Monday, June 11, 2007


Following up on the recent topic of the stresses of being a step (or two) removed from a research project and/or a manuscript owing to being an advisor/co-author, here's a splendid new example of the possible pitfalls of being a co-author.

I was recently a minor co-author on a manuscript submitted by a postdoc. He is an excellent scientist and has published before. He is not a native English speaker, and one of the other co-authors and I did a lot of editing to get the writing/English suitable for submission of the manuscript. The postdoc had the final edited version, and then.. I don't know what happened. He submitted some other, earlier version, and he screwed up various technical aspects of the submission. This did not go well with the reviewers. The manuscript probably shouldn't even have been sent out for review, but I guess the editor didn't look at it closely first. There were comments from reviewers to the effect of "Didn't the senior co-authors read this thing?". I suppose our reputations will survive this episode just fine, but it's a little embarrassing.

The postdoc was in another country during submission of the manuscript, so it was not possible to supervise the process. Nevertheless, future submissions will have to be supervised so that this doesn't happen again.

I review and edit many manuscripts in which it's clear that the native English-speaking co-authors did not read the manuscript (other than possibly the one section to which they contributed), so I know it happens all the time. Aside from being not-so-ethical, this makes more work for reviewers and editors, and I'm sorry that I was inadvertently part of the practice. Maybe some journals have an efficient way for co-authors to certify that they approve the submitted version of a manuscript (?).


Ms.PhD said...

Yes, the editor shouldn't have sent it out, if it was so bad.

But I've gotten that comment before, that my advisor should have read something, when in fact I had begged and pleaded and finally gave up.

At least you tried. I'd just worry that this postdoc understands so little English, he couldn't tell the versions apart.

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

I completely agree. It seems very shady how easy it is to add "Mr. T" as a co-author to my papers. Moreover, it seems like the technology exists for co-authors to "sign" a submitted manuscript. It's the same idea when you sign up for anything on the internet. You get an e-mail that says, "Dr. First Author submitted a manuscript listing you as a co-author. Reply to this e-mail to validate your submission" and voila!

I'm so sorry this post-doc embarassed you, but hopefully people realize that as first author, he was ultimately responsible.

mike3550 said...

It's funny that you say this, because the other day I was reading the submission policy of Science and, in fact, the authorship section of their submission guidelines indicate that they send an e-mail to all co-authors verifying that they agree with the findings.

I guess it wouldn't have helped unless they also actually sent a copy of the manuscript itself, but it doesn't seem like it would be too hard -- technologically, at least -- to add the manuscript to that e-mail.

Anonymous said...

I always downlaod the final submitted version of the abstract and glance through it (but, if the mistakes were subtle enough, it might be hard to detect them in that level of review).

Some journals require an affirmative signature that they concur with the manuscript, and I think this should be a general policy followed by journals. When a paper is submitted, they should send a copy of that manuscript to all the authors, and ask the authors to "sign" a concurring statement. It'll require extra money to set up the systems, but as publications become more complicated, I think it's necessary, to maintain integrity.

There've been at least a few cases of folks adding prominent coautors to their paper fraudulently.


Anonymous said...

for what it's worth... there are editing/proofreading services available online for authors who are not native english speakers (e.g., many of the companies are quite reputable and widely used, most of the editors have advanced degrees in the subjects for which they edit manuscripts.

CarlBrannen said...

I ran into an old friend at a physics conference and mentioned that I'd seen his submission to arXiv the previous month. He said it couldn't be his because he hadn't submitted anything.

This explained why his name was spelled wrong. Turns out the junior author had submitted it on his own. It didn't bother him, but I guess I would want to look at papers with my name on them.

Anonymous said...

Editors are people too, so some variant of "The Computer ate my Homework" would probably do. Resubmit with a letter that explains the Author was overseas and the revised versions somehow got mangled before submission. (You even have the backup that internal time stamps in the file might prove you are telling the truth!)

And chalk it up as a learning process. I was once in a situation where a junior experimentalist submitted a paper with bogus theory in it with me as a theory coauthor. I was glad I knew one of the editors from my grad school days, which made it easier to get it pulled.

Anonymous said...

I don't see anything wrong with writing a letter to the editor, explaining that there was a mishap and the wrong version of the manuscript was inadvertently submitted, and requesting that the correct one be sent out for review again...
I mean, it's an honest mistake, there is no need to get all worked up, it seems to me...

I have screwed up a few times like this myself, and what I found to be a good way to avoid it, is if you post the paper on arxiv first, make sure it is exactly what you want, and then submit it to the journal by simply providing the arxiv link (quite a few journals are now accepting this as a submission procedure).