UPDATE : Friday, July 10, 2020
HOME Special
2 professors in legal battle over textbook authorship
  • By Song Soo-youn
  • Published 2018.03.22 14:56
  • Updated 2018.03.23 10:30
  • comments 0

Ahn Hee-chang, a plastic surgery professor at Hanyang University Hospital, made headlines in 2012 after he contributed to the making of U.S. plastic surgery textbook, “Plastic Surgery third edition” by Peter C. Neligan, a six-volume set.

The book is used for the plastic surgeon qualification test in Korea. Ahn authored a chapter, “Ischemia of the Hand” and his name appears in the table of contents.

However, Ahn’s authorship has become controversial recently as associate professor Kim Youn-hwan claimed that Kim’s name was omitted from the chapter, even though Kim made a considerable contribution to the writings. Kim received medical training under Ahn, working as a resident and a fellow. Kim now works as associate professor at the same hospital.

It was Ahn who received a request to participate in the writings of the U.S. textbook. In 2009, a U.S. editor of “Plastic Surgery” contacted Ahn to write for the book, as Ahn was widely known as an excellent physician in the field of ischemic hand diseases. He began writing in November 2009 and received “help” from Kim, who was a fellow then. The accounts of the two professors are not different until November 2009. However, they have widely different versions of a story as to how much help Kim offered.

Hanyang University Hospital Professor Ahn Hee-chang drew attention in 2012 for writing a chapter “Ischemia of the Hand” of a U.S. textbook, “Plastic Surgery third edition” by Peter C. Neglican, a six-volume set. However, Ahn’s authorship has become controversial as Associate Professor Kim Young-hwan revealed that Kim’s name was omitted from the chapter, even though Kim made a considerable contribution to the writings.

Kim asserts authorship of the yearlong effort, wins recognition from university research truth committee

From November 2009 to February 2010, Kim spent four months to complete the draft. Kim then worked with Ahn to revise the content, and the two completed the writings in November 2010. They referenced 120 volumes of documents and books for the writing.

“Professor Ahn organized the structure, but I filled out the content. I filled them out with 120 references. Four colleagues, who have seen the whole process, have written statements that I wrote the textbook and submitted them to the university’s research truth committee,” Kim said.

“I also submitted e-mails that I exchanged with Ahn while writing the textbook. Those sent from Ahn include words such as ‘you have too much work to revise the textbook, don’t you?’ I’m not saying that Ahn did nothing. I just want my one-year effort to be recognized,” he added.

The reason Kim revealed the issue belatedly was that he expected his name to be included in the fourth edition of the book, according to Kim.

“The fourth edition was out on Sept. 15, 2017, and I checked it before it was released in the bookstore. My name was omitted from there, too. After checking that, I reported the issue to the research truth committee,” Kim said. “I felt lost too much. I worked hard because it was a great honor to be involved in writing a globally authoritative textbook. And I thought my name would be included as a co-author.”

According to Kim, there were 22 fellows and 30 residents whose names appeared as authors among the total of 438 authors of the “Plastic Surgery” by Neligan.

“Fellows or residents would not have received the request for writing directly. Because they contributed to the writing to a certain extent, their names could appear as co-authors. In foreign countries, such authorship is protected. I don’t understand why this happens in Korea only,” Kim said.

Kim has sued Ahn for violating copyright law, and police are investigating the case.

Hanyang University’s research truth committee upheld Kim’s argument.

“We reviewed the investigation of the committee and documents submitted by the accused (Ahn) and the informant (Kim), we concluded that the informant’s job title at the time did not lack the qualification as a textbook author. We confirmed that the informant’s name was omitted from the authors’ list although he wrote most of the content,” the research truth committee said. “This is research misconduct that falls under Research Ethics Regulation Article 31 on the unjust marking of authorship.”

The committee notified the result of the deliberation to Ahn and Kim on Feb. 19, respectively.

‘I wrote the draft, I will recover my tarnished reputation,’ says Ahn

Ahn, however, refuted the committee’s judgment. He claimed that although he received Kim’s help in the authoring process, Kim’s work was only confined to organizing data. The initial draft that the committee said Kim wrote was written by Ahn, who asserted that the committee made a comparison between the “wrong” draft and the final version.

“Checking the draft on Copy Killer (a plagiarism tester) which Kim asserted that he wrote, the committee said it matched 66 percent to the final version. But the draft that Kim submitted to the committee was sent from me on Nov. 30, 2010. Of course, I wrote the draft initially,” Ahn said. “Kim only organized data when I was starting to write the textbook. So, he was not qualified for authorship.”

Ahn requested a second deliberation of the research truth committee on March 5. According to Ahn, Kim’s summary of references sent to Ahn in November 2009 matched 18 percent of the final version on Copy Killer. Ahn wrote the draft that Kim submitted to the research truth committee. At that time, Kim asked Ahn to change the order of the references and sent it on Nov. 30, 2010, according to Ahn.

“If it were a research paper, I would have included his name even if he were an assistant. But in the case of a textbook, I don’t have the authority to insert an author’s name. The U.S. editor specifically pointed me to write for the textbook. I don’t have any authority to decide who the author is and who’s not. The committee said I wrongly put the author’s name, but this is nonsense,” Ahn said.

“The committee reviewed the texts only. But the book also contains clinical example photos, illustrations, and a surgery video content. These are all my materials and Kim did not contribute to any of these,” he went on to say. “The committee labeled Kim’s lie a “truth.” To recover my tarnished reputation, I will get to the bottom of this,” Ahn added.

He has appointed a lawyer and sued both Kim and a reporter who reported Kim’s allegations for the first time for defamation.

‘International medical editor group asserts authorship for even 10% contribution.

Experts said the legal battle between the teacher and the disciple stemmed from a recognition gap of authorship.

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) offers four criteria for recognizing authorship: “Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; Final approval of the version to be published; and Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.”

Hong Sung-tae, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Korean Medical Science and a professor at Seoul National University’s College of Medicine, said a contributor who wrote parts of content or made a table or chart for a textbook or a research paper should be given authorship.

“If someone organized data only, it will be hard to assert authorship. But if the person made a table or an illustration out of the organized material for the final version, authorship should be given to that person. It would be fair for someone who wrote 10 percent of the final version to be listed as a co-author,” Hong said.

“The criteria for authorship are the same for textbooks or research papers. It is whether the person wrote the content and produced a table or chart. A contribution to the process of the writing might not get recognized. But the final judgment has to be made based on how much the person contributed to the final version” he added.


<© Korea Biomedical Review, All rights reserved.>

Other articles by Song Soo-youn
iconMost viewed
Comments 0
Please leave the first comment.
Back to Top