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I am editing a small scholarly journal published by a learned society. One of our authors, after his manuscript was finally accepted for publication and he had signed and returned the publishing agreement (with copyright assignment), is trying to negotiate after receiving the first proof version.

He insists on adding new content and a new reference to the main text of the article, which I, as editor, will not allow. He is offering to resubmit the manuscript with the new content included, and to wait for the results of a completely new peer review. He is very persistent about including the new content which, I think, has no impact at all on the overall quality or on the conclusions of the paper. The reference is a fresh (2015) self-reference, so I assume that he simply wants to increase the visibility of that other paper.

One of my main problem with the new reference (and the related content) is being to one of the author's own paper published in a predatory open access journal. The publisher is listed on Beall's list. When I pointed at it, he said that his paper was subjected to valid and rigorous peer review and other people's bad experience have nothing to do with the academic validity of that specific paper. I disagree, and as I am responsible for our published content I feel adding the new reference is a risk to our journal's reputation.

It would be a waste of our journal’s resources to disregard that we have the copyright of a manuscript, which we accepted for publication after rigorous peer review. We do not feel that we should comply with what the author wants, and we feel that we should publish the paper even if the author will not approve the final proof.

What do you think about this situation? I have a few other options, namely to reject the paper altogether and to go on with the new round of reviews. Both choices would make me feel being strongarmed. Any advice would be appreciated.

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    If were not in the proof stage I would suggest not to forbid citation of certain journals. That may be similar to encouraging citations from certain journals (the same publisher, for example) and that is clearly wrong. It may be a war against competing publisher. – Vladimir F May 11 '15 at 18:08
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    I agree with @VladimirF: Considering where a citation points seems like a bad policy. If Springer forbids citations of Elsevier journals or the other way around, we would clearly not be better off. In your case, where the referenced publication was published should not be your most important argument. The remainder of the discussion remains untouched, of course. – Wolfgang Bangerth May 11 '15 at 19:27
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    To the added information on Beall's list, you should be aware that list is not infallible. E.g., academia.stackexchange.com/a/42387/19607 Have you looked into the journal and that specific paper in question personally? – Kimball May 12 '15 at 3:55
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    I'm not disputing your judgment of the lack of peer review in that other journal. I was just asking whether your journal already has a policy about this. If a paper cited a paper on arXiv, or on an author's own web site, or cited a personal communication, would that also influence the decision about whether to accept? – Mark Plotnick May 12 '15 at 7:19
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    @Wrzlprmft I don't think your edit was appropriate. The poster made a conscious decision to use a gender-neutral pronoun. It wasn't a spelling error. I admit I find "hu" silly and would prefer the standard singular they, but I don't think that opinion (or your opinion) justifies editing the post in a way that clearly contradicts the author's wishes. – Potato May 12 '15 at 10:18
62

While you might be in the legal right, I think trying to publish when the author wants to withdraw is likely to be more trouble than it is worth for a small society journal. You probably don't have the resources to get into a protracted battle if the author decides to be really problematic (e.g., a lawsuit).

As I see it, there are three reasonable approaches at this point, in increasing levels of assertiveness on your part:

  1. If the new content isn't very big (e.g., a paragraph or two and the reference), just let it be; just make the change at the proof stage and let it stop being your problem. If it really does make little difference to the paper, as you say, then this is a reasonable triage to do to get this author out of your hair.
  2. Reject the paper and send it through a new round of peer review. It's not too bad a waste of resources, particularly if you use the same reviewers, who will be able to just look at the new version in terms of its differences from the old.
  3. Offer the author the choice between a final rejection (no resubmission will be reconsidered) and publishing as-is.

Which you choose probably should be guided by just how willing you are to invest your time and reputation into a battle with this author. Some people are known and repeat-offending bullies, and it's definitely worth standing up to them. Other times, you've got a person who is normally reasonable and who has just gotten a particular fixation on this particular issue and it's worth accommodating them one this one occasion. If you do decide to accommodate the author, however, you need to make it very clear that this is an unusual exception and you will be holding them to much stricter guidelines in the future.

