What happens when a journal makes an error in authorship credit? A case study
Case: An author (Author A) submitted her paper to a journal. The paper was accepted and published in the January issue of the journal. The author was informed that she would receive a free print copy of the January and February issues of the journal. When she received the print copy of the February issue, she was surprised to see her name against an article that she had not written. She immediately contacted the journal editor, informing him that the article had not been authored by her and she had not submitted any such article to the journal. The editor replied that it was an error at the journal end and would be corrected in the next issue.
Since the author had received her copy of the journal by post, it had naturally taken some time. Meanwhile, the article erroneously published under her name had already been cited on social media. The actual author (Author B) of the paper thought that she had been scooped and complained to the journal. At the same time, Author B aggressively took the matter up on social media and accused Author A of plagiarism.
Author A was confused and upset as her reputation was at stake, and sought our help.
Action: We asked Author A to write to the journal once again and request them to take immediate action so that her reputation does not get tainted. The journal immediately informed author B of the error. Author B cleared author A of all allegations and apologized to her on social media. The journal editor apologized to both authors A and B in a publicly issued notice. The change was made on the online version within a day and the next issue of the printed journal carried an erratum mentioning the error.
Summary: Errors made by the journal in the production process are not uncommon, and these errors can affect the publication record or scientific integrity of a paper. Therefore, such errors should immediately be brought to the notice of the journal. Every publishing house has a correction and retraction policy, and it is the responsibility of the journal to make the necessary amendments as soon as possible. Some publishing houses, such as Nature Publishing Group, use errata to correct errors made by the journal. Some other publishers use errata and corrigendum only for errors made by the authors; for correction of errors for which the publisher is responsible, a publisher’s note is issued. The correction policy might be journal-specific; however, the journal editor should ensure that errors are corrected on time and the author’s reputation is not affected in any way.