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I am doing a literature review for a project and I have come across recent papers in top journals where one of the co-authors is a famous Statistician (Peter G. Hall, 1951 – 2016). This is an example that motivated my question, but my question applies in general. Reviews in those journals usually take less than 2 years (in most cases, about a year). Thus, the papers where submitted a fair amount of time after the famous co-author passed away.

My question is, how do editors check (if at all) if the authors actually worked on those projects with the late famous co-author in order to (i) justify their inclusion, and (ii) determine if the inclusion of that co-author does not follow some sort of political move to increase the chances of getting a paper accepted.

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This situation can happen, just like some professors have been caught putting the name of their son or their wife on their paper in the past.

Generally, the editor will not verify if authors really contributed to a paper because it would be hard to verify. Hence, journals adopts some simple mechanism such as requiring that authors disclose what are the contributions of each author at the time of submission, some journals will also send an e-mail to each author to notify them of the submission, some journals require authors to use official e-mail addresses, and some journals also require that authors sign a document when submiting.

Upon receiving a paper, some journals do a pre-screening where they check for plagiarism, if the paper is out of topic and other problems, before sending to reviewers. During that phase, if something is suspicious, the editor could try to investigate more. Or if the reviewers subsequently find something suspicious, they could also raise questions during the review process.

But generally, it is not easy to discover such cases unless it is quite obvious or some authors talk about what happened to the editor.

For the article that you mentioned, it is maybe correct because top journals sometimes not only have a long review time (1 or 2 years), but also have a backlog of papers to publish that can extend to 2 years in some cases. Maybe that the famous statistician has participated to an earlier draft. But in any case, it is hard to verify this.

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I'm very much alive, and have appeared as a co-author on a paper published 6 years after my contribution.

Delays can happen for many reasons. In my case, the work I did was a crucial early step, and the group couldn't take it further. By the time they could, I had moved on, but my contribution was still enough to warrant authorship. This was in a field that normally moves fairly quickly (work is normally published within about a year).

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As a partial answer with examples, sometimes research takes time to get started, finish, and published. Especially if graduate students are involved.

For example, Warren Ballard was wildlife professor at Texas Tech who died from cancer in 2012. He had new graduate students when he died as well as served on committees and had ongoing grants funding research with collaborators.

I do not know the specific, but here are some possible reasons for the long publications time:

  • Completion of field work: Studies he helped designed were ongoing at the time of his death and some may not been started until after his death.
  • Graduate student chapters to publication: Graduate students in his field often do not submit their dissertation chapters until after they defend. Also, this step takes time, especially if a new advisor takes over mentoring students.
  • Post-defense delays with former students: Post-defenses paper are often delayed because the former students often do not have time to complete papers quickly (e.g., new jobs).

Hence, he has legitimate, co-authored, publications ~8 years after his death.

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Just come into my mind, Helmut Veith passed away in March 2016. He has published a lot of papers since then: https://scholar.google.com/citations?hl=en&user=9VeRxLIAAAAJ&view_op=list_works&sortby=pubdate

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Do not add fake authors because they are famous or politically connected. It is unethical and often ineffective. (This is for future readers. I did not think the asker would do this.)

Journals never independently check to see if extra authors have been added inappropriately. It is impossible for a journal to prove that an author did not earn authorship without an author's cooperation. Some journals do email all authors, using the list included with the submission, which might cause a (living) author to point out an error.

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    I am not trying to add fake authors because they are famous, I have noticed that several papers include famous authors long time after their decease (in this case, one of the most famous statisticians of the last century). – Cynic Jan 18 at 10:40
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    The second part of this answer actually does answer the question pretty well. In the vast majority of cases an editor wouldn't be able to know that a co-author might not be alive, unless maybe you add guys like Albert Einstein... There are papers where the author's cat (FDC Willard) has been added as co-author. So why all the downvotes? – Mark Jan 18 at 12:24
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    @Mark I didn't downvote, but I can understand that people are not happy about the first part of this answer. If we read that as answer to the originally posed question, it infers bad faith in the original poster, and that cannot be concluded from what was actually written in the OP. – Wetenschaap Jan 18 at 16:08
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    @Wetenschaap My expectation is that people reading this question in the future would be unsure about the ethics. I didn't intend to answer for the asker in particular. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 18 at 22:14
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I appreciate that, and I have no reason to question your intent. But I think that the downvotes came from people reading it that way. I might be wrong about that. – Wetenschaap Jan 18 at 22:54

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