Ethicality Issues of Withdrawing Articles After Acceptance

By Erin Watson on Nov 17, 2022
The publishing industry is undergoing an exciting and groundbreaking shift from traditional models (standard access) to open access (OA) publication models. Under OA, audiences all over the world can benefit from timely, peer-reviewed research no matter their economic status. More benefits lie in the OA movement beyond its greater accessibility to research; as researchers publishing under OA at IGI Global also benefit from expeditious publishing, peer review, and a wide range of supplemental editorial services.
However, there is a growing issue in the research community of authors submitting their articles to gold OA journals (and even hybrid OA/subscription-based journals), and then withdrawing their article after it has been accepted to the journal, effectively utilizing all of the resources of that journal, including the peer review, only to then refuse to publish at the end of the process. They then seem to take the article and publish it elsewhere – oftentimes in a journal with a higher impact.
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What Are Acceptable Reasons for Withdrawing an Article After Acceptance?
ethics There are many reasons that an author may suddenly wish to withdraw their article from a journal—some of those reasons may even be reasonable and warranted. But it’s highly recommended for the author to carefully evaluate their situation as only exceptional cases will often be honored by publishers, and publishers do not take these requests lightly. The Editorial Director from the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) recently spoke on article withdrawal after acceptance or review, remarking that it “is an uncommon event. It is not considered good scientific practice and must be done only in exceptional cases” (How do I withdraw a submitted (but not published) article from peer-review?, 2022).
Such exceptional cases tend to involve circumstances where, should the article be published, it would be an ethical violation or would add detrimental, inaccurate research to the community. This could include situations where it is suddenly found that the research or data is significantly flawed, times when it is clear that an unethical peer review was undertaken, and where studies were undertaken without the approval of an ethics committee, etc. In these cases, authors are justified and advised to withdraw the article at this point.
There are also cases where authors wish to withdraw articles after acceptance because they cannot pay the Article Processing Charge (APC) for an OA journal. Every Gold OA journal at IGI Global (and any other reputable academic publisher) makes the APC clear prior to submission of the article proposal to the journal. APCs are only requested after the article has gone through a double-blind peer review process and is accepted into the journal. It is crucial that authors are aware of and understand the APC prior to submitting their article. Authors submitting to OA journals should have a funding source already secured or be prepared to pay out of pocket (self-fund or seek reimbursement from a funding organization later) so that should their work be accepted following the peer review process they are prepared to cover the APC. It is not good practice to submit an article, knowing that an APC will be requested if the work is accepted, and just hope to find funding for it by the time it is requested or worse never even plan to pay the APC (please note that APC waivers coming from publishers are extremely limited and rare as the APCs are critical for publishers to cover the costs of developing, publishing, hosting, distributing, and promoting the content). Authors who submit their work and never have any intent to pay the APC if their work is accepted are exploiting the editorial boards’ time and the publisher’s resources. Of course, there are at times unforeseen circumstances where funding could fall through and/or genuine mistakes may be made, and publishers will carefully evaluate and assess each set of circumstances when determining how to handle each scenario.
What Are Unacceptable Reasons for Withdrawing an Article After Acceptance?
It is increasingly seen that authors withdraw their papers upon acceptance for less appropriate reasons. In some cases, authors submit the same article to numerous journals (also known as “simultaneous submission”), wait to see which journals accept it, and then select the journal with the most impact to publish the article in while withdrawing it from the other journals. This process is considered to be unethical and detrimental to the journals and their resources, as well as to the other authors who also need to use those resources. It has also been observed that authors oftentimes will use this as a way to cherry-pick favorable reviews across multiple journals (How do I withdraw a submitted (but not published) article from peer-review?, 2022).
In some cases, authors may submit to a journal, especially an OA journal, in order to take advantage of OA benefits to publishing, which for many journals may mean a more rapid peer review or additional editorial services, when they had never intended to publish in the journal to begin with nor pay the APC that would cover those services. These individuals then take the article to a higher impact journal or a non-OA journal that did not provide the same services. These reasons for withdrawing the article after acceptance are deemed across the industry as unacceptable. Through the advancement of manuscript submission systems, publishers are being provided with much more sophisticated data that can allow them to track the activities and submission trends of these repeat offenders - authors who shop their manuscripts around, frequently pulling them from consideration late in the process, while also having a multitude of simultaneous submissions in process at one time.
