisons, primary and secondary analyses, statistical methods used, p value accepted as significant, etc):
 
RESULTS
Describe your subjects: numbers approached, enrolled, excluded, characteristics (do not repeat table data—describe the table data in qualitative terms, where possible)
Describe main analysis results (again, do not repeat table data):
Describe secondary analysis results (again, do not repeat table data):
 
DISCUSSION
Write down the most important take-home point you want the reader to remember. Do not merely repeat the results. Then provide commentary based on what prior relevant studies have found. 
Write down the second most important take-home point and discuss it.
Write down the third most important take-home point and discuss it. (Some papers will not have 3 take-home points.)
List and discuss the study's limitations:
Write down your conclusions (usually a repeat of take-home point #1):
Give future directions (often the next study you want to do following this one):
 
Bill Tierney
Co-Editor-in-Chief, Journal of General Internal Medicine
___________________________
 
Tierney, William M wrote: I have found that those with deep-seated fears of rejection, so deep that they cannot mail a manuscript, almost never become productive scholars.
 
Many years ago, I read a very interesting and then quite popular book called Women in Academe. One of the things it discussed was that many women tended to wait to publish until they had completed a large enough body of research that would be intellectually complete. The author argued that men tended more towards the 'salami science' model, publishing a series of small pieces along the way to a similarly ambitious project. The former strategy is not only problematic because it delays publication and interferes with the tenure process, but also because these more monolithic manuscripts tend to have a much harder time in review when they are eventually submitted because they are harder to understand and require the new model to be accepted as a block. I would imagine that with so much more riding on it, they would also produce greater anxiety before sending out.
 
One of my senior colleagues referred to this non-productive strategy as 'pretender syndrome'. You are afraid that you just aren't as good as everyone else, try to hide it by not publishing. and try to prove it's not true by taking on large, ambitious (and potentially undoable) projects.
 
Trying to help junior faculty avoid this and provide them with support in breaking off smaller pieces that could be reviewed and published was a major function that several support groups for junior women faculty that had been started at different institutions I have worked for. Similar non-gendered publication support groups have been organized where I am now to get people out of that rut. If one is not available for people having problems churning papers out, they aren't hard to start and almost always get the support of the administration. After all, the administration wants you to publish.
 
Nancy Darling
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This has been an interesting thread and I would like to offer the following classification of writer's block, which people might find helpful.
 
  1. Early onset writer's block: this is when writers can't get going. Part of the problem is that they have too much data and too many references and don't seem to have a grip on where they should start. My preferred solution is to send them off on a long walk—the goal of which is to get them to define their key message in one simple sentence. They find this incredibly difficult, but once they have done it they can start moving forward.
  2. Mid-stream writer's block. This is when writers start off promisingly, but come to a sudden halt. The problem here is that they haven't really worked out what they are writing—and for which journal. Like the previous state, the cause is lack of clarity, and the answer is having a clear message—plus a plan.
  3. Writer's block by proxy. This one is caused by anxiety. Writers spend happy hours fiddling with the data, or churning through the databases because it gives them the illusion of making progress while ensuring that they do not have to commit to paper - and endure the heap of criticism that inevitably follows. The answer, as previous contributors have said, is to try to have a genuinely supportive environment.
 
Tim
Tim Albert Training
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I want to express my opinion regarding the issue I have been reading with great interest. Being a scientist, teaching professor and author of many articles on medical issue I concur completely with the first 2 points of your writer's block classification. Indeed, before starting scientific manuscript writing, it's necessary at first to work out a detailed plan of what you want to write, like planning the scientific research. Naturally, there may be certain cases, and they are numerous, e.g. other urgent matter businesses, professional, family or private affairs, muse absence or laziness, and, as you notice, an extremely large volume of basic information, that can interfere with your work. In such a case it's better to leave this work and do something else, to return to it when muse comes or, to be more correct, when the aims and purposes of your manuscript are matured in you completely.
 
What could be advised to junior staff before starting the work?
 
  1. To realize self-critically whether everything you consider urgent, new, and practically significant is really such for medical science in general.
  2. To work out a minute plan of the work
  3. To carry out detailed search of the literature. Maybe what you want to write was written long ago.
  4. To write in competent literary medical language. You can't be sure that phrases and words that are clear for you are as such for the reader.
  5. To give the manuscript to the most authoritative scientific opponent in your given sphere for informal private review before publication.
In conclusion I want to note that such discussions are very useful both for junior colleagues and for us too.
 
Rouben Hovanesyan
Chief Editor, Armenian Medical Review Journal
 

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