Dead men tell no tales – nor respond to journal’s formatting queries

mamasIn November 2014, Mechanics of Advanced Materials and Structures withdrew an online-first publication on the grounds that, over the previous two years, the corresponding author has not responded to questions regarding formatting.

There is, apparently, a good reason for that, although the notice for “Analysis of Effective Properties of Three-phase Electro-magneto-elastic Solids” suggests the editors of the journal are unaware of it:

We, the Editor and Publishers of Mechanics of Advanced Materials and Structures, are removing the following accepted manuscript that was posted online 13 April 2012:

George R. Buchanan & Raghuram Nissankarao, “Analysis of Effective Properties of Three-phase Electro-magneto-elastic Solids,”Mechanics of Advanced Materials and Structures

The corresponding author has failed to return the proofs of the final version of the manuscript, and has been unresponsive to our repeated correspondence over the past two years.

The Accepted Manuscript Online has been removed from the Latest Articles section of the journal’s website.

Here’s what we learned: The corresponding author, George R. Buchanan, passed away in 2011, at the age of 71. The second author, Raghuram Nissankarao, graduated from the Tennessee Technological University in 2006 with a masters in mechanical engineering and, according to what we’re guessing is his Twitter, is now a mechanical engineer in Scotland. Buchanan was his thesis advisor.

The case does raise some other questions about whether it’s appropriate to simply “remove” an “accepted” version of a manuscript that isn’t final, and yet has a citable DOI. There appear to be two other removals named on the notice, with a nearly identical notice for

A. Sahli, A. Toubal & O. Rahmani, “Fracture Parameters for Composite Plates

and no notice for

Qingzhao Zhang, Mingrong Shen & Wen Zhi, “The Shear Creep Characteristics of a Green Schist Weak Structural Marble Surface

We’ve reached out to the journal editor, and will update if we learn anything new.

Update: 10:00 a.m. ET 3/12/15: We’ve heard from Nissankarao. He told us that the paper was his Masters thesis under Dr. Buchanan, who submitted it for publication:

Unfortunately Dr. Buchanan passed away in the meantime and I moved to Scotland for career opportunities.

He said he believed in the paper and its conclusions, and didn’t know it was being retracted:

I am not sure how I should be approaching this right now, if only the Journal reached out to the university, they would have been able to contact me through the Alumni network.

He said he believes he could make the necessary changes to the paper,

but I am not sure if that would be acceptable.


6 thoughts on “Dead men tell no tales – nor respond to journal’s formatting queries”

  1. This doesn’t seem right.

    If the Online First version is good enough to be published at all, surely it is good enough to be available permanently. I can see why the journal would prefer to replace it by the final version, but I don’t see any harm in leaving it in place. Is the scientific literature really a better place without that paper?

  2. @neuroskeptic indeed – if paper is OK, but corresponding author has died it is really the duty of those still standing to get the manuscript copy edited, etc. The student may not have the experience to do the job without a little help from the editorial office. If death of the corresponding author is the reason for the retraction, it is wrong and should be reversed.

  3. One obvious solution (aside from communicating with the second author) would be to publish it with some form of acknowledgement that the author had passed away and was unable to correct the proofs, presented with suitable clarity and prominence to insure readers are aware of it.

  4. That is truely a ridiculous retraction. As Nissankarao suggested, contacting the corresponding author’s institution would have been the correct thing to do. After all, there is another author on the paper who can and should take over the job of corresponding author in this situation. It’s only checking the proofs, which usually only allows for correcting spelling mistakes and editorial errors. Any real content changes are not allowed anyway, since that would undermine peer-review.

    Another question: Assuming Dr. Buchanan used an institution email adress, are these emails really shut down right away in these cases? Someone at the institution should be responsible for “cleaning up the desk” in these cases and submitted manuscripts surely are part of that cleaning up process. So assuming the journal did try to contact Dr. Buchanan by his institutional email and it was not bounced right away, someone at his department should have answered….

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