Highly cited scientist published dozens of papers after his death

Jiří Jaromír Klemeš

One of the most highly cited authors in engineering has continued publishing after his death more than a year ago. 

Jiří Jaromír Klemeš, a researcher at the Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic and a top editor at an Elsevier journal that has come under fire for author self-citation, is listed as a coauthor of at least 49 papers published since his death in January 2023

Most of the articles do not mention that Klemeš is deceased. Whether they should have is not entirely clear. Publishers and journals aren’t consistent about the protocol following the death of a research collaborator –  a lack of consistency that has even stirred up some debate among our own readers in the past. 

Of the 49 papers we found posthumously listing Klemeš as a coauthor, 27 fail to mention his death. Commenters on PubPeer have spotted several of these instances and queried them without a meaningful response from the surviving authors. 

One commenter pointed out that a paper Klemeš revised and published in June 2023 had a note acknowledging all authors had read and agreed to the contents of the published manuscript. “The current statement is factually incorrect for obvious reasons,” the commenter wrote. (The paper was submitted in May 2023, months after Klemeš’ death, but it is possible it had been completed before he died and submitted elsewhere first, or that it simply wasn’t submitted to the journal that published it for some months.)

While it’s not clear how common deceased authorship is in the wider scientific community, one study looking at the biomedical field found the phenomenon has been on the rise since the year 2000.

The reasons behind this “burgeoning trend” are unclear, according to the study. While surviving authors may often want to acknowledge a deceased colleague’s contributions, giving authorship to a dead researcher could have ulterior motives, such as boosting a paper’s chances of getting published. 

The vast majority of Klemeš’ posthumous papers are in titles published by Elsevier, including the two journals with the highest number of publications that did not cite the researcher’s death: Energy and the Journal of Cleaner Production.

In response to our queries to Energy, a spokesperson from Elsevier wrote that the publisher does not have a policy for acknowledging the death of a coauthor. Klemeš confirmed coauthorship for eight of the 14 publications in Energy, according to the spokesperson. For the six that were submitted after his death, two confirmed his coauthorship in the acknowledgements and one was confirmed by a statement from another author. 

“We are in the process of obtaining statements of co-authorship for the remaining 3 papers,” the email continued. 

An editor at the Journal of Cleaner Production said they would carefully check all the papers about which we inquired. 

Until his death, Klemeš was a subject editor at Energy and a co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Cleaner Production. As we’ve reported previously, the Journal of Cleaner Production was mentioned in an expression of concern from Clarivate, a journal-indexing service, for a disproportionately high number of self-citations – adding up to more than 11,000 out of 47,000, or about a quarter, of the documented references. 

Petar Sabev Varbanov, a frequent collaborator of Klemeš and a co-author or editor of 17 of the posthumous publications, did not respond to a request for comment.

Klemeš, who was the head of the research center Sustainable Process Integration Laboratory (SPIL), was regularly included in “highly cited” leaderboards, earning the title from Clarivate in 2020, 2022 and 2023. In previous years, he also was listed as a top reviewer and handling editor. Speaking at a conference in Malaysia in 2016, he joked that he reviewed 16 papers in the lunch break alone.  

A decade ago, we wrote about a researcher who appeared to have submitted revisions to a manuscript after his death. Back then, the journal argued that since he contributed to the manuscript, his name should be kept as an author. 

Among Klemeš’ posthumous papers, the ones that did explicitly flag his death either included a note in the acknowledgments dedicating the paper to his memory or a dagger symbol (†) next to his name. 

According to the journals’ authorship guidelines, such acknowledgment doesn’t seem to be necessary most of the time. Elsevier does not have explicit instructions about deceased authors, but broadly notes authorship “should be limited to those who have made a significant contribution to the conception, design, execution or interpretation of the reported study.”

Springer Nature, also among the publishers of Klemeš’ posthumous papers, says coauthors should obtain approval from a representative to include the deceased author. The American Chemical Society, another one of the publishers, states the deceased person should be included with a note indicating the date of death – a directive followed by one of the two papers published by the society.

There’s no clear consensus either among the nonprofit organizations that help shape best practices in scholarly publishing. 

The authorship criteria recommended by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors say authors should give “final approval of the version to be published” – potentially an impossible task for a deceased author, depending on the timing of the publication and the person’s death. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), on the other hand, has given case-by-case advice. In one instance, the group recommended adding a footnote about the death and the author’s contribution. In another, it recommended connecting with a surviving partner or the person’s estate to accept the proof.

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13 thoughts on “Highly cited scientist published dozens of papers after his death”

  1. See also this PubPeer thread for a discussion on the topic. It is the closest approximation of a meaningful discussion of which I am aware.

    On a separate note, the scientific legacy of Klemeš is not unquestionable. One example is here.

  2. Raising awareness would encourage publishers and COPE to set effective guideline for deceased co-authors. For the 49 papers published since Professor Klemeš’s death his affiliation remains identical to what he used when he was alive. Sometimes the co-authors of the deceased author use alternative affiliation for the deceased author, e.g., case of Paul Erdos with the record of 73 articles after his death.

    1. The submission dates of several mentioned articles of Prof. Klemeš are before he passes away.
      In the case of Paul Erdos all the 73 articles are submitted several years after he passes away with a new affiliation, i.e., Alfred Renyi Institute.

  3. When someone passed away, it means that person is not excising anymore. Adding someone that is not excising leads to retraction. Adding a false affiliation is another ethical issue. A false affiliation and a false authorship leads to retraction.

  4. I have been on two papers where an author passed away either while it was under revenge or shortly before submission. In both cases their death was unexpected and came as a shock to us. In both cases the author list clearly stated they were deceased and in the body text we dedicated the paper to their memory. Of course we informed the editors of the situation and there was no objection. In neither case were there any later papers with posthumous authorship ascribed to that person; only to the final paper on while they had truly been a member of the team until the sudden tragedy.
    So I would consider these to have been legitimate. Dozens of papers with their name and no disclosure is clearly different.

  5. “Connecting with a surviving partner or the person’s estate to accept the proof” sounds good in theory, but if this person is one of 20 co-authors, is it really a good use of researchers’ time to demand this from them?
    Is this a priority issue? Will coming up with yet another rule or checklist to cover this fringe issue improve research integrity, or help to maximise researchers’ contribution to science and society?
    (Making this comment in a personal capacity. No COI to declare – I’m still alive.)

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