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Threatening, Nasty e-mails from the authors for quick publication?

“Often unbeknownst to authors, the process of publishing a high-quality, peer-reviewed medical journal in Low and Middle Income countries (LMICs) is immensely challenging, occasionally fraught with stress and frustration. Editors grapple with an array of issues, from combating ghost and gift authorship—widespread intellectual misconduct—to the daunting task of finding capable reviewers.

Authors, as a pressure group, present a formidable challenge.1 Firstly, a significant majority fail to meticulously read and adhere to journal guidelines. This oversight often leads to manuscript complications, such as incomplete submissions lacking Ethics Committee/IRB approval or a proper Letter of Undertaking signed by all listed authors. Moreover, some authors extensively delay revising their manuscripts in response to reviewer comments, occasionally neglecting to provide point-by-point responses—a critical requirement. Additionally, considerable time is consumed in arranging publication fees. Editors and production teams cannot schedule a manuscript’s publication until it successfully navigates these stages.

Once authors settle publication charges, they often demand immediate publication, oblivious to the predetermined publication schedule. While compliant authors who adhere to instructions and complete formalities promptly may secure a spot in the next scheduled issue, others must await their turn. Unaware of the complexities involved in scientific publishing, certain authors resort to persistent emails and, at times, even threats of legal action when met with delays.

We share an illustrative case involving an author, Dr. XYZ from Pakistan, pursuing a PhD in China. Dr. XYZ submitted a manuscript to the Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences in September 13th, 2021. Following initial screening and internal review, deficiencies were communicated on December 18th, 2021. Despite advice to revise within four to six weeks, the revised manuscript arrived on January 10th, 2022—four months later. Despite this delay, the editorial team endeavored to assist and continued processing. The paper underwent external review by two referees, with their feedback relayed to the author on May 12th, 2022. The author submitted a revised version on May 18th, 2022. The manuscript received acceptance for publication on May 29th, 2022, with a provisional acceptance email sent on June 30th, 2022.

However, the author’s prolonged delay in arranging publication charges until October 25th, 2023—sixteen months later—resulted in the paper being relegated to archives. At the author’s insistence, the manuscript was reconsidered for publication. Despite efforts to accommodate the author’s needs by providing a PDF of the manuscript on November 7th, 2023, the author persistently demanded immediate publication, citing impending deadlines for their PhD thesis. Despite explanations that the publication schedule was fixed and that the paper would be included in the January-February 2024 Part-II issue, the author resorted to threats of legal action, alleging deliberate delay.

Ultimately, the January-February 2024 Part-II issue was published online in the third week of December 2023 and finalized on December 28th, 2023. Regrettably, the author remained dissatisfied despite the considerable support extended, seemingly unaware that the paper could have faced rejection due to delayed revisions. Instances like these, where authors demand expedited publication or threaten legal action, are not uncommon, yet are untenable given the constraints faced by editorial teams.

More recently one of the authors shared an abstract of an RCT and wanted to get his paper processed and published on fast track since it is related to his PhD thesis offering to pay the fast track processing fee. When informed that this facility is not available and no new submissions are being entertained since we wish to clear the backlog first. He may send it to some other journal, he sent the following e mail:

“This is the third time I asked for your assessment, and fast track processing, publication and received such a rude reply to send it to other journal. Your journal is among 3-4 journals that is SCIE therefore everyone want to publish in PJMS. Thank you for being rude. I will never try to search your website again.”

Efforts are underway to foster more and higher-quality journals from Pakistan, facilitating local researchers in timely publishing their work. Programs like the Certificate in Medical Editing and Advance Course in Medical Editing, initiated by the Pakistan Association of Medical Editors (PAME) at the University of Health Sciences2 since 2019, have been instrumental. Five batches of participants have graduated, subsequently enhancing the quality and standards of affiliated journals. Several of these journals have gained recognition from the Higher Education Commission, with nine new Pakistani journals are now covered by Clarivate, renowned for awarding Impact Factors worldwide. PAME remains committed to educating and training authors, reviewers, and editors through workshops, training sessions, and hands-on programs to sustain this progress.” 

References 

1. Jawaid SA. Authors- the most dangerous pressure group. Pak J Med Sci. 2014; 30(6):1177-1179. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.12669/pjms.306.6465
2. University of Health Sciences. Certificate Course in Medical Editing. Available at https://www.uhs.edu.pk/cme.php. Last accessed December 28, 2023.

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