Opinion / European Science Editing: August issue

The August issue of European Science Editing can be downloaded here (PDF, 2MB).

Opinion / COPE Chair, Virginia Barbour, discusses retractions on BBC Radio 4

COPE Chair Ginny Barbour, Ivan Oransky from Retraction Watch, and Richard Van Noorden from Nature took part in a discussion on retractions on the BBC Radio 4 programme Material World (audio available).

Opinion / Research misconduct in the anaesthesiology community

Editor in chief of Anaesthesia and former COPE council member, Steve Yentis, has written three blogs on research misconduct: infamous names in anaesthesia—part one, part two and part three.

Opinion / Retraction record rocks community

See report in Nature on the anaesthesiology community trying to move on after fraud investigations

Opinion / Ending honorary authorship

"Credit for scientific research contributions must be clearly and appropriately assigned at the time of publication"......so begins as editorial in Science, calling for an end to honorary authorship. The articles goes on to say that "Research institutions should develop and promulgate clear statements in their research policies about the importance of upholding ethical standards of authorship". Read the full report here.

Opinion / Romanian scientists fight plagiarism

Researchers set up independent review panel after misconduct scandals hit government. See the article in Nature .


Opinion / Updated EASE guidelines for authors and translators of scientific articles

The European Association of Science Editors (EASE) has issued the 2012 edition of EASE Guidelines, available in 20 languages. The updated edition includes some new material, such as practical tips for junior researchers. Besides, EASE supports the global initiative Healthcare Information For All by 2015 (www.HIFA2015.org) by advising authors to make abstracts of their papers highly informative, reliable, and easily understandable.

Opinion / Scientific misconduct being taken more seriously globally?

Nature discussues how scientific misconduct is now starting to be taken much more seriously worldwide.  The article states how different countries are starting to strengthen their response to scientific misconduct and that research integrity is now very much in the world's spotlight.  The UK has a [voluntary] concordat for which universities have agreed to adopt, obliging them to investigate allegations of misconduct.  A study in the US, due in 2013, is likely to call for changes in how misconduct is defined and policed by US agencies.

Opinion / Retraction Watch looks into how institutions can prevent scientific misconduct

Retraction Watch reports on a study by Donald Kornfeld, published last month in Academic Medicine where Kornfeld reviewed 146 US Office of Research integrity (ORI) cases from 1992 to 2003.  He found that approximately "1/3 of the accused were support staff, 1/3 postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, and 1/3 faculty.  Accusations of fabrication represented 45% of the offenses, falsification 66%, and plagiarism 12%".  Read more here.

Opinion / Concordat to Support Research Integrity

Professor Mike Farthing, vice-chair of the UK Research Integrity Office, founding chair of COPE and vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex, has written an article in the Times Higher Education on research misconduct in the UK.

Opinion / What constitutes 'self-plagiarism'?

Last month, Nature News blog reported on an emminent chemist who was investigated for 'self-plagiarism' or duplicate publication.  Apparently a number of paragraphs were almost identical in a number of papers he published.  The most recent paper, published in Journal of the American Chemical Association, has since been retracted with the statement: "This article was removed by the publisher due to possible copyright concerns.

Opinion / Nature discusses proposed libel reforms in the UK

An article in Nature discusses the proposed libel reform law that was included in last week's Queen's Speech.  This legislation directly addresses the concerns of researchers and scientific groups. You can read the full article here.

Opinion / Nature Editorial on Publishing Risky Research

There has been much discussion recently on how journals handle risky or "dual use" research - ie research that has the potential to be used for harm. A Nature Editorial (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v485/n7396/full/485005a.html) now discusses where things stand with regard to a pair of papers submitted to Science and Nature of papers reporting mammalian transmissibility of avian flu as a result of artificial genetic manipulation.

Opinion / New declaration on Publication Ethics in China

Recent articles in the Scientist and Nature discuss publication ethics in China and point to a recent declaration by editors of the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) to follow guidelines issued by CAST in 2009. This declaration is one part of increasing awareness of the importance of publication ethics and the need for journals within China to address the issue.

