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ISMPP poll: delayed review by lead author ‒ what would you do?

Business woman with glasses looking up at many question marks

As previously reported, the International Society of Medical Publications Professionals (ISMPP) is conducting a series of ‘What would you do?’ polls, to spark debate amongst medical publication professionals about the best approach for dealing with challenging situations. The results of a new question recently published in the MAP newsletter, relate to the issue of dealing with a non-responsive lead author. In the article, Eric Y. Wong (Janssen) discusses the findings, sharing his own views on each potential solution to the problem.

The poll asked: The lead author of a manuscript in development was key in acquiring data for the study and actively engaged in the initial discussions that shaped the outline for the paper. However, he/she was slow to send feedback on the first draft, and the second draft has been with him/her for more than 2 months, despite exhaustive attempts to get in touch through multiple channels (via co-authors, field medical staff, etc.). Some of the other authors have contributed equally to the design of the study, and direction and revisions of the paper. Several of them have indicated that they want to remove the lead author as an author on the manuscript because of the delays. Another co-author has suggested “demoting” the lead author to another position on the by-line. What would you do? 

The results of the poll, which was answered by 60 respondents, were:

  • Remove the lead author and acknowledge their contribution so the team can proceed with manuscript development: 0% of responses
  • Keep authorship as it is and continue to follow up with lead author until a response is received: 16.5%
  • Agree to demote the lead author to another position, sending an email to them to explain the decision: 20.0%
  • Address comments from all authors, send the final manuscript for all author approval by a given deadline, stating firmly but politely that non-responding authors will be removed from the manuscript: 63.5%

Wong commented that, although a key role for a medical publication professional is to push forward manuscript development to meet publication plans, removing an author to do so, would not be appropriate in this scenario. Removal of an individual from the author list should be approved by all authors of the paper. Similarly, promoting another individual to lead author position, while acceptable if they have contributed sufficiently, would require the approval of all authors. Continuing to pursue the lead author until a response is received may be an acceptable approach, says Wong, as long as this did not prevent the prompt publication of results that were necessary for the safe and appropriate use of a therapy. Sending the revised manuscript for approval and stating that non-responsive authors would be removed, was the most popular course of action. Wong notes that this approach would allow the ongoing development of the manuscript and is aligned with the ICMJE authorship criteria.

Wong explains that the consequences of not adhering to proposed development timelines should be clearly set out early in the publication development process during, for example, the kick-off call or within authorship agreements.

What are your thoughts? Add your comments below.


Summary by Alice Wareham PhD, CMPP from Aspire Scientific


With thanks to our sponsors, Aspire Scientific Ltd and NetworkPharma Ltd


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