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Case study: uncontactable or uncooperative co-author

These situational case studies are designed to aid researchers to reflect on situations that would pose challenges to research integrity and ethics.

A group of four young researchers at institution A have been working together on a research project. Three of them, Anika, Eva and Darren, are in the same department, working under the supervision of Dr Hahn. The fourth, Vineet, is based in another department, under the supervision of Dr Woodrow. By the time the work is ready to write up and submit for publication, Vineet has left institution A and returned to his own institution, B, which is in another country.

Scenario 1

Anika, Eva and Darren have tried to get in touch with Vineet to get his input into the manuscript, but have been unable to contact him. He has, apparently, left academia and research. The journal they want to submit to specifies that ‘all authors should have seen and approved the final version of the manuscript’, and they know this is a common requirement for many journals. Vineet’s contribution to the work certainly warrants authorship, so they feel bound to include his name in the author listing. But doing that means they can’t fulfil the journal’s requirements for submission.

Questions for discussion

  1. What are the various things Anika, Eva and Darren can do to help resolve the situation?
  2. Should their course of action be any different than it would be if Vineet were still pursuing a research career?

Scenario 2

Anika, Eva and Darren put together a manuscript and send it to Vineet for his input. They are surprised to get an email back from him saying he doesn’t agree with the submission and wants to withdraw his name from the paper.

Anika, Eva and Darren aren’t sure what the procedure should be in such a case, and are concerned not only that someone who warrants authorship will be missing from the manuscript, but also that if people hear that a co-author has asked to have their name removed it might reflect badly on them and their results, and so jeopardise publication.

Questions for discussion

  1. What should Anika, Eva and Darren do?
  2. What sorts of measures could be put in place to avoid the sorts of authorship issues seen in the above two scenarios arising?

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