Authorship Question

Author(s)
Contributors
Year
2016
Discipline(s)
Description

A short case on who should be considered an author.

Body

Andy and John are coauthors who want to submit a manuscript to a journal. Andy thinks the journal co-editor, Candice is prejudiced against him, but that the other co-editor, Donna, is not. Andy thinks John should remove Andy's name from the manuscript and submit it to Donna so that only John is associated with the manuscript. If it is accepted, then Andy proposes to add his name back onto the article's byline.

  • Is this an acceptable course of action?

It is improper and usually counterproductive to manipulate an article's byline in an attempt to influence the editorial review process. Such manipulation includes (i) suppressing the names of "ghost" coauthors against whom some potential editors or referees are thought to be adversely biased; and (ii) adding the names of prominent "guest" coauthors who are thought to enhance the article's prestige and credibility with some reviewers. At the stage of initial submission of an article for editorial review, some journals give the corresponding author the option to suggest the editor or the referees of the article; and some journals actually require such suggestions. Some journals also give the corresponding author the option to suggest individuals who should not be the editor or a referee for the article. However, the initial submission process is based on the fundamental principle of responsible authorship that all the actual contributors to the article are honestly disclosed. There are also practical grounds for abstaining from manipulations (i) and (ii). At the later stages of resubmission of a revised article or final submission of an accepted article, some journals require the corresponding author to provide the editor with a detailed justification for any changes in the article's authorship. It is an easily detectable breach of professional ethics to misrepresent or lie about the real reasons for such changes in authorship, and usually the editor can immediately reject the paper if those changes are judged to be questionable or improper.

I believe the proposed course of action is not acceptable because it's dishonest. Thus, the burden is on the authors to tell us why it should be okay. The rationale is that one of the journal co-editors may be biased. Of course, if she is or is likely to be perceived to be biased, she should recuse herself from the review process. But independently of relying on that editor's good sense, could not the authors request that be done? Generally that's a possibility. Perhaps Candice is the most expert in the topic of the submission, but editors often handle submissions in which they are not experts. So I'd advise the authors to submit honestly and ask that Candice not undertake the oversight or process of reviewing the article. To proceed in this manner is a little chancy, but so is the proposed solution, which may wind up creating more untoward consequences.