A biology journal has pulled the introduction to a symposium that was published online before the symposium papers had been finalized. After reviewers rejected multiple papers, the author of the introduction — and organizer of the symposium — refused to revise his portion accordingly, so the journal retracted it.
Suzanne Miller, an assistant editor at Integrative and Comparative Biology, told us that the journal ended up rejecting two out of the seven papers in the symposium. When editors asked the symposium organizer, Valentine Lance, to rewrite the introduction — which contained a brief background on each speaker — he told us that he refused to do the rewrite, and said that he “simply quit.”
Miller told us the journal is now changing its practice as a result of this incident:
It was an intro and we did not realize that press would put the intro online before all the papers were in.
In the past I have put the intro through to production as soon as we received it and it wasn’t a problem. This time it bit me.
I will from now on hold all intros until we have all the papers.
In a statement to Retraction Watch, Lance said that reducing the number of symposium papers by such an amount was “ludicrous.” (He told us the journal reduced 11 submitted papers to four, which contradicts Miller’s account; we’ve asked Lance to clarify.)
The symposium took place as part of the 2015 annual conference of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology (also the journal’s publisher) in West Palm Beach. The meeting focused on the Crocodilia family, which includes alligators, crocodiles and caimans.
An advance online access version of the introduction to the symposium, “Twenty-Five Years on: Introduction to the Symposium on Integrative Biology of Crocodilia,” was published in June.
Miller said that normally, editors pass introductions along to production when they are received because they usually come in last, and “no organizer has ever minded correcting them before they went on to print form before.”
The retraction notice, posted June 27, didn’t provide much backstory:
Integrative and Comparative Biology is permanently removing all content dealing with Integr. Comp. Biol. (2015) doi: 10.1093/icb/icv076 due to a discrepancy in the content.
The journal’s editor-in-chief Harold Heatwole confirmed that the symposium papers were rejected by the reviewers when they didn’t meet the journal’s requirements.
We asked if he could be more specific about the retractions, and he said that he couldn’t reveal details of a review:
I am not at liberty to reveal the details of reviewers comments, as for all journals they are confidential unless the reviewer chooses to disclose his/her identity. They are passed on to the author anonymously for the author’s benefit and as a guide for improving the manuscript. If the author chooses to withdraw the paper rather than bring it up to the required standard, that is entirely the author’s choice.
After some of the symposium papers were rejected, Miller explained that the organizer wouldn’t revise the introduction:
This particular paper was not revised by the organizer of the symposia and therefore couldn’t be published.
Lance said that the retraction stems from an argument over the rejected symposium papers:
The retraction was over an argument with an editor who had rejected several papers from a symposium I had organized. Never heard of such a thing in more than 30 years of organizing scientific meetings. He refused to budge, a symposium with eleven papers reduced to four is ludicrous, I had written an introduction to the symposium with a little history of each of the speakers, but I refused to rewrite the intro, so I simply quit, nothing I wrote was retracted by me.
We asked Miller about the mismatched numbers and for any more details. She said that only eight papers, including the introduction, were submitted, and that submitted symposium papers weren’t guaranteed publication:
Only 8 papers including the intro were ever submitted by that symposia. There were 3 rejections total, but only by 2 submitting authors as one of the three was rejected a second time. All three underwent extensive review and re review. For some reason, this organizer was under the impression that if the papers were submitted, they would be accepted. This is not ICB’s policy. We are working hard this year, to make certain all organizers understand the process.
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