A few unusual acknowledgements added by authors after finalizing the manuscripts have highlighted a common element in science publishing – right before going to press, authors can make minor changes to manuscripts that editors won’t necessarily review before publication.
We were reminded of this when reading two opinion papers published in August by Science and Engineering Ethics.
For one, “Honor Killing: Where Pride Defeats Reason,” the acknowledgements read:
The authors are grateful to their respective universities (Manipal University and Panjab University) for encouraging research and publications in international journals of repute.
For the other, “Politics of Science: Unwarranted Encounters,” the authors say
The authors are grateful to their respective universities (Manipal University and Panjab University) for encouraging research and publications in international journals of repute. Corresponding author wishes to acknowledge the present Vice Chancellor Prof. Arun Kumar Grover and former Vice Chancellor Prof. RC Sobti for their untiring efforts to encourage quality research and publications for better research outputs.
These are not the typical notes we see at the end of papers (although some unusual ones — such as a marriage proposal — do occasionally come across our desk).
We contacted editor Stephanie Bird, saying the acknowledgments read “strangely.” She responded:
I believe both are designated as opinion pieces and neither has an acknowledgement.
We forwarded her the acknowledgements, and she told us she would look into it further and get back to us. In a subsequent phone conversation with Bird, she said she’d done some digging and the authors had added the acknowledgments during the final proofing stages; although she hadn’t seen them before going to press, another editor had. Authors are largely given free rein in their acknowledgements, she said: “We are not into acknowledgement policing.”
But the incident illustrates an interesting aspect of science publishing: Namely, that in the final publication stages, authors can make changes editors don’t see. That’s true, said Bird:
Which is disturbing.
Mind you, they can’t make major changes, Bird noted, such as altering the author list (about which editors have to be notified), or major text rewrites, since typesetters can’t move around much text at that point.
If it’s a dramatic change in the paper, I would expect typesetters would notify an editor. But they aren’t always in a position to necessarily know that something changes things dramatically.
We’re not sure how many journals let authors make unedited changes, but it’s certainly not just Science and Engineering Ethics, said Bird — based on what she’s experienced when publishing in other journals, it’s “common practice” to let authors make minor, last-minute changes that editors don’t approve before publication.
We referred to this as a loophole in the publishing process, but she didn’t agree with that term, since letting authors have the final say on a paper is actually a good thing. She’s often corrected small typos that change the meaning of a sentence in her papers’ final stages, and all authors should have this ability:
Ultimately, the modifications that authors make in the proofs is to make sure the message they are trying to convey gets conveyed.
Although an editor at Science and Engineering Ethics did review these particular acknowledgments before going to press, that can’t always be the case at every journal, added Bird:
I don’t see it as essential to check every dot and cross every “t” to make sure nothing is changed. It’s something that’s beyond what’s possible for editors to do, and take responsibility for. Because it’s the authors’ name on the papers.
We received a statement from two of the authors on both papers, Tanuj Kanchan at Manipal University in India and Kewal Krishan at Panjab University, which concurred they’d added the acknowledgments during the final stages of publication.
We agree that the acknowledgements were added later, however, we never realized anything unusual in it. We understand that acknowledging the universities for encouraging research and publication in international journals of repute no way can harm any individual or society. Besides, we were not aware that acknowledgements cannot be added at the ‘proof’ stage of the article. If that was the case, had the journal production team informed us, we would have removed that for sure. Though our intentions are fair, we regret if the acknowledgements stated by us is taken as unusual or has caused any concern or inconvenience to anyone.
Even though she didn’t okay these acknowledgments personally, Bird said she would have if she’d seen them before press time:
I would have been fine with them, although they are unusual.
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