Opinion / New York Times reports on the sharp rise in retractions

The NYT discusses how the sharp rise in retractions is prompting calls for reform.  Read the full article here.

Opinion / Anesthesia and Analgesia publish editorial re: Fujii Statement of Concern

Anesthesia & Analgesia have published an editorial which discusses the retraction of eight manuscripts by Dr. Yoshitaka Fujii published under the auspices of Toho University, as well as his dismissal from the university.  The editorial continues by discussing the journal's concern over papers published by Dr Fujii in Anesthesia & Analegesia - concerns which were fist highlighted to the Editors in a Letter to the Editor by Kranke, Apfel, and Roewer alleging research fraud by Dr. Fujii back in April 2000.

Opinion / New study published on retractions in biomedical papers

A new study on retractions shows that the system is effective for alerting the community to invalid work.  The Scholarly Kitchen discusses an article ("Governing knowledge in the scientific community: Exploring the role of retractions in biomedicine“ pub in Research Policy, March 2012 by, J Furman, K Jensen, and F Murray) that reports on a study of 677 article retractions identified in MEDLINE between 1972 and 2006.

Opinion / Video misconduct evidence from Japanese whistleblower

According to Science, a whistleblower in Japan has posted a video on YouTube containing allegations of image manipulation.

Opinion / Brits are getting less honest

According to a survey from the Centre for the Study of Integrity, people in the UK are less honest than they were 10 years ago and younger people are more tolerant of dishonesty.

Opinion / Supervisor criticised for student who plagiarised

The US Office of Research Integrity has taken action against a researcher who committed plagiarism and his supervisor who failed to report the problem according to a report in Nature.

Opinion / Editor sacked after papers are retracted

According to Retraction Watch, the co-editor-in-chief of Antioxidants & Redox Signaling has been dismissed from his position after being found guilty of data fabrication and falsification, and having several papers retracted.  This is also reported in the journal in an editorial .

Opinion / Prevalence of plagiarism and use of text-matching software

A research group from Croatia has produced a useful paper on their experiences of using various kinds of text-matching software to detect plagiarism. They found 11% of papers submitted to the Croatian Medical Journal from 2009-10 included plagiarised material. Their paper is published in Science and Engineering Ethics.

Opinion / Plagiarism in a global context

Cameron et al observe that most scientists publishing in English-language journals are not native English speakers and discuss the implications for training about plagiarism in an article in Academic Medicine

Opinion / Managing research misconduct

The BMJ has published a review of different countries' approaches to handling research misconduct (available here).

Opinion / Journal sued for criticising editor

According to the BBC (see here), Nature is being sued for libel after making allegations that an editor published his own work in his journal and circumvented normal peer review processes.

Opinion / Plagiarism and fake authorship in engineering

Retraction Watch reports a case in which an engineering researcher was plagiarized but the journal editor could not determine who was responsible, or report the problem to the author's institution, because the plagiarist apparently used a false name (and/or false affiliation). 

Opinion / Psychology of fraud

Social psychologist Jennifer Crocker has written a commentary on the Stapel case focusing on the 'first tiny step' that may lead to somebody commiting research fraud. It is published in this week's Nature.

Opinion / Misconduct in social psychology investigated

Nature reports the outcome of university investigations into misconduct by a Dutch researcher. While the misconduct is serious and therefore troubling, this appears to be a good example of a thorough, prompt, and transparent investigation carried out by the institution. The full report (in Dutch) is available here. The news item in Nature is available here.

Opinion / Study shows prevalence of guest and ghost authors


A study published in the BMJ [see here] found that 21% of papers published in 2008 in 6 major medical journals had guest or ghost authors.  This is a slight decrease since a similar study in 1996 found 29% but still a cause for concern. Guest authorship appears to be a particular problem in research articles.

Opinion / COPE cases show problems at institutions

COPE Chair, Liz Wager, has used COPE cases to show the problems editors sometimes face when they try to work with institutions on cases of suspected misconduct. The report has been published online in the BMJ this week. It is available to BMJ subscribers here and on the COPE website here.

Opinion / UK working group on research transparency

The UK Minister for Science has announced the formation of a working group on research transparency which will examine how UK-funded research findings can be made more accessible, with a particular focus on 'academic publications'. A press release is available here.

