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I'm one of the three coauthors (A, B, C) of a research paper, to which I (A) contributed extensively in providing results and drafting the initial version (I'm academically younger than B and C). The corresponding author is B.

We have recently received the third round of reviews for this paper (it's been quite a lengthy process, approaching two years). The Editor gave us 120 days to resubmit the new version. This happened just before I was going to be unavailable for two weeks. Therefore, I emailed B and C explicitly asking to hold the paper until I provide comments on my return.

However, when I was back I found out that B sent the paper the day after my email without waiting for me, justifying it with a need of speeding up the process. C supported B's justification. Note that this is the second time in a row that this happens, as well as other B's unprofessional behaviours, which I all raised personally with B to no avail (with C in copy).

The complication is that the paper has now been accepted (and the journal is rather good), but having had a careful read of the paper, I'm not happy with some of changes B made, which I wasn't given a chance to check for two times in a row (I've reasons to believe that C hasn't reviewed it either). Besides typos, there are some incorrect statements and very confusing parts (e.g. reference to parts of the text that have been deleted, including in the conclusions!), which however they won't twist the essential content and outcome of the research.

I'll notify my dissatisfaction to B and C soon, but I do not expect that B will bring this to the Editor, as he/she should.

My questions are:

  • What is your best suggestion to have such amendments in the published version, without losing acceptance? I believe they can be too significant to be picked up at the proof stage.
  • Perhaps writing directly to the Editor? In this case, how to justify the situation without jeopardizing acceptance?
  • Finally, do you recommend writing to B's Head of School to inform him/her of B's repeatedly unethical behaviour? I'm not interested in working with B any longer, but I'd like to keep fairly good relations (e.g. references) with C, who is a highly-ranked academic and unfortunately is de facto more or less tacitly supporting B's unprofessional behaviour.
  • Out of curiosity: what field is this in? I've never hearded of a third (or even a second) round of reviews and it sounds like it takes years to publish a paper. – DSVA May 9 '17 at 19:38
  • Two years does sound like a long time, though in the health and social sciences, second and third rounds of reviews are common. Typically, anything other than "accept" and sometimes "minor edits" undergoes peer review again. – Nicole Ruggiano May 9 '17 at 20:21
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    As you've described it, this is not really about "ethics" as that term is usually understood. I think you should back off as regards any moral issues or judgement. If there had been a real ethical violation, my advice would be different, e.g., if you had never agreed to publish the paper in any form. IMO you are blowing the situation out of proportion by describing it as a matter of ethics. That doesn't mean that I condone B's behaviour. But you should look at what you can learn from the situation - how can you avoid getting into similar situations (presumably, not only by avoiding B!)? – Joe Corneli May 9 '17 at 21:01
  • @JoeCorneli It might well be the OP meant 'unprofessional' in place of 'unethical' although the notion of 'professional ethics' exists too, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional_ethics. In some institutions PhD's must adhere to a lifelong oath of upholding scientific integrity, not to mention the codes of conduct following employment in academy. – XavierStuvw May 11 '17 at 5:33
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Ask the editor - with coordination with B and C - to fix these minor "slips" (as you will say).

Incorrect statements need to be fixed, and missing references to be amended, that's an objective thing that does not need discussion.

I would stay polite to B, even if you plan not to work with them in the future. You are angry, but you are not going to change them. Hopefully, you are going to be able to fix this paper, and that's what you should concentrate upon.

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    Agree. I'll comment a little more on the disaster management aspects. Since OP says "the journal is rather good", they definitely do not want "typos" or "incorrect statements." OP should indeed try to correct these with the editor, though it is a messy process. If the paper has been accepted but not yet published, it is important to act quickly. Also, be as succinct as possible - only straightforward corrections, not "reworkings", or you risk getting the paper rejected. And for the future, I think just don't work with B and C. – Joe Corneli May 9 '17 at 20:30
  • Concur with @JoeCorneli --- I guess that the issue here is the coordination of A with B+C, which makes the sensible solution above an awkward situation, especially if B has no intention to act any quickly to include A's observation into a slip-free version. – XavierStuvw May 9 '17 at 20:44
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    One possibility could be to email a list of typos to C, and urge C to take charge of the situation, purely with reference to improving this paper before it goes to press, not anything to do with so-called "ethics". I don't think this is about ethics, incidentally, just courtesy. So be tactful and focus on resolving the matter at hand in the most straightforward and polite way. C, as a "highly-ranked academic" is just the right sort of person to get the journal to do out-of-the-ordinary things. So use him/her as your ace in the hole. – Joe Corneli May 9 '17 at 20:52
  • @JoeCorneli From the OP's remarks it looks as though C does not show too much of involvement or proactive leadership. However, toning down the wording without giving in the good arguments can do no harm and might indeed invite a pragmatical agreement. – XavierStuvw May 11 '17 at 5:36

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