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    I think this is a great answer. The only thing I would add is for the publisher to add text to the publishing agreement that clearly says changes at the proof stage are not allowed except in the case of errors introduced during the editing and typesetting process. – StrongBad May 11 '15 at 15:02
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    @StrongBad: After all we know, such a term may be already part of the agreement. – Wrzlprmft May 11 '15 at 16:02
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    Ok, it seems that I should add this information: One of my main problem with the new reference (and the related content) is being to one of the author's own paper published in a predatory open access journal. The publisher is listed on Beall's list. scholarlyoa.com. When I pointed at it, hu said that hu's paper was subjected to valid and rigorous peer review and other ppls bad experience have nothing to do with the academic validity of that specific paper. I disagree, and as I am responsible for our published content I feel adding the new reference is a risk to our journal's reputation. – HunSoc May 11 '15 at 16:58
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    @HunSoc Given that additional information, I would strongly advise going the route of another round of peer review. If the publication is dubious, then it seems like the author might be perceived as trying to "slip it past," and the peers should have a chance to weigh in. If they object, you can rightfully deny the new addition; if they don't object, then it's not the big reputation risk than you fear. – jakebeal May 11 '15 at 17:07
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    @Hunsoc I would say that you are using double blind reviewing in a suboptimal way then, as you are not allowing the reviewers to see information which can be crucial to reviewing the paper. As far as I can tell it is more common to hide the fact that it is a self citation. – Tobias Kildetoft May 11 '15 at 17:39
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It would be a waste of our journal's resources to disregard that we have the copyright of a manuscript, which we accepted for publication after rigorous peer review. We do not feel that we should comply with what the author wants, but we feel that we should publish the paper even if the author will not approve the final proof.

I would absolutely recommend against this. It may be legally acceptable, but I would consider it an immoral abuse of copyright. There's a lot of debate about whether publishers should hold the copyright to papers and what the costs and benefits are, but I've certainly never heard the view that publishers should hold copyright in order to facilitate publishing the paper against the author's wishes if the author becomes uncooperative partway through the publication process. I'm sure the author did not think of the copyright transfer as meaning the journal could simply publish whatever version it chooses in case of a dispute, and taking advantage of this technicality would hurt the journal's reputation far more than the author's.

The reference is a fresh (2015) self-reference, so I assume that hu simply wants to increase the visibility of that other paper.

If the other paper is unrelated, then this is worth arguing about (not because it's a last-minute change, but because inserting unnecessary self-references is itself problematic). However, I see no good reason to object to adding a last-minute reference if it's actually on topic. Surely the cost of making such a change is minimal, and it might actually be useful for readers.

The additional content is a more subtle issue.

He is very persistent about including the new content which, I think, has no impact at all on the overall quality or on the conclusions of the paper.

I can sympathize a little with the author, since this content might be worth recording in the literature but simply not publishable on its own (too short or too closely tied with this paper). That's a reasonable argument in favor of including it in this paper, even if it doesn't improve the paper's quality or change the conclusions. However, making nontrivial changes to page proofs is certainly disruptive.

I don't see reviewing as a real obstacle if the changes are modest. If the author just wants to add some brief and uncontroversial comments, I imagine you could get one of the original reviewers to look them over very quickly and approve them as unproblematic. Of course larger or potentially controversial comments would require serious reviewing.

If the other last-minute changes would increase the typesetting and copyediting costs, then you could ask the author to cover the increased costs. (That may upset the author, but it's a traditional approach to handling this situation.) You might also keep costs down by adding the material as a "note added in proof" at the end of the paper.

In any case, I'd explain to the author what you see as the problem here. Disruption to the journal's internal processes, increased costs, the potential for an end run around the reviewing process, etc. You might be able to convince the author by pointing out issues hu wasn't thinking of, such as "You might think adding two paragraphs on page 1 is no big deal, but the copyeditor has already spent time optimizing the layout and figure/table placement throughout this long paper. I don't feel good about saying that needs to be redone just because you didn't submit a truly final manuscript when asked for one. I can't run the journal effectively if the staff feel I'm wasting their time or not standing up for them."

Both choices would make me feel being strongarmed.

This sets things up as a power struggle between you and the author over enforcing the rules as you interpret them. That sounds like an unnecessarily stressful and confrontational approach, and also one that is not likely to be persuasive to the author. Your discussions so far have established that the author feels these changes merit an exception to the rules, while you are unconvinced. Going forwards, I'd focus on what the underlying difficulties are, rather than whose will is going to prevail.