Opinion / Problems with data availability

A study published in PLoS One by Alsheikh-Ali and colleagues highlights the diversity of data sharing policies in high impact journals and researchers' failure to adhere to policies when they do exist. Only 9% of the 500 papers included links to full online data sets and nearly 60% of the papers covered by a data availability policies failed to follow them properly.

Opinion / Ethics (and legal implications) of science communication

According to a report in Nature, scientists and officials in Italy face legal proceedings about how they communicated risk to the public regarding earthquakes following the major quake which killed more than 300 people in L'Aquila in 2009.

Opinion / COPE-funded research on authorship published

Ana Marusic and colleagues have published a systematic review on the meaning, ethics and practices across scholarly disciplines showing  a high prevalence of authorship problems. It is available from PLos One. This study was funded by a COPE research grant and preliminary results were presented at this year's UK seminar.

Opinion / Debate about conflicts of interest

The BMJ recently published an editorial suggesting that authors with ties to industry should not be permitted to publish editorials. This has prompted an interesting debate (via the journal's rapid responses) about how journals should handle conflicts of interest.

Opinion / Editor apologizes for plagiarized paper

Retraction Watch reports an editorial comment in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology about a plagiarized article which the journal has retracted. The editor explains how his journal uses CrossCheck and why peer review can't be expected to detect plagiarism. This comment, in turn, has attracted comments from Retraction Watch readers which may also be of interest to editors. See here.

Opinion / iThenticate paper on self-plagiarism

iThenticate (an organization that produces text-matching software) has produced a paper on the ethics of self-plagiarism. It can be found here.

Opinion / Data sharing developments

A report from the Publishing Open Data Working Group discusses various proposals and provides useful links on the question of data sharing. The report can be found here. COPE has submitted evidence to a Royal Society policy inquiry and will be represented at a meeting to discuss this in September.

Opinion / Problems with retractions

A report in Nature concludes that several flawed papers have not been retracted (and mentions the COPE guidelines).

Opinion / Scientific Red Cards

A group of scientists are proposing an online database of research and publication misconduct to be known as Scientific Red Cards. They are calling on researchers to join the initiative. The website can be found here.

Opinion / Concerns about ethical review of research

An article in Nature discusses problems with commercial review boards which may get greater powers in the United States.

Opinion / Indian university responds swiftly to editors' concerns

According to Retraction Watch, Kalasalingam University in Tamil Nadu, India, has sacked a professor and revoked the registration of six graduate students in response to evidence from journal editors of data manipulation.

Opinion / Can guest authors of ghostwritten articles be sued?

Simon Stern and Trudo Lemmens (from the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto) discuss legal sanctions which might be taken against guest authors of ghostwritten articles in PLoS Medicine.


Opinion / New developments in citation information

An article in Nature reports on new free-to-access tools from Google and Microsoft which enable researchers to analyse citation metrics. Google Scholar Citations and Microsoft Academic Search allow researchers to create their own citation profile and analyse citations to their work.

Opinion / NIH drops plans for CoI website

According to a report in Nature, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has shelved plans to require institutions to create websites listing researchers' financial sources. Commentators have noted that this will make it harder to identify conflicts of interest.

Opinion / UK parliament report calls for research integrity officers at all institutions

A report from the UK House of Commons Select Committee inquiry into peer review recommends, among other things, that all institutions should appoint somebody to take a lead in research integrity. This was one of the recommendations made by COPE to the inquiry. The full report is available here.

Opinion / Indian scientists call for research integrity organization

Scientists in India have called for a body to investigate research misconduct. See the report here

Opinion / More from the COPE retraction project

A second paper has been published from the retraction research funded by COPE. It used qualitative methods to examine editors' experiences of retracting articles. See Williams P & Wager E. Exploring why and how journal editors retract articles: findings from a qualitative study. Science & Engineering Ethics: doi 10.1007/s11948-011-9292-0. Available here.

Opinion / Ethical concerns of peer reviewers

An interesting study published in Nursing Ethics by Broome et al examined ethical concerns of peer reviewers and discovered that these are not always satisfactorily handled by editors.

