Q: Is it unethical to use someone's name in the acknowledgements section without prior consent?
My paper has been accepted by a journal and is published online. However, a problem has cropped up after the paper’s publication. I added the name of a journal editor in the acknowledgements section of my paper. I had sent my paper to this journal earlier and it was rejected, but the journal editor had given very good comments that helped me improve my paper. Additionally, I had asked him some questions and he had given me very good solutions. Later I revised the paper and sent it to another journal and it got accepted. While revising the paper, I had added his name in the acknowledgements section without informing him. Now the problem is, this editor has written an e-mail to the EIC of my paper, saying that he didn't make any contribution to my paper and it is unethical that I added his name without his permission. My paper is already published online. Will it get retracted? What should I do now?
Many authors do not put much thought into writing the acknowledgements section, which can lead to problems. One should remember that there are certain protocols and conventions that should be followed while writing this section.
Including someone’s name in the acknowledgements section is a way of thanking them for helping you with the paper. However, if the person has not directly or knowingly made any contribution to your paper, it is natural that he/she will be surprised. What you have done is highly unexpected; people do not generally include the names of peer reviewers/editors in the acknowledgement section. Moreover, since you do not know the Editor personally and he has not made any direct contribution to the study, you should have taken his permission before adding his name in the acknowledgements section.
However, you need not worry about your paper being retracted; that is not likely to happen. Papers generally don’t get retracted unless there’s a flaw in the study or breach of ethics related to the study.
You need to do two things to address the issue:
1. Write to the Editor whom you have acknowledged and apologize for your misjudgement. Explain that you will write to the EIC of the journal that has published your paper with a request to add a note in the corrigendum, mentioning the mistake and to remove his name from the acknowledgements section next time the journal’s online version is updated. Ask the Editor if he will be satisfied with this corrective measure.
2. Write to the EIC of the journal where your paper has been published. You should explain your error of judgement and request them to take the corrective measures mentioned above.