Author F published a single case report (CR1) in my journal. A few months later, I received a letter from author G who claimed that the case published by author F was a verbatim copy of his case report published in another journal H. On comparison of the documents it was obvious that CR1 was an exact reproduction of the article of author G. More than 90% of the sentences overlapped in both articles and even the clinical photographs were identical. The case report by author G was published 6 years before the publication of CR1. Both authors work in different institutions that are more than 500 km apart. Neither journal is indexed in Pubmed and journal H is not a member of COPE.
I contacted author F but received no reply to multiple emails. I also contacted the editor of journal H and informed my editorial board members about the case. One of the associate editors recognised author F’s name from another case report which had been accepted for publication at the journal. This second case report (CR2) had been reviewed and recommended by reviewers and no one suspected plagiarism. Following some research into this matter, the associate editor found that CR2 was an exact copy of another article by author P published in journal H. Publication of the article by author P predated the submission of CR2 by 7 years. In CR2, the text and clinical photographs were identical to the article of author P. As the journal is not indexed in any major database, no one had detected the plagiarism. We were able to stop publication of the second case (fortunately the manuscript was in the queue for the printer but had not yet been published).
It seems author F is habituated to plagiarism. It is not known how many such plagiarised papers he has published in various journals. Apparently, author F has never published any papers in journals indexed in Pubmed, suggesting he is aware of what he is doing.
What advice would COPE offer regarding this case?
The Forum agreed that this appears to be a clearcut case of plagiarism. The editor should retract the article. The Forum advised the editor to consult COPE’s retraction guidelines, which are published on the COPE website. The editor should state in the retraction notice the reason for the retraction. The Forum also advised the editor to follow the COPE flowchart on “Suspected plagiarism in a published article”. As well as retracting the article, the editor should consider contacting the author’s institution and informing them of the author’s misconduct. The Forum advises against any sanctions or blacklisting of authors because of the risk of legal consequences.