Opinion / Editor's dilemmas over non-repeatable research

The New York Times (June 25th) reports on the difficulties for editors over whether to retract reports of findings that cannot be replicated and also the problems caused if journals are reluctant to publish confirmatory or negative studies.

Opinion / Student assignment highlights plagiarised article

According to Retraction Watch, an author discovered his work had been plagiarised when he asked students in his class to give a presentation on a recent paper they'd picked from a peer-reviewed journal. The researcher recognised his own work from the student's presentation and, when he checked the article, found it included large plagiarised sections.

Opinion / NY Times reports fraudulent clinical trial

The New York Times describes how a paper describing a method for determining which treatment cancer patients should get was used as the basis for a clinical trial (therefore putting patients at risk) before being retracted. A fuller description of the case has also been published in Annals of Applied Statistics 2009; 3:1309-1334.


Opinion / Problems with research integrity governance in the UK

The Times Higher Education Supplement reports on current problems with organizations involved with research integrity in the UK (see here).

(Note: COPE is represented on the UKRIO advisory board and donated money to help get UKRIO established)

Opinion / US court ruling on access to drug safety data

The New England Journal of Medicine (29 June) discusses the implications of a recent US court ruling requiring a drug company to make safety data available to shareholders. Although the ruling doesn't relate directly to journals it's interesting in the light of current debates about publishing raw data from clinical trials.See here.


Opinion / Editors criticised for not checking authors' conflicts of interest

An article in Reuters Health criticises journal editors for not checking authors' conflicts of interests and claims several dermatology papers do not provide adequate disclosure. The journal (and other editors) explain that they believe this is the authors' responsibility. NOTE: this item is included on the COPE website NOT because we believe the journal in question behaved improperly but because we thought editors should be aware of public perceptions about conflicts of interest.

Opinion / Head of German research centre resigns because of plagiarism

According to Laborjournal, the Managing Director of Research Center Borstel has resigned after he was found to have committed plagiarism.

Details and links to the German sources are available at Retraction Watch



Opinion / COPE retraction study published

The results of a COPE research grant, awarded to Liz Wager and Peter Williams in December 2007 has now been published. 'Why and how do journal retract articles?  An analysis of Medline retractions 1988-2008' appears as an Online First in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Opinion / Researcher banned for 10 years

The American Society for Microbiology, having retracted several papers by a Japanese researcher because of image manipulation, has issued a 10-year ban on the author from publishing in any of its journals, according to Retraction Watch and Science.

Opinion / BMJ article challenges COPE retraction guidelines

An article in the BMJ considers the role of retractions and questions whether the COPE guidelines are tough enough.

The article is available here and comment from BMJ Editor Fiona Godlee is here

Opinion / UKRIO retraction guidelines for researchers

 The UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) has developed guidelines for researchers based on COPE's retraction guidelines (and in collaboration with COPE). They are available here.

Opinion / Publication Ethics in the News - week ending Oct 8

An editorial in JAMA announced that beginning November 1 2010 they will request all authors who submit manuscripts to complete and submit the ICMJE disclosure form on competing interests. This new competing interests form has been developed by the ICMJE and was announced earlier this year. It’s not yet clear how widespread its adoption will be – especially given the need for a new version of Adobe Acrobat that many users do not yet have.

Opinion / Publication Ethics in the News - week ending Oct 1

The Singapore Statement on Research Integrity was released. As the site notes it was the product of the collective effort and insights of the 340 individuals from 51 countries who participated in the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity. These included researchers, funders, representatives of research institutions (universities and research institutes) and research publishers. Liz Wager and Sabine Kleinert, the chair and vice chair of COPE respectively, participated in this conference.

Opinion / Chinese government to crack down on 'weak' journals

According to a Nature news item the Chinese government, responding to concerns about the low quality of some local Chinese journals, aims to close 'weak' journals. This raises some interesting ethical questions. Should we be concerned about a government controlling academic publishing or pleased that it is seeking to raise standards?

