Q: Can I withdraw my paper after it has been published?

Detailed Question -

I had sent a manuscript to a journal. They accepted it, but asked for APCs, which I didn’t pay. I then submitted the same manuscript to another journal, which accepted and published it. However, when I searched, I found the article published in the previous journal (for which I didn’t pay the APCs). Now, I want to withdraw the manuscript from the first journal.

1 Answer to this question

These are the typical tactics of a predatory or bogus journal. The journal would have probably mailed you initially, then promised to accept and publish your paper without peer review, and then charged you hefty APCs, which you were obviously not able to pay. Then, to compromise your paper and/or your academic credibility, they went ahead and published your paper. However, this is also to now charge a hefty fee for ‘withdrawing’ your paper. (Technically, it cannot be called a ‘withdrawal’ as you can only withdraw a manuscript, not a published paper. A published paper can be retracted if the data is misleading. In this case, the right term would probably be rescinding, but that’s a technicality.)

From the sound of it though, the second journal may also be a predatory one as you haven’t mentioned whether it sent your manuscript for peer review or straightaway accepted and published it. If so, you may face a similar challenge with this journal too.

What you should do first is to find out whether one or both are predatory. You may use this checklist for the purpose: 10 Point checklist to identify predatory publishers

Based on whichever is predatory (definitely the first one, for now), you can seek to ask your paper to be removed/rescinded from there. They will probably issue you a huge fee, which you’ll probably not be able to pay. So, you should leave it at that.

You can then approach the second journal, and if it’s not predatory, ask for the paper to be removed from here. Note that while this might be a legitimate journal, this is a case of duplicate publication, which is unethical. They may not have known that you had previously submitted to another journal, and so, may not be happy about this (if they are indeed legitimate). However, if they are able to grasp your situation (that you probably did it out of knowledge gaps), they may agree to your request. Note that while this situation might be embarrassing for you, it is equally so, if not more, for a journal to have to remove a published paper.

Now, if this journal too is predatory, that makes the matter even more challenging. Again, you could request for a removal but without paying a fee. If they too don’t agree, again, you should let this be. Basically, you should treat this entire episode as a learning experience and move on from here.

Also, you should not mention this paper in your CV, especially if it’s a double publish, as that will definitely not reflect well on your academic credentials. As all this may sound worrisome and probably even anguishing for you, you may wish to consult with a senior and/or supervisor on how they can support you through this process. Note that while they may initially express their disapproval over the situation, they are also used to these situations, with many junior researchers regularly becoming victims of scam journals.

For the foreseeable actions and for the future, you may wish to equip yourself by going through the following resources:

Hope that helps. All the best for a satisfactory resolution. And don’t worry, it’s all a part of learning and growing. :)