Why is This Behavior Considered Wrong?
These authors have no intention of publishing with the journal they submit to and only want to take advantage of that journal’s resources for their own gain. This process is unethical as it wastes the resources of the journal and takes reviewer time away from legitimate articles that do have funding and a commitment to publish in the journal. When an author withdraws their article after much of the process is completed, they are often not considering the significant time and resources that the editors, editorial assistants, and reviewers have put into their article manuscript.
The Committee of Publication Ethics (COPE) states that “such behavior is deplorable and a waste of editorial resources” (Unethical withdrawal after acceptance to maximize the 'impact factor'?, 2017).
Additionally, in the case specific to OA publishing, some resources wasted on accepted articles that the author never intended to publish with the journal would have been covered by the APC. As noted earlier, OA processing charges exist to offset the fees of publication that were originally covered by subscription or reading costs of publications. When an author withdraws their article after much of the process is completed, they are directly taking advantage of the publisher’s rigorous processes, protocols, and services such as digital tools, systems, third-party software, editorial support and services, formatting, layout, typesetting, and more.
When submitting articles to journals as OA, it is critical to ensure you are aware of, and able to pay, the APC. There are many funding options available to explore in order to pay the fee such as crowdfunding (multiple sources coming together to pay the fee), associations, institutions, universities, and government agencies. Additionally, understanding the ethics behind publication withdrawal is crucial for researchers to maintain good relationships with publishers and establish a respected reputation.
Are There Repercussions?
Most publishers have ethical policies against simultaneous submission. Authors found to be simultaneously submitting to multiple publications could face, depending on that specific publisher's policy, the rejection of their work, the retraction of already published work, and/or bans from publishing with that publication or publisher again.
While COPE advises publishers and editors against punitive measures to be taken against authors who withdraw their articles after significantly advancing through the editorial processes of a journal, there are cases within the industry wherein authors received suspensions or bans from submitting to the journal again, and even some cases of fines including either non-refundable or only partially refunded APCs (Majumder, 2015).
working at computer While every publication is different in how withdrawals of submissions are handled, the publishing and research communities seem to agree that withdrawing a paper after acceptance without an appropriate reason equates to unacceptable behavior on the part of the author; which could be detrimental to the author’s future publishing endeavors as members of the publishing community, especially those in more niche fields, do talk to one another. Authors could face situations in the future where finding publications to submit their work to becomes difficult, as editors do not wish to risk their resources on an author that is known to withdraw work right before it is set to be published, or worse, known for submitting the same article to a few different journals in order to see which accept it, ultimately choosing the one with the highest impact.
At IGI Global, we strive to ensure that our OA processing charges are transparent upon submission and seek to help educate authors on the ethical and unethical practices that continue to occur in the industry. Should you wish to submit your quality, original work to one of our Gold OA journals, please view the Call for Papers page.
Works Cited
How do I withdraw a submitted (but not published) article from peer-review? JMIR Publications Knowledge Base and Help Center. (2022). Retrieved October 19, 2022 from https://support.jmir.org/hc/en-us/articles/115001438787-How-do-I-withdraw-a-submitted-but-not-published-article-from-peer-review-#h_01G2QX7BECY3NDHSN3PKG43CK3

Majumder, K. (2015, January 30). Unethical withdrawal of a manuscript for submission to a higher impact factor journal: A case study. Editage Insights. Retrieved October 25, 2022, from https://www.editage.com/insights/unethical-withdrawal-of-a-manuscript-for-submission-to-a-higher-impact-factor-journal-a-case-study

Unethical withdrawal after acceptance to maximize the 'impact factor'? COPE: Committee on Publication Ethics. (2017). Retrieved October 13, 2022, from https://publicationethics.org/case/unethical-withdrawal-after-acceptance-maximize-impact-factor
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There is a growing issue in the research community of authors submitting their articles to gold OA journals (and even hybrid OA/subscription-based journals), and then withdrawing their article after it has been accepted to the journal, effectively utilizing all of the resources of that journal, including the peer review, only to then refuse to publish at the end of the process.
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