Opinion / Screening for plagiarism / duplication

 There's an interesting paper in PLoS One about use of the eTBLAST software to screen for text similarity (and therefore plagiarism and redundancy).  See:

Systematic Characterizations of Text Similarity in Full Text Biomedical Publications Zhaohui Sun, Mounir Errami, Tara Long, Chris Renard, Nishant Choradia, Harold Garner http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0012704

Opinion / Discussion on self-plagiarism at the Scientist

There's a debate going on over at the Scientist about the thorny issue of self plagiarism, and when/ if it constitutes poor practice. I used to work for someone who started every paper, research or review, with the same short paragraph and we could all recite it like a mantra - and by general agreement it was felt to be the best, most succinct way to introduce the topic, which noone else has yet bettered.

Opinion / New body recommended to take lead on UK research integrity

It’s a rather surprising thing, given the amount of research in the UK, that the UK, unlike the US for example, does not have an established body to oversee research integrity, even that funded by the government.

UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) currently fulfils some of that function but does not have long-term funding and was established to deal primarily with issues in just health and biomedical sciences.

Opinion / Problems with getting due credit in publishing in academic chemistry

There’s coverage in the Times Higher Education  of a paper on the perception of academic credit among academic chemists in the US, published in the journal Accountability in Research in July 2010.

Opinion / Should editorials be signed?

There’s a new post at the Scientist about differing practices among journals on the signing of editorials. The piece only discusses biomedical journals - among those relatively few journals have ones just signed by the journal; more and more are signed directly by the authors and some (like the journal I work at) does something in between. We’d be interested to hear what journals at COPE do, especially those outside of biomedicine – are there differences in tradition according to the journal's speciality?

Opinion / Open peer review experiment at the Shakespeare Quarterly

The New York Times just posted an interesting story of how a group of scholars in the humanities are experimenting with open peer review. The experiment is happening in the Shakespeare Quarterly in a special issue on, appropriately, Shakespeare and New Media.

Opinion / No director in sight for the ORI?

A recent item on the site of the Report on Research Compliance (run by the National Council of University Research Administrators)  discussed the longstanding vacancy at the head of the Office for Research Integrity in the USA.

Opinion / Costs of research misconduct

All too often the efforts of editors to expose misconduct in research and publication come to nothing because the authors' institutions either ignore the problem or fail to act on it.

Opinion / Manuscript editors and plagiarism

 The August issue of European Science Editing (the EASE journal) contains an interesting article by Mary Ellen Kerans and Marje de Jager about how manuscript editors can detect plagiarism and help authors avoid it. The article includes helpful definitions of problems such as copy-paste writing and micro-plagiarism. 

European Science Editing 36(3):62-5



Opinion / 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity

COPE Vice-Chair, Sabine Kleinert has reported on the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity in Singapore and COPE’s involvement in developing international standards for authors and editors in a Lancet commentary.

Opinion / Blog highlights retractions

Two US journalists have created a blog about retractions (http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com). They argue that retractions are an important mechanism for correcting the research literature but may not be easy to find or well-publicised.

Opinion / Outcome Reporting Among Drug Trials Registered in ClinicalTrials.gov

A paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine this week looked at associations between the funding sources of 546 registered trials of drugs in 5 commonly prescribed classes and published outcomes, using data from clinicaltrials.gov.

Opinion / New guidelines for reporting of animal studies - the ARRIVE guidelines

PLoS Biology has just published a paper and an editorial on an initiative to improve the reporting of studies that report research that involves animals - the ARRIVE guidelines

Opinion / Ghostauthors, ghost management and the manipulation of medical research

There are three articles in the June issue of Bioethics on different aspects of ghostwriting.

The first article, by Tobenna D Anekwe, “Profits and plagiarism: the case of medical ghostwriting” argues that “medical ghostwriting often involves plagiarism and, in those cases, can be treated as an act of research misconduct” and suggests measures to counter ghostwriting.

Opinion / When the law intervenes in peer review - articles from the International Journal of Forensic Mental Health

There’s a interesting paper and editorial published in May in the International Journal of Forensic Mental Health. The article is entitled PCL-R Psychopathy: Threats to Sue, Peer Review, and Implications for Science and Law.

