‘Exhausting’: Author finds another’s name on an Elsevier book chapter she wrote

Ina Vandebroek

When Ina Vandebroek read the latest edition of Pharmacognosy, an Elsevier textbook to which she contributed a chapter for the 2017 edition, she was shocked. Although she had declined to write for the 2023 update, her chapter was still in the book, under a different author’s name.

“When I first saw this, it was like somebody hit me on the head with a hammer and everything that I’d worked for all my life was put into question,” Vandebroek, an ethnobotanist and senior research fellow at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Kingston, Jamaica, told Retraction Watch. “This shakes my foundation of what I think science should stand for.”

The situation arose when one of the textbook’s editors, Simone Ann Marie Badal, a researcher at UWI, asked if Vandebroek wanted to revise her chapter for the new edition. Vandebroek declined, assuming her chapter would be omitted from the book.

But the chapter, “Ethical aspects of working with local communities and their biological resources,” not only remained in the book, this time the author is listed as S. Badal. The new chapter is identical to the original, except for two added sentences from Badal. 

In April, Vandebroek sent a cease and desist letter to André G. Wolff, a publisher for Elsevier, alerting him of the issue and requesting the company stop “distributing and selling copies of the textbook that contain the plagiarized chapter and take appropriate steps to collect and destroy all physical and digital copies that have been distributed.” 

In emails seen by Retraction Watch, Wolff acknowledged “this credit line does not reflect appropriately the chapter authorship. We have placed a correction request to rectify the issue.” He also said “miscredited chapter authorship” occurred in other chapters and he would communicate with the affected authors about the corrections. 

Six other chapters mention Badal as a co-author, and three list her as the sole author, including Vandebroek’s contribution. In the original 2017 book, the chapter “Waxes” was written by W.F. Tinto, T.O. Elufioye, and J. Roach, and the chapter “Evolutionary Perspectives on Plant Secondary Metabolites” was written by R. Delgoda and J.E. Murray. Both chapters in the 2023 version credit only S. Badal. Of the 34 chapters, many new author names appear under chapters previously attributed to other researchers. 

Badal said Vandebroek’s signed agreement stipulated ownership of the material transfers to the publisher of the book:

When asked to revise her chapter for the second edition, the author refused and I therefore I undertook [sic] this task. After the book was published, the author contacted the Publisher regarding the crediting of authors. The Publisher’s representative from Elsevier clarified that the chapter formatting credited current authors at the top of the chapter and acknowledged prior authors in footnotes. Although not required to do so, the Publisher apologised to the author and promised to make the relevant and appropriate edits. 

A spokesperson for Elsevier told us: 

Several chapter authors declined to revise their chapter for the second edition of the book and these chapters were reviewed, and in some cases updated by the volume editor. An error in the production process resulted in the original author names being replaced by the volume editor. This was a production error and not the responsibility of the volume editor and these errors are in the process of being corrected.

The corrections will credit the original authors along with the revising author as appropriate, the spokesperson said. 

Vandebroek objected to this correction, telling Wolff that Elsevier’s failure to attribute the work solely to her “misleads readers and constitutes a clear assault on [her] reputation.” Wolff’s last response, in May, said the publisher would revert authorship entirely back to her, effective in print and electronic books, in the next two months. 

However, he said, the contributor agreement Vandebroek signed puts Elsevier “under no obligation” to ask authors to participate in any subsequent editions of the Work, and may use all or any of their contribution in further revisions and/or editions. 

Vandebroek said she worries the stipulations of the contributor agreement leave future editions vulnerable to the same situation. Non-participating authors will be credited in subsequent editions to reflect their contribution, a spokesperson for Elsevier said.

“Should we scientists now hire legal representation from our own pocket every time we want to publish to make sure our rights will not be trampled on?” she said. “I just want this to stop. This is damaging, exhausting, demotivating, and corrupt.”

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9 thoughts on “‘Exhausting’: Author finds another’s name on an Elsevier book chapter she wrote”

  1. Happened to me where former employer published book that I served as the lead editor on. Left me off the byline. Just as well.

  2. For me this mostly speaks to the evil business model of academic and scientific book publishers: make very minor changes every year that do little or nothing to add valuable knowledge to the text, then sell that book for $100s. And, of course, insist that previous editions are entirely out of date and presumably overflowing with lies and innuendo that the new edition does not contain.

  3. the contributor agreement Vandebroek signed puts Elsevier “under no obligation” to ask authors to participate in any subsequent editions of the Work, and may use all or any of their contribution in further revisions and/or editions.
    Is Wolff claiming that the contributor agreement gives Elsevier the right to take contributors’ work and attribute it to other authors? Perhaps they should be more explicit about that part.

  4. Elsevier has a long history of blocking access to information that is not theirs and stymieing science and obstructing the flow of knowledge contrary to the entire purpose of science. Their limited value is not justified by the destruction of value they represent.

  5. Best to read your contributor agreement(fine print and all)more carefully next time, Dear Professor. Sounds to me like you are just scapegoating the poor publishing editor.

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