  • 1
    Ok, it seems that I should add this information: One of my main problem with the new reference (and the related content) is being to one of the author's own paper published in a predatory open access journal. The publisher is listed on Beall's list. scholarlyoa.com. When I pointed at it, hu said that hu's paper was subjected to valid and rigorous peer review and other ppls bad experience have nothing to do with the academic validity of that specific paper. I disagree, and as I am responsible for our published content I feel adding the new reference is a risk to our journal's reputation. – HunSoc May 11 '15 at 16:57
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    Ugh, that complicates things a little. I wouldn't want to censor references based on where they are published (and in principle a reference shouldn't be viewed as an endorsement, despite the popularity of citation counting). However, this makes me less sympathetic to the author. I think referring to predatory journals would hurt the author's reputation rather than the journal's (except to the small extent that it lower opinions of this paper), so I wouldn't worry about this too much, but it leaves me feeling that the author may be pretty far out there regarding eccentricity or cluelessness. – Anonymous Mathematician May 11 '15 at 17:06
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    I'm sure the author did not think of the copyright transfer as meaning the journal could simply publish whatever version it chooses that's not what he said. He said that the author did approve that specific version and later tried to retract it. – o0'. May 13 '15 at 10:36
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    @Lohoris Exactly. True, I was and am annoyed by the possibility that I may have to put extra work on the reviewers and prepare a new proof, or loose this paper altogether if the new version will be rejected or the author withdraws (we already have a place for this paper in the upcoming issue, which will be published before a new round of peer review could finish). But what is perhaps the most striking is that the author seem to be neglecting that he even gave in writing that he approve the publication of the "finalized" version. – HunSoc May 13 '15 at 14:21
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    @Lohoris In my experience, authors have to sign off on the page proofs and have not given their final approval to the published version until that point, regardless of whether they have signed the publishing agreement and copyright transfer form already. Authors may sign those forms early in the process as a sign of good faith, but if a dispute arises, it's not reasonable for the journal to say "Oh well, you already agreed to publish the paper, so we don't really need your approval for the page proofs." (You can't even do this if the author is being difficult or unreasonable.) – Anonymous Mathematician May 13 '15 at 15:48
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I just wanted to add a third opinion: it is really not a good idea for you to publish an article against the author's wishes, even though you hold the copyright. If you did this, then at best you would never have any dealings with this author again. (In reality: that outcome must be acceptable and perhaps even desirable for you to contemplate this course of action.) More likely, the author will complain about it to a smaller or larger number of people, creating a bad name for your fledgling journal. For what it's worth, if I heard a story about this from an open access journal published by a regional scholarly society: I would not do business with you.

If I am honest, I didn't find your reasons for not publishing the change to be very convincing. It sounds like you are viewing this as a power struggle with the author that you want to win. You write:

He insists on adding new content and a new reference to the main text of the article, which I, as editor, will not allow.

Why not? You don't really say why you care so much.

He is offering to resubmit the manuscript with the new content included, and to wait for the results of a completely new peer review. He is very persistent about including the new content which, I think, has no impact at all on the overall quality or on the conclusions of the paper.

If in your professional opinion the added content has no impact on the quality of the paper, then in particular it has no negative impact. So what's the problem?

The offer to get a completely new peer review seems like a generous move on the author's behalf. He's saying that he's not trying to sneak anything by you but rather wants to err on the side of going through the process thoroughly, even to the extent of having the publication delayed (surely) or jeopardizing the acceptance of the paper (possibly). But because you feel the change is so minor, you can just bypass this entirely. It seems to be matter of retypesetting the paper.

The reference is a fresh (2015) self-reference, so I assume that he simply wants to increase the visibility of that other paper.

This seems like a rather bad faith assumption. If the author feels that his other work is relevant, it contributes to the literature to have the citation appear. In general, it can be tricky to get cross references in one's own recent papers right, and last minute additions can be very helpful here: if it's a 2015 publication then it is plausible that the author didn't have the full bibliographic data until now.

It would be a waste of our journal’s resources to disregard that we have the copyright of a manuscript, which we accepted for publication after rigorous peer review.

That's written as if you're conveying information, but to me it sounds like a dogmatic assertion about you've already decided to do. What resources would be wasted by retypesetting the paper? Let me quote from another answer which approaches this issue more reasonably:

If the other last-minute changes would increase the typesetting and copyediting costs, then you could ask the author to cover the increased costs. (That may upset the author, but it's a traditional approach to handling this situation.) You might also keep costs down by adding the material as a "note added in proof" at the end of the paper.