Opinion / CMAJ news story on funding withdrawal for Canadian Research ethics council

The news story reports that the National Council on Ethics in Human Research (NCEHR), has had its funding withdrawn by Health Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.  Apparently this will primarily affect education, but also scotches the possibility that the Council would devolp into a Canadian national accrediting and oversight body for research ethics boards.

Opinion / Nature news story on publication of trial data

The story relates to an announcement on June 10 by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations.  An exerpt from the IFPMA press release states:

Opinion / A report of the second seminar of Iranian Medical Journal editors

We received this report from Behrooz Astaneh, Deputy Editor of the Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences.

Behrooz can be contacted on astanehb@yahoo.com

The second seminar of Iranian Medical Journal editors- A Report

Opinion / Review in trials on reporting bias/witholding data in (industry) medical research - with lots of examples

Well worth reading. http://www.trialsjournal.com/content/pdf/1745-6215-11-37.pdf
The overall message and the recommendations aren't new, but thus is a succinct and informative review by the German health technology asessement body that's worth citing and using in talks. It includes and goes well beyond the usual suspects (rofecoxib, gabapentin, SSRIs, rosiglitazone, oseltamivir) and gives a really nice overview of all the recent attempts to make people behave better eg through trial registration.

Opinion / Journals are failing to publish conflict of interest statements

A study by Wang et al in the BMJ (340:c1344) found that 21 out of 90 papers (23%) reporting studies on the antidiabetic agent rosiglitazone had incomplete Conflict of Interest information and 3 of the 21 stated that the authors had no competing interests although their other publications indicated that they did.

It's possible that this may, partly, be explained by journals using different thresholds for CoIs, but it suggests that editors may not be requesting or checking CoI statements sufficiently thoroughly.

Opinion / The culture of compliments: when flowcharts can't help

Over at the BMJ blogs, Behrooz Astaneh has written an interesting perspective on the "culture of compliments", which exists in many cultures. He notes that because of this culture "authors feel compelled to put the name of a senior colleague in the byline of their article even though the senior researcher did not contribute to it because they feel it would be rude not to.

Opinion / Conflicts of Interest at Academic Medical Centers

A recent perspective "Serving Two Masters-Conflicts of Interest in Academic Medicine" by Bernard Lo in the New England Journal of Medicine discusses the conflicts that researchers encounter when they have positions both as academics and are on the boards of for profit companies. The perspective highlights the example of Partners Health care in Boston, which has recently begun to set limits on the amount of compensation that its employees can receive from serving on the board of companies.

Opinion / Medical students are taught early that guest authorship is acceptable

A recent study done by Lakartidningen, the journal of the Swedish Medical Association, among 499 newly qualified doctors of medical science has shown that even at the beginning of their careers, doctors are not adhering to rules on authorship. The English summary is here , full text of Swedish report is here.

Opinion / Science editorial on who takes responsibility for the research in a paper

In its January 1st editorial Science laid out ideas for “Promoting Scientific Standards” including dealing with the issue of who takes responsibility for parts of a research project. The editorial states that “Science will require that the senior author for each laboratory or group confirm that he or she has personally reviewed the original data generated by that unit, ascertaining that the data selected for publication in specific figures and tables have been appropriately presented.”

Opinion / MMR paper retraction

Following a hearing by the UK's General Medical Council, the Lancet has retracted the paper by Wakefield et al about the MMR vaccine and autism.

See the COPE guidelines on retraction (on this website) for more details about when and how COPE recommends editors should retract papers.

Opinion / Fraudulent structures uncovered by Acta Crystallographica Section E

An editorial in the January, 2010 issue of Acta Crystallographica Section E tells the distressing story behind a number of frauds involving papers published in the journal (which is a member of COPE). The fraud is extensive, with apparently at least 70 structures having been shown to be falsified.

Opinion / Stem cell researchers call for open peer review

Stem cell researchers have accused journals of biased review and suggested that a remedy for this would be having reviewers' comments published as supplementary material alongside papers (this policy has been adopted by the EMBO journals and has been used for some time at BioMed Central). For more details see

Opinion / Peer review in stem cell research

A news item on the BBC’s Today programme this morning discussed the issue of what can potentially happen when a small group of researchers predominate in a field. Two scientists working in stem cell research suggested that such small groups can tend to dominate the review process of papers and lead to bias and delays in publication of papers from other groups.

