Two weeks after Nature Communications published a paper on asymmetric cell division in July, it posted a retraction notice saying the paper was submitted “without the knowledge or consent” of all but the corresponding author.
The following day the journal “amended” the retraction note to include the initials of the corresponding author, Aicha Metchat, then based at European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.
The final notice for “An actin-dependent spindle position checkpoint ensures the asymmetric division in mouse oocytes” reads:
This paper has been retracted as it was submitted by the corresponding author A.M. without the knowledge or consent of the other researchers listed on the paper or their institution, utilising incorrect contact details. With the exception of the corresponding author, all other researchers have requested that the paper be retracted.
In response to an email, Metchat said the last author initiated the retraction:
Under the request of the last author, Jan Ellenberg, it has been taken the decision by the editor to retract my manuscript.
Ellenberg, at EMBL, corroborated this fact in an emailed statement:
In this case, as you saw in the retraction notice, a former postdoc from my group submitted a paper on her own account without consulting the researchers she listed as co-authors and without obtaining their consent or that of their institutions. Since she provided falsified contact information for all of them, the other researchers including myself, only became aware of it after online publication.
This went against EMBL’s above-mentioned rules and we therefore contacted the journal immediately requesting to withdraw the paper.
Metchat, however, said she has “started a procedure” with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) to appeal the retraction, since she believes the paper doesn’t meet COPE’s guidelines for retraction:
Importantly, the nature of the retraction of my manuscript is going against the rules established by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)…In the COPE retraction guidelines, it is specified that:
« journal editors should consider retracting a publication if:
• they have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g. data fabrication) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error)
• the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper crossreferencing, permission or justification (i.e. cases of redundant publication)
• it constitutes plagiarism
• it reports unethical research »…My case does not correspond to any of those criteria listed by the Committee on Publication Ethics. Therefore, I decided to do not request the retraction of my manuscript (Nat. Commun. 6:7784 doi: 10.1038/ncomms8784 (2015).
We also asked Metchat, who declined to disclose her current affiliation, how the authorship issue came about. She replied:
My case, it is an unfortunate mutual miscommunication:
To make long story short, I have been employed in the group of Jan Ellenberg from December 2008 to 2013. When, I finished my postdoc in December 2013, my work was ready to be published. Unfortunately, after working on the manuscript during three months with the group from Feb 14 to May 14, the principal investigator decided to interrupt the process of the publishing my work in June/July 2014 giving the priority to other projects in his group. Therefore, I decided to take over the preparation of my manuscript to apply for a fellowship in UK.
Retracting the paper — which has only been cited once, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge — hurts her career, Metchat added:
The decision to retract my manuscript is unfortunately only political decision. This will have disastrous consequences on my career progression.
In its online policy statement for authors, Nature says the following about author agreements:
Before submission, the corresponding author ensures that all authors are included in the author list, its order has been agreed by all authors, and that all authors are aware that the paper was submitted.
This policy was corroborated by Niki Scaplehorn, Chief Life Sciences Editor at Nature Communications:
The rationale for the retraction are set out in the retraction notice (http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150729/ncomms9124/full/ncomms9124.html). As we communicated to the author, since the publication of the retraction, we have indeed become members of COPE, which provides guidance on publication ethics. The COPE guidelines do not, however, replace our editorial policies, which remain in effect as they were when the decision to retract the paper was made and are clearly detailed on our website. Submitting a manuscript without the knowledge or consent of the other researchers named is a clear violation of these policies (please see http://www.nature.com/authors/policies/authorship.html). The licence to publish form that corresponding authors sign upon acceptance stipulates that the paper is submitted with knowledge and approval of all co-authors – please see points 4a and 4c http://www.nature.com/licenceforms/npg/mpl-ltp-cc-by.pdf.
We have no further comment at this time.
We also contacted Virginia Barbour, chair of COPE, who told us they recommend asking institutions to handle authorship disputes:
I won’t comment on this case specifically but our advice for anyone who has an issue with a journal is first to raise it with the journal and then if needed with the publisher. If it is due to disputed authorship we usually recommend that journal pass the dispute to by the authors’ institution(s) to handle and abide by that.
Metchat has said that she is planning to “create a blog in which I will explain my position about this question.” She also said that she has learned from COPE that they plan to “consult with members of the COPE Council” about her case.
Hat tip: Lee Thong Tan
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