In other words: if it is really a waste of your resources, ask the author to financially compensate this waste. Or tell him that you need to accommodate him in the most inexpensive possible way unless he is willing to financially contribute. Either of these is so much more reasonable than publishing a paper that the author doesn't want you to publish. You speak of being "strongarmed" but many authors would regard the behavior you're contemplating as an extreme example of that. Can you not work with the author to come up with an outcome in which neither is strongarming the other?

Added: I just read the bit about the added publication coming from a predatory Open Access journal. I think that probably should have been part of the question, since as my answer above indicated, the explanations by the OP didn't really explain the motivation. This does. However, I don't think it really changes my answer, except to say: either you have concern about the added content or you don't. If you do, you should get it re-refereed. If you don't, then the fact that the citation is to a not-so-great journal is really not your concern: citations should not be censored (which is not exactly what's happening here, but just to enunciate the principle) by the editor because they are unseemly to the journal.

  • "if it's a 2015 publication then it is plausible that the author didn't have the full bibliographic data until now." Though not having full bibliographic data isn't really an excuse: the paper could have been cited as "submitted" or "to appear", with the bibliographic data added later if it became available. – David Richerby May 12 '15 at 16:52
  • @David: Yes, that's true. – Pete L. Clark May 12 '15 at 17:30
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It takes two to tango -and tango it should be, and not tug-of-war.

You representing a collective entity (a journal), should take the high moral ground here, not the legal one. I would suggest to send the updated paper with a full copy of the other paper that the author wants to add as a citation, to the same reviewers, asking for their help, in the name of science (and anyway, since they know the paper, it should take them little time to judge the worthiness of the added material and of the citation). It is fair also to inform them about your concerns.

If they give the green light, the author's persistence would have been vindicated by the same people you have trusted in the first place. If they don't, you can tell the author that the new version did not pass the test. If then he wants to completely withdraw, so be it. You will have done what a scientific journal should do: give science a chance -and sometimes, two.

0

I am wondering not about the academic view (where clearly you shouldn't publish if the author doesn't want you to publish), but about the purely commercial view.

Up to some point in time a publisher wouldn't care much if an author withdraws. A bit later it becomes inconvenient because it's too late to find a different paper, and a 100 page journal might become an 80 page journal. Next stage is where the journal has been sold and the buyers won't be happy if they don't get the pages they paid for, or where buyers have been promised a great article about a subject and that great article isn't going to be there. Then a stage where the printer charges for the empty pages, and the final stage would be where the journal is printed, and withdrawing would mean to destroy the print run.

At the point where withdrawal causes the journal financial damage, the withdrawer has to take responsibility for this and face the damages. And if he wants to increase the visibility of his other paper by referencing it, he has to accept the risk that after withdrawing his first paper, it may not be accepted for the next issue of the journal.

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    At the point where withdrawal causes the journal financial damage, the withdrawer has to take responsibility for this and face the damages. Really? And if I find a mistake in my paper prior to publication, do I face a choice of withdrawing and facing damages or publishing to the detriment of science? Moreover, I am no lawyer, but given that a withdrawal request seems to have no legal standing after copyright transfer, I cannot see how one could possibly be liable for damages if one were to make such a request. – Corvus May 13 '15 at 3:15
  • What happens if you find the mistake one day after the journal has been sent out to 1,000 subscribers? What happens if you find the mistake when printing cannot be stopped anymore? And when you say "the withdrawal request has no legal standing", that's what's being discussed here, whether the journal should accept the withdrawal even though the author has no legal standing or not. Clearly if I have 1,000 printed copies and you want to withdraw your article, I'll give you the choice of not withdrawing or pay for the 1,000 printed copies out of your pocket. – gnasher729 May 13 '15 at 9:03
  • If the withdrawal, even if it occurs in or after the proof stage, is somehow connected to the validity or the reliability of the paper (f.e discovered error, compromised peer review etc.), it is in the best interest of the journal to not publish the article. Therefore, they should be thankful to the author for not letting them publish a questionable paper and should not demand compensation for economical damages. But if the withdrawal or forcing a re-review occurs for a reason which is not connected with the validity of the paper than the author should take economic responsibility. – HunSoc May 13 '15 at 10:11

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