Opinion / RSPCA paper on journal policies for use of animals in research

The UK animal welfare charity, the RSCPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), campaigns among other issues on the use of animals in medical research.

Opinion / New version of “Good publication practice for communicating company sponsored medical research"

The BMJ has just published a new version of “Good publication practice for communicating company sponsored medical research: the GPP2 guidelines

These guidelines are an update of the first version of the Good publication practice guidelines, published in 2003. The updated guidelines were produced after consultation with academics, journal editors, publishers, medical writers and companies. They include a checklist.

New elements in the guidelines are:

Opinion / Sense about Systematic Reviews

Sense about Science, “an independent charitable trust promoting good science and evidence in public debates” has just published a short briefing paper on Systematic Reviews. The UK charity has the aim of “promoting respect for evidence and by urging scientists to engage actively with a wide range of groups, particularly when debates are controversial or difficult.”

Opinion / Duplicate publication guidelines from BMC

BioMed Central has developed useful guidelines for authors about exactly what is meant by duplicate (or redundant) publication. They cover not only  overlaps with  other journal articles but  issues such as preprint servers (and they mention the COPE  flowchart!).  You can find them at


Opinion / NEJM paper on selective reporting of trials of off-label use of gabapentin

This paper, published on Nov 12th, looked at 12 trials where both published reports and internal company documents on off label use of gabapentin (Neurontin) could be examined. The authors found that for "8 of the 12 reported trials, the primary outcome defined in the published report differed from that described in the protocol.", and go on to describe the types of differences found, including that "Of the 21 primary outcomes described in the protocols of the published trials, 6 were not reported at all and 4 were reported as secondary outcomes.

Opinion / Shake-up for UK research ethics approval?

The UK's National Research Ethics Service (NRES), which coordinates ethical review of research, is likely to be reorganized. Depending on the outcome, this could have implications for editors who publish research done in the UK and need to understand that it has undergone proper ethical scrutiny. Details will probably appear on http://www.nres.npsa.nhs.uk/ (but there is no information there yet).

Opinion / Ethics of genetic research on stored tissue samples from minors

A paper in  the October issue of the  American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A systematically reviews the literature on the ethical issues surrounding use of stored tissue samples from minors. You need a subscription to access the full paper but the abstract is available on PubMed

Opinion / New ICMJE editorial and form for reporting competing interests in journals

The ICMJE (International Committee of Medical Journal Editors) has announced a new format for Disclosure of Competing Interests. The policy, outlined on the ICMJE website, (which has been updated recently by the way and is worth a look at) also includes a form that has been adopted by the ICMJE member journals, and which the ICMJE is encouraging other journals to consider adopting.

Opinion / Study reports lack of specificity in CoI guidelines

Sheldon Krimsky & Erin Sweet from Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA have studied the conflict of interest (CoI) policies of over 200 medical and toxicology journals. They found that about 85% of the journals had a written CoI policy but in many cases these lacked specificity or were of limited scope (eg covering only certain types of financial interest).
See Accountability in Research 2009;16:235-53
The article is not Open Access but the abstract is available on Medline.

Opinion / Nature news coverage of image manipulation in journals

The story, by Natasha Gilbert, includes statistics on screening for image manipulation at two PLoS journals, and also data from the US Office of Research Integrity.

Opinion / Publications about plagiarism

A Spanish research group has compiled an interesting list of publications about plagiarism. You can find it at http://users.dsic.upv.es/~lbarron/plagiarism.html

Opinion / COPE retraction project reported in Nature Medicine

Findings of a study on retractions funded by COPE were presented by Liz Wager at the recent Peer Review Congress in Vancouver as a poster and picked up by Nature Medicine. You can read the report in Nature Medicine October 2009;15:1101


Opinion / Ghost and Honorary authors at the Peer Review Congress

One of the most discussed papers at last week’s Peer Review Congress in Vancouver (the whole programme is well worth a look) was one presented by JAMA editors entitled Prevalence of Honorary and Ghost Authorship in 6 General Medical Journals, 2009 .

