Publishing Without Coauthor Consent

Among the 5 most-read Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) cases in 2020 is a case about a paper submitted for publication without the consent or knowledge of the coauthors.

A paper submitted by a PhD student to a journal was published. The head of the research group—who was listed as a coauthor on the paper—notified the journal that (1) the paper was submitted and published without her or the other coauthors’ knowledge; (2) 90% of the data in the paper were obtained at the institution and could only be published by a staff member, according to the contract the PhD student signed; and (3) she had recently submitted an updated version of the same paper to another journal.

Author knowledge and consent are critical aspects of maintaining the integrity of the literature.

For every paper submitted to the Ochsner Journal, all authors must be listed in the submission portal (ScholarOne) electronic record, and all authors must sign a licensing agreement form. The signed licensing agreement provides proof that all authors have agreed to the submission, and the inclusion of all authors’ names in the ScholarOne record ensures that they receive an important email providing details about the submission, including their status as a coauthor and the name of the person who submitted the paper. When a paper is published, the Ochsner Journal editorial staff uses the email addresses provided in ScholarOne to send each author a thank-you note with the article citation and PubMed ID number.

A few weeks ago, a paper was submitted to the Ochsner Journal for which all authors had signed the licensing agreement but only 4 of the 7 authors were listed in the ScholarOne record. The editorial staff notified the submitting author that all authors had to be listed in ScholarOne, and once they were added, each of the authors received the critical confirmation email. Last week, a paper was submitted with invalid email addresses for 2 authors. Once the corrected email addresses were provided, the Ochsner Journal editorial staff sent individual emails to the 2 authors notifying them of the submission and requiring their express confirmation—from the email addresses provided—that they were indeed coauthors of the paper and consented to its submission.

Adding complete and accurate author details to the electronic submission record may be tedious, and tracking down all authors to physically sign a licensing agreement may be inconvenient, but the purpose of these requirements is to guarantee author knowledge and consent. Because submitting a paper without all authors’ consent is not OK.