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I recently accepted to review an article for a journal. I actually reviewed the very same article for another journal from where the submission was rejected. This is a rather common occurrence however, as I was looking at my notes from the previous review to see if the authors have addressed the previous issues, I noticed that the new submission has actually different authors. For example:

  • Initial Submission: Author1, Author2, Author3, Author4, Author5
  • New Submission: Author1, Author2, Author5, Author6, Author7

I will clearly mention in the review that I have reviewed the article before (actually the submission is in a different journal of the same publisher) but is the change of authors something that I should mention in my review?

  • 1
    Can you explain why you would feel the need to mention a change in authorship? What relevance is there to the manuscript in its current format? The new journal presumably won't care who the former authors were, only the current authors. – kmm Jun 13 '17 at 11:25
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    Well, if it is literally "the very same article", i.e. without changes, I would see it as indicative of something fishy going on. I would definitely mention it to the editor. – Al-Khwarizmi Jun 13 '17 at 11:32
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    Was there a specific contribution attributed to Author3 and Author4 in the initial submission, or could you infer one? Is that contribution still present in the new submission? Can you identify a contribution of Author6 and Author7 in the new submission that was not present in the initial submission? – silvado Jun 13 '17 at 14:50
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    @silvado What does that have to do with the question. Regardless of the convention for ordering authors, some authors have been added and others have been removed. – David Richerby Jun 13 '17 at 16:09
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    @DavidRicherby For Author5 I guess it might be a relevant change of the author list in that case. – silvado Jun 13 '17 at 18:08
39

It's not particularly unusual for authors to be added during a revision of a paper, but for them to be removed is quite unusual and often linked with something improper going on.

Since this submission is a different publication than the original version that you saw, the editors do not have this history in front of them, and I think that it is indeed a good idea to flag this as a concern to the editors.

Moreover, if the article has not been significantly revised but the set of authors has changed, then that's a major red flag that the authors are doing something improper. If this is the case, then the editors absolutely must know, and should probably investigate wrongdoing.

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    It is of course possible that this is legitimate, but the editor should ask for an explanation. I could see this happening if each of those authors was only responsible for 1-2 pieces of analysis and the previous review called he quality of those analyses into question and they are no longer included. So I think your last point about "not significantly revised" is spot on. – Dawn Jun 13 '17 at 12:40
  • When we accept to review a paper we usually agree to keep it confidential. Shouldn't that confidentiality for the previous submission in principle be kept towards the other journal? Especially as long a no clear proofs of misbehavior come up. – silvado Jun 13 '17 at 14:48
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    @silvado Communication between reviewer and editor is generally confidential as well, so there is no concern about public exposure. As for the prior communications: in the case of possible unethical submission, a disclosure of the prior interaction is entirely reasonable and appropriate. – jakebeal Jun 13 '17 at 15:58
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    @silvado Different types of professional confidentiality come with different responsibilities and constraints. For example, a psychiatrist has to preserve patient confidentiality but also has a duty to report if they believe their patient to be a danger to themselves or others. Scientific peer review does not have a formal regulated system of this sort, but I believe a similar balancing of interests applies. A reviewer who believes an author is dishonest has a duty to the community to ask for investigation, balanced by a duty to the author to keep that investigation confidential. – jakebeal Jun 13 '17 at 18:56
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    Thank you all for the feedback. After carefully comparing the two submissions, they are effectively 99% identical and, worst of all, have not really addressed the comments from any of the reviewers of the previous submission. Besides the straightforward rejection recommendation, I did mention all of the above in the notes to the editor and I am quite interested to see how they will handle it. – o4tlulz Jun 13 '17 at 22:41
13

I have been in a situation where a co-author's organization told us to remove them from a paper for inscrutable legal/security reasons. The author gave us permission to remove them. So this not necessarily unethical. But it's a good idea to ask. I would also check if there are changes in the acknowledgements. I think the author would be obliged to thank them for their contributions even if they can't do it by name.

Our co-author's organization eventually let them be re-added to the paper. But I can see how that might look sketchy to someone who didn't have the context.

  • This point about the acknowledgements is critical: I too have had a potential co-author need to be transferred to acknowledgements---but the trace of credit should still be quite clear. – jakebeal Jun 13 '17 at 13:33
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    Another possibility for a legitimate change is if somebody's name changed, but then its often just the first name (gender change) or last name (wedding) and not both parts - at least in western cultures. And yes I've seen both happen during publication preparation. – Sumyrda Jun 13 '17 at 20:49
  • Seen the same thing. Drafts of the paper with different author lists are around, so I asked the omitted author how to cite the paper and learned this story. But unlikely to be the case here: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/90836/… – Blaisorblade Jun 14 '17 at 0:53
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This seems like plagiarism: the authors of the new submission (namely, Author1, Author2, Author5, Author6 & Author7) are passing-off work from the initial submission as their own, yet that work belongs, in part, to others (namely, Author3 & Author4).

Personally, I would write to the editor and explain this. I would expect the editor to immediately reject the article and take further action. I don't think there is any need for you to review the paper at this stage.

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    It could be other types of misconduct as well, like sale of authorships – jakebeal Jun 13 '17 at 13:34
  • @jakebeal, how does sale of authorship differ from plagiarism? And how does sale of authorship apply in this case? – user2768 Jun 13 '17 at 14:50
  • Isn't it possible that the paper was edited such that the contributions of Authors 3 and 4 are no longer included (say, because they were included in a different paper submitted elsewhere? – Patrick Sanan Jun 13 '17 at 15:11
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    @user2768: good point, taking credit for a paper you paid someone else to write is a special case of plagiarism. The work being copied was presumably never published anywhere else, though, which is usually part of what's implied by "plagiarism", isn't it? So that would be the major difference, along with differences in motivation. – Peter Cordes Jun 13 '17 at 15:37
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    @user2768 It might be that only Author 1, 2, and 5 were ever involved in the paper, and they are giving false attribution to Author 3 and 4 the first time and 6 and 7 the second time. That could be either a gift authorship for political reasons (e.g., to a department superior) or a sale of authorship. It is different than plagiarism as typically defined, however, in that it is addition of a non-existent attribution, rather than omission of an attribution that should be made. – jakebeal Jun 13 '17 at 16:01

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