Opinion / Boycott urged of scientific conference chaired by academic found guilty of plagiarism

A recent news report in the BMJ highlights an initiative asking doctors to boycott an international medical conference because of the proposed chair. The conference, of the International Academy of Perinatal Medicine, will take place in Croatia in October, chaired by Asim Kurjak of Zagreb University Medical School, who, as the BMJ news report notes, “was found guilty of scientific misconduct by the Croatian government’s Committee for Ethics in Science and Higher Education in May 2007.

Opinion / Annals editorial on who pays for medical editing

A thoughtful editorial from Hal Sox, the outgoing editor of the Annals of Internal Medicine entitled Medical Journal Editing: Who Shall Pay? discusses the intense editorial process at the Annals and raises the question whether such a process is ultimately sustainable and if so who should pay.

Opinion / Pharmaceutical companies and ghostwriters

Here's an interesting article in today's New York Times about the pharmaceutical company, Wyeth, which paid ghostwriters to write dozens of scientific papers to promote the use of hormone replacement therapy. These articles, which are said to have highlighted the benefits and downplayed the risks of HRT, were published in 18 medical journals and did not disclose the fact that Wyeth initiated and funded the work for the articles.  A Wyeth spokesman said that it was common for pharmaceutical companies to use companies to help draft manuscripts for authors.

Opinion / Experience of ORI findings of misconduct

The Scientist carries an interview with 3 scientists who were found guilty of misconduct by the US ORI (Office of Research Integrity). The thrust of the article is the long-lasting effect of such a ruling even after the official time has expired.

The link is http://www.the-scientist.com/2009/07/1/28/1/

Opinion / When is a randomised trial really randomised?

 A new paper published in Trials (currently available as a provisional PDF) asks the question, how many randomised trials published in Chinese journals are actually randomised?

Opinion / Should all journals have one universal referencing style?

There are thousands of ways of citing source material.  This is confusing for students and tedious for authors and editors (I confess to having a submission sent back to me from a neurosurgery journal last week because I used the incorrect referencing style...yes, I know, I should have checked).  Even experienced authors may puzzle over the correct referencing of a blog, an e-book or a podcast.  In this week's Times Higher Education, Alec Gill asks if journals should have one standard referencing system. He concludes 'the reform of academic referencing is long overdue'. Is it?

Opinion / Concern about UK libel laws

A doctor is being sued for libel because of comments he wrote in a newspaper about the British Chiropractic Association (in particular their alleged promotion of the use of chiropractic for asthma).  Since the case may have far-reaching consequences for journals and publishers, you might like to look at the campaign website which calls for a reform to the British libel laws to ensure they are not used to suppress scientific debate.


Opinion / Archives of Internal Medicine on Editorial Policies and Publication Bias

An editorial on June 8 in the Archives of Internal Medicine discusses the problem of publication bias - that is "negative" papers, especially trials, being less likely to make it into the published record. There are a number of reasons for this, from authors not submitting such papers to journals being less likely to publish them. Everyone now agrees that the consequences for the validity of the scientific record are substantial, though the solution is not simple.

Opinion / New York Times story on retracted orthopaedic paper

A story in the New York Times (free, registration required) discusses the retraction of a paper published in 2008 in  the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery - British Volume (Recombinant human bone morphogenetic protein-2 for grade III open segmental tibial fractures from combat injuries in Iraq. J Bone Joint Surg Br.

Opinion / Just how common is scientific misconduct?

There have been plenty of surveys on this, and now a systematic review and meta-analysis has pulled the best ones together (Fanelli D. How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Survey Data. PLoS ONE 4(5): e5738. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005738 Published: May 29, 2009).

Opinion / Call for comments on UK Research Integrity Office's Code of Practice for Research: Promoting good practice

The UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) has made a call for comments on its “Code of Practice for Research: Promoting good practice and prevent misconduct”. UKRIO) is an independent body which offers advice and guidance to universities and other research organisations, and also to individual researchers, about the conduct of research.

Opinion / “Bibliographic negligence” aka "citation amnesia”

An editorial in The Scientist (free, but registration required to access) discusses this