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Got a manuscript accepted and then pulled because of a similar manuscript submitted by another group to the same journal. Per the request of the editor, two groups combined the manuscripts. Now the manuscript was held up for unknown reasons.

I re-read the other group's manuscript and found a number of serious flaws. I don't think any reviewer would pass those up. Now I really regret combining the manuscripts with the other group, but it was the editor's request.

In addition, there were some ethical issues with the other group (gift authorship), which may have been reported to the journal by our research integrity officer.

Should I just ask the editor if they will reconsider publishing our data alone with addition of the new data that the journal wanted without having to take the whole mess with us? I am really frustrated now.

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    I'll let others answer this because I may be wrong. I have never heard of an editor suggesting two groups to combine their manuscripts before and I can see a lot of potential issues with this. Is this a reputable journal? If you don't know the other research group I think you are better off withdrawing your paper and submitting it somewhere else. This sounds too sketchy to be good in my opinion. – somerandomdude Mar 17 '16 at 0:04
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    Yes this is a journal with IF > 30, one of the best. I didn't really know the other group until one of our co-authors "betrayed" us and took a small part of our data to offer to the other group. The person has his name on both manuscripts, which the editor considered unprofessional. However the editor wanted us to "rise above" the situation to combine the manuscripts, since the other group has the missing data that the editor wanted. It is a bizarre situation that I have never encountered. – Max Mar 17 '16 at 0:25
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    @Hadi: here is an example of a paper in a top mathematical journal that combines the manuscripts of four groups ( as explained by the editor's note on the first page). – Martin Argerami Mar 17 '16 at 0:35
  • Tempting to go somewhere else but my co-authors may be disappointed. It is a roller coaster ride with the paper accepted and pulled and then in a mess. – Max Mar 17 '16 at 0:37
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    @MartinArgerami: that is interesting. Having read the editors notes I can see this happening if all the issues are worked out properly. However, in this case, where Max doesn't approve the other groups work the situation is a bit more difficult. I think I would not want to publish a merged manuscript like this. However, I suspect withdrawing may result in the other groups paper being published instead... – somerandomdude Mar 17 '16 at 2:33
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While I understand your ethical doubts, I see two reasons why going along with the merge may be in your best interest:

  • If you have access to their manuscript, I assume the other group has access to yours, and is possibly able to correct their flaws. If you pull out, the journal may accept them to publish the result without you.
  • As the other group is working on the same problem, chances of having them as reviewers in your next submission are probably not small. It is not unthinkable that they would have adversarial behavior and stall your paper while they try to get their own published.

I don't have all the details and I will not make a full judgement, but I hope this can be useful for your evaluation of the situation.

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