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Recently our group published a paper in an important open-access publication. During my work, I was subordinated to a person who left the research center six months before I finish the study, but during two and a half years this person evaluated the work, and suggested some analysis and modification in both pictures and graphs (I have all this personal communication). Specifically, this person had knowledge about the way how the data were generated and about local ethics statements, formally approved by a scientific committee. Since he left the research center, we did not talk about the manuscript with each other and I remained working in both figures and analysis to be incorporated in the submitted version; obviously it seemed clear to me that we had no obligation to show the final version to someone who was not part of the group anymore (this person was not listed as author in any time during the execution of the study because he asked this). In addition, our group performed some additional adjustments in the manuscript following indications of two experts during the process of review. The new boss was informed about the manuscript to be finalized, submitted and later, accepted. The contribution of the former one was properly acknowledged in the final version of the paper.

The former boss sent us a letter where he states he did not know about our work (i.e., that, supposedly, we made our study without his agreement and knowledge - misconduct, so). It seems that he had some kind of personal problem with someone in the research center before he left, so I believe he wants to prejudice the group, and myself in particular, since I am the first author of the study.

Some days ago I was surprised by a communication from the Editor-in-Chief of the journal where the paper was published, asking about the raw data of our work and if we have proofs concerning the ethic statements related to our study after a message sent by the former boss to the publisher.

While I have at least a dozen of emails attesting that the former boss knew about the study, I don't know if I can show them to the publisher. Thus, I would like to withdraw the manuscript in order to avoid any future trouble with this former boss. I am very, very disapointed with this (this is a serious questioning about my conduct), and I would like to withdraw the manuscript from this jornal. I would like to know how to do this. Any suggestion?

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    Can you please clarify what exactly have you been accused of? I can't tell whether it's an accusation about authorship or about scientific fraud. – jakebeal Aug 19 '15 at 13:55
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    Thanks for your reply jakebeal. The former boss sent us a letter where he states he did not know about our work (i.e., that, supposedly, we made our study without his agreement and knowledge - misconduct, so). It seems that he had some kind of personal problem with someone in the research center before he left, so I believe he wants to prejudice the group, and myself in particular, since I am the first author of the study. – Worried Aug 19 '15 at 14:10
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    I have at least a dozen of emails attesting he knew the study, but I dont know if I can show them to publisher. My decision is to withdraw the manuscript in order to avoid any future trouble with this person. – Worried Aug 19 '15 at 14:10
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    you say that below that you had a friendly relationship with him, pick up the phone and call him. Ask him what he's upset about it. – Mark Joshi Aug 19 '15 at 23:53
  • edited question to incorporate comments – Jeromy Anglim Aug 20 '15 at 3:53
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The publisher is unlikely to let you withdraw the paper unless you convince them there is an extremely serious problem with it (misconduct or an unfixable mistake). They have an ethical obligation to make the paper available to the research community, regardless of whether you regret publishing it, and it takes a powerful argument to overcome that obligation.

In particular, if you ask to withdraw the paper, then the publisher will assume that the accusations against you are true. If you succeed in withdrawing it, then the entire community will assume there was something terribly wrong with the paper (and, if you don't publicly identify errors in the paper, they will assume it was an ethical problem).

In other words, withdrawing the paper is tantamount to admitting guilt.

I have at least a dozen of emails attesting he knew the study, but I don't know if I can show them to publisher.

Yes, you should certainly make use of any evidence you have that the accusations are not correct.

There should be no problem with the ethics statements. Presumably you have proof of approval by the appropriate review boards (or, in the worse case scenario, they can confirm their approval). If you don't have proof, then maybe there really is a problem.

As for the other accusations, hopefully the e-mails from your former boss will help clarify the situation for the editor.

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    Even if there is a serious problem, I doubt they would let you withdraw it, making it disappear completely; this is typically not possible after publication. They would instead retract it: they'd print a notice in the journal's next issue explaining the problem and alerting readers that they no longer stand behind the paper. People looking for the paper online will instead see the retraction notice (the original paper might also still be available, with the word "RETRACTED" stamped over out). This also usually makes it impossible to publish the paper elsewhere. – Nate Eldredge Aug 19 '15 at 15:21
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    The main problem is that I suspect that probably the former boss will keep attacking, even though I prove that there is nothing wrong with my study. His goal is to tarnish my reputation. It seems to be a personal problem, actually. – Worried Aug 19 '15 at 17:09
  • When you say that his goal is to tarnish your reputation, specifically, are you implying that he had a problem with you (rather than just "someone in the research center"? – Klaus Draeger Aug 19 '15 at 19:42
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    I say 'my reputation' specifically because I was the first author of the manuscript. I always had a friendly relationship with him, so I simply can't understanding why this person is doing this. That's no make any sense to me. – Worried Aug 19 '15 at 20:15
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    @Worried: If you say you have had a friendly relationship with him, maybe you should do what Mark Joshi suggested and just contact him directly (and politely, as much as possible). From what you're describing it does sound like he's acting erratically, but maybe you can come to understanding nonetheless, if you actually have some civil communication. When people ``communicate'' by accusing one another through a third party (like a court or an editor), the conflict will almost inevitably escalate, to no-one's benefit, so it's better to avoid it, when possible. – tomasz Aug 20 '15 at 13:02
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I believe you can show the emails you mentioned to the publisher as a proof regarding ethics statements etc., since they were sent by the same person that is accusing you of misconduct now.

If there was no actual misconduct, I see no reason why you should withdraw the paper. Withdrawing should be your last resort, such a retraction would probably taint your CV quite a lot.

It seems the previous coordinator has an axe to grind.

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I see no reason to withdraw the paper simply because you are "offended". Someone is checking on the appropriate records -- provide whatever records you have and that you think clearly demonstrate that the results shown are legitimate, then go on with life.

It makes no sense if everytime someone steps on your foot you tell the world that "this place clearly does not respect me; I'm going to leave this town right now and will never return".

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It seems that he had some kind of personal problem with someone in the research center before he left, so I believe he wants to prejudice the group, and myself in particular, since I am the first author of the study.

Time to talk to a lawyer or two! There's the legal department for your institution (go through your department chair), and you may also need your own lawyer. Start with the institution lawyer.

Slander and defamation of character are immoral and illegal.

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    Outside of North America, a lot of human interactions can happen without a lawyer. OP should simply answer the questions from the editor and move on. – Cape Code Aug 20 '15 at 6:23
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    Yeah, I'd avoid lawyers. It will both complicate things and look defensive/guilty at this stage. (And in the U.S. the bar would be very high to have a case for defamation here. Publishing a paper makes you a public figure for issues related to this paper, and public figures can't win a defamation case unless they can prove actual malice.) – Anonymous Mathematician Aug 20 '15 at 12:45
  • I can only speak to how things work in the US, in case that's helpful.... Talking to a lawyer can be helpful in two ways. One is to get information. The other is to outline an assertive letter or two for the OP to send directly. The conversation with the lawyer can be had without the former boss or the Editor-in-Chief being apprised. – aparente001 Aug 20 '15 at 16:20

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