My PI was guest-editing a (weak) special issue for a respectable Wiley journal. He asked me if I had "cool cover images" relevant to the subject matter. Indeed I did; I had had acquired them on my own initiative on another professor's microscope at my previous university. I provided my PI with a few options and he picked one.

The special issue was published a few months later, with a strange caption saying that the cover image was “captured” by my PI at their current university. I had done several journal covers before, and they were never attributed to a single person. I felt cheated out of my work a bit but I couldn’t bring it up because I didn’t want to get fired while while working abroad.

Six months later, when my work contract was up, I contacted Wiley and said that that cover image was captured by me at my previous university. A regular Wiley editor contacted me back and said they regretted the mistake but to correct it they would have to “issue a correction”. I asked them, in a professional way, to correct this.

Then I got an email in a displeased tone from my PI acting annoyed that I did not contact him first. After all the image was captured in his laboratory. I said, no, it was captured with another professor’s equipment and labspace. (The other professor and my PI are friends; so no issue here.) Now, my PI is annoyed that I brought this up with the editor and, instead of apologizing, simply claimed that a regular Wiley editor wrote the caption herself without his review or approval.

To finish up this story, the Wiley editor and PI begrudgingly added a correction to the image attribution, but did not correct the original text or remove the mis-attribution. They left the original text up next to the cover image and the only way to see the correction is to click an additional link.

Is this normal for a Wiley journal to mis-attribute data in a clumsy way, and not even fix the mistake when contacted? Any leverage or avenues to actually get the mistake fixed?

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    Why didn't you bring it up immediately? Why would you be fired for correcting a mistake? Given the time that passed I can at least sort of understand Willey's position. – chessofnerd Jul 27 '18 at 2:02
  • Because it was a bad situation on many fronts. – DBB Jul 27 '18 at 2:13
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    Hi, I upvoted your question because I think it's ultimately a fine one, but you would do well to remove the defensive tone from you question, and you might stop taking downvotes. – Azor Ahai Jul 27 '18 at 18:54

I agree that you were not treated well, but I'm not sure what additional redress you're looking for. I'm also not sure how any redress would materially affect your academic career, so, while I certainly don't know your situation, I would have to guess that your time and effort would be more profitably spent on other aspects of your academic work.

Let me say straight up that in my field (mathematics) most journal issues do not have cover images, and when such images exist the use of them is not something that an academic would get any career advancing credit for, so it is possible that I don't fully appreciate the situation. But -- you didn't do any additional work here, did you? As you describe it, you contributed an image that you already had.

Then I get Displeased tone email from PI acting annoyed I did not contact him first. After all the image was captured in His laboratory. I said no it was captured in [other professor's] equipment and labspace. ([other professor] and PI are friends so no issue here)

After all your PI was the editor of the issue in which the image appeared and your PI. You went over his head without even talking to him first. That does sound mildly annoying.

PI is annoyed I brought this up with editor and instead of apologizing simply claimed regular Wiley editor wrote in the caption herself without his review or approval.

Couldn't that be true? (On the other hand, if it is, then it should be less annoying that you went over his head, since it wasn't actually his doing.)

To finish up this story, Wiley editor and PI begrudgingly add correction to image attribution but do not correct the original text or remove mis-attribution. They leave the original text up next to the cover image and the only way to see correction is to click an additional link.

That is a standard form of correction. Journals are often loathe to retroactively change their content, rather (often) preferring to issue errata / corrigenda. In this particular case I see no compelling moral reason not to change the original, but still...you can't say that they didn't "fix the mistake." They did fix the mistake -- just not in the way that you would (understandably) prefer.

It seems very likely that this is the end of the matter, and I think you should just move on. You ask whether this is "normal for a Wiley journal." I don't know, but I am a bit skeptical that such a practice would be uniform across all journals with a common publisher. Moreover, I'm not sure how knowing whether this is "normal" would help you, except perhaps that if it is you might try to seek to avoid having this type of problem recur by not dealing with this publisher in the future. But I think there are better ways of preventing this in the future: rather, in the future, when you are asked to contribute an image to an article that you didn't write, work out what kind of attribution you want before you contribute the image. That is certainly your right.

In summary: you weren't treated well, and I'm sympathetic. But probably you should reflect on how to be a bit more careful / less trusting next time and then move on.

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    I spent time writing this response out of a sincere desire to help. In my response, I explicitly and repeatedly expressed sympathy for your position. Your sarcastic response is not so encouraging. But: telling someone that they may be able to avoid repeating an unpleasant situation by modifying their behavior is not blaming them for what happened the first time. If you are determined to draw only the moral that you've been wronged and linger on that, no matter how small the stakes: okay, that is certainly your right. I sincerely hope that you find your closure on this one way or another. – Pete L. Clark Jul 27 '18 at 2:49
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    Pete wrote a friendly, constructive and compassionate response. The fact that he suggests different approaches is based on the fact that one can change one's own behaviour, but it's difficult to change others'. One can only arrange circumstances to make others' desirable behaviour more likely to happen and concentrate on things that can actually be changed and those who actually have value. However, if "blame" is what you seek, "blame" is what you find (goes both ways), but I do not see blame in Pete's response. – Captain Emacs Jul 27 '18 at 7:52

The time to bring up corrections is as soon as possible. I can't stress this enough. Now that you've waited six months, there're a lot of things publishers can no longer do conveniently:

  1. The files for the cover might've been archived, with "do not edit" policies.
  2. The files for the cover might've been given to archivers who are not the publisher (see below).
  3. Although electronic files can be easily amended, once they have been sent out, they cannot be easily recalled.
  4. Although electronic files can be easily amended, print files cannot. By law, a copy of every UK print publication must be given to the British Library by its publishers, and to five other major libraries that request it. What do you want the publisher to do, write to the British Library and request all the copies back? What about all the university libraries they've already sent the journal to? If they're subscribers, it's only fair that they receive something; if the publisher retracts the journal they need to make a replacement. That means printing another O(100) copies of them. Who's going to pay for it?

If you've waited six months you can't really expect Wiley to jump through the many hoops necessary to fix a minor error like this one, especially since it's not their fault (your PI probably mistakenly gave the wrong attribution and the journal simply followed instructions). You can hardly blame the journal for contacting your PI either - after all they have to confirm that you aren't someone else attempting to hijack your PI's honest work.

At this point I don't think there's much more you can do without doing things like sue Wiley (which will likely not work also). If something similar ever happens again, bring it up at once, before the issue is published, and discuss it with your PI first.

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