The article, “Erythropoietin as a possible mechanism for the effects of intermittent hypoxia on bodyweight, serum glucose and leptin in mice,” had as its last (dare we say, senior) author Susan T. Howard, a mycobacterium expert at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Tyler. Trouble was, Howard disavowed any role in the paper.
According to the retraction notice:
This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief.
The first five authors named infringed the basic principles of scientific co-authorship in that they included the name of Dr. Susan Howard without her permission. Dr. Howard did not make any contribution to the investigation, never cooperated with the other named authors, nor did she ever have the opportunity to see or comment on the manuscript prior to its publication. The first five authors named thereby violated the rules and ethical principles of good scientific practice.
The paper has yet to be cited, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
We reached Howard, who told us that she found the paper by chance:
I needed to find one of my articles on Pubmed but instead of searching with “Howard ST” and including a word from the title, I just used my name. There is a chemist named ST Howard so I am used to seeing his articles on organic chemistry, but this was a biology paper so I thought “great, there’s another ST Howard on Pubmed”. I clicked the link to the abstract and then saw it was another Susan Howard. I then clinked the link to the paper, saw my institution, and realized that she was in fact me so I contacted the editor.
Howard said she learned that a “third party,” someone not listed among the authors, had evidently put her name on the manuscript.
I did not know the third party and no one here remembered him. From the long convoluted trail of emails between the editor, the researchers, third party, and me, it seems he attended one of my seminars here, thought I communicated well, and so told his friends in China that he would ask me to revise the grammar in their paper for them. However, third party made the changes himself and sent it to them saying I had done it. He confessed that he had not had time to contact me about it.
I had not wanted the paper to be retracted. I simply wanted my name removed from it. However, I believe the editor had no choice as the rules for submitting a paper had been violated (i.e. all authors agree to content, etc.) and because there was no way to be sure whether my coauthorship had influenced the reviewers (although the subject is not my area of expertise).
I requested that the authors be allowed to resubmit their paper but I do not know what was decided. In fact, all of this took place nearly two years ago and I thought the matter had been dropped until I saw the retraction earlier this month (I now frequently check to see if I have authored other papers I don’t know about).