Q: How does one resolve the problem of missing citation in a published article?

Detailed Question -

[My girlfriend had a paper published with one of our teachers.] My girlfriend is the first author and the teacher is the corresponding author. However, while the journal team has given [provided] the citation for future research [reference], it shows only our teacher’s name. (I have given you the picture.) My girlfriend’s name is not included. What could be the reason they haven’t used my girlfriend’s name in the citation? Also, can someone give [provide] my girlfriend’s name if they wish to use [cite] this paper?

1 Answer to this question

We have made some edits to your question as some parts of it were not clear. We have added some words in parenthesis for better comprehension of the query.

First off, more than an issue of citation, this seems to be an issue of (co)authorship, that is, who is the rightful first/primary author of this paper especially as acknowledged by the journal and other entities that might reference this paper later.

If so, note that authorship issues are typically challenging to resolve (as you can find out here), and even more so after the paper has been published. It's best to resolve them before publication. Nevertheless, let’s work through your queries and other aspects of this situation.

What could be possible reasons for excluding the name?

Before considering these possibilities, note that some of this could be conjecture and should therefore not be taken to indicate anyone’s complicity. So, some possibilities are:

  • There could have simply been an administrative or technical glitch on the part of the journal.
  • There may have been an oversight (or assumption) on the part of the journal. As the teacher/professor was their point-of-contact (POC) on the paper, they may have assumed the professor was the main/only author. This may be the case if the journal is not a very well-established/reputed journal and/or doesn’t do due diligence.
  • This may have been any of an oversight, a misunderstanding, or a deliberate act on the part of the professor. An oversight would be the easiest to resolve: they would have simply missed it and may now seek to address it by communicating this to the journal. A misunderstanding is trickier: they may believe they are the first and perhaps sole author of the paper, with your girlfriend only providing ‘support.’ A deliberate act would, as you can understand, be the toughest: it would involve a lot of dialog and perhaps lead to acrimony. But we’ll come to that at the end.

Can someone now cite the supposed first author’s name when referencing the paper?

When including a citation, authors mention the name(s) of only the person(s) mentioned in the paper. If a person’s name is not mentioned, they would obviously not cite the name. So, what you wish to know perhaps is if they can do this informally – something like you informing a few people who was the actual first author, based on which, they decide to include her name. As you can see, this would be cumbersome and would also get in many tangles.

Given the situation, we would suggest the following paths of action.

  • Attain an accurate understanding of what exactly it means to be an author and a non-author contributor. You may refer to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) guidelines for these here.
  • You could very discreetly seek to find out from the journal how this ‘slip’ may have occurred. Based on their response, you may gauge how to proceed.
  • You may discreetly seek to gain an understanding of this from the professor. Based on their response, and unless their ‘antenna is up,’ you may get to understand whether this was an oversight, a misunderstanding, a deliberation, or something else.
  • Based on the above, you may consider discussing the matter with the professor. Note that this is likely to get confrontational, and may also bear repercussions for the future. So, it would be best to pursue this path with caution.
  • As the girlfriend has just started off in her career, we would suggest not pushing this one too much (nor even for the citations). There will hopefully be more opportunities for papers in the future, where she can bring in the learnings from this one and be careful that her authorship/contribution is not compromised. For a similar situation some time ago, we had offered similar advice to another young researcher. You may go through that here: Can the order of the authors be changed after the ethics committee approval and before completing the study?

For further insights into (co)authorship issues, you may go through the following resources:

Hope that helps. All the best to you and yours in determining the best way forward.