Lab squabble leads to retracted correction over authorship in British Journal of Haematology
The glitch? The manuscript evidently left out an author:
In Iyamu et al (2007), the list of authors was incorrectly published and should have read:
Efemwonkiekie W. Iyamu, Syed Jamal, Chiazotam Ekekezie and Gerald M. Woods
Or maybe not. The journal is now retracting the correction:
The following Corrigendum from the British Journal of Haematology, published online in Wiley Online Library (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2141.2010.08188.x/pdf) on 22 March 2010 and in Volume 149, issue 2, page 307, has been retracted by the Journal Editor-in-Chief, Professor Finbarr Cotter, and Blackwell Publishing Ltd. The retraction has been made because it was subsequently determined that Mr Syed Jamal was never involved in the project that resulted in the original publication listed below. — Iyamu, E.W., Jamal, S., Ekekezie, C. & Woods, G.M. (2007) In vitro evidence of the inhibitory capacity of chloroquine on arginase activity in sickle erythrocytes. British Journal of Haematology, 139, 337–343.
The original paper has been cited four times, if you don’t count the correction and retraction, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Although we recently reported on a retracted retraction, we haven’t seen a retracted correction before; perhaps Retraction Watch readers can point us to other cases.
We’ve asked the BJH editor, Finbarr Cotter, to help us understand what happened here, but he hasn’t replied to our requests for comment. Meanwhile, however, we spoke with Syed Jamal, who was glad to talk with us. Jamal said he worked in Iyamu’s lab between 2004 and 2006, but left when the two had a falling out over the direction of the research there.
I left because the grant ran out and he didn’t want to renew my contract. I was given the option to look for some other labs at the hospital but I didn’t.
Jamal said that although he was by no means the most significant author on the paper, his name deserves to be on the list.
There’s a lot of chemistry in that paper that I did. That article does have input from me, especially in the discussion section.
And he sees the retraction as a sign that the system tilts unfairly against junior authors.
Corresponding authors basically have all the rights. Working with a student or junior investigator, you are basically at the mercy [of the senior authors] unless you have something in writing.
Which he did not.
Jamal may have a point about middle authors getting the short end of things, but the journal initially seemed sympathetic when, after seeing the article without his name on it, he complained to the editors.
In an email exchange with Cotter’s office over a 17 month period, the journal does a curious flip-flop on the case.
First, in response to a Jan. 26, 2010 email from Jamal, Cotter wrote:
Thank you for your email. While I appreciate that you may feel that your name was omitted from the paper I am not in a position to add names at your insistance. The issue lies with the corresponding author. Clearly you feel that an injustice has occurred and I am sorry that this has occurred. If your name has incorrectly been omitted it needs to be investigated. I will be writing to the corresponding author to clarify the situation and I would suggest you do likewise. Some supporting evidence from your laboratory book may be useful.
Less than a month later, however, after Jamal provided two pieces of data to the journal, he received this message from Cotter’s editorial assistant:
I have just heard from the Editor and the authors have apologized and realized they should have added your name so we are going to publish an erratum.
All of which makes the last message from Cotter, dated May 31 of this year, particularly puzzling:
The corresponding author has indicated that at no time did he consent to your name being added. We therefore cannot permit your name to remain on the manuscript. The issue lies between yourself and the corresponding author and without his consent, we cannot add a name to the manuscript.
We’d love to know what conversations occurred between Iyamu and Cotter after the correction ran. Had the journal acted without his consent — which seems unlikely given that Iyamu was the corresponding author — or did Iyamu change his mind in a moment after the fact?
Iyamu seems to have dropped off the radar. He had moved to Nebraska to train in internal medicine, and although his name appears on the website, no one there seems to know him.
We’re certain there’s a larger point here than the mere fact of a screw up. And we’re not prepared yet to say who screwed up worse, although there are a few obvious candidates. First of all, the journal could have handled the dispute better. If someone failed to get sign-off from Iyamu before changing the authorship, that’s big oops. But if Iyamu gave the okay and then changed his mind, the journal should have held firm — at least until the other original authors agreed.
Without Iyamu’s side of the story we’re left only with Jamal’s word here. But we wonder why he would work so hard to get his name into the lineup if he hadn’t contributed to the paper. Which brings us to the most important question: Where does authorship begin? Although we’ve argued that casting a shadow over a lab doesn’t earn someone the right to a mention on the manuscript, doing material work on a project is the kind of thing that would scratch our sniff test.
Hat tip: Luis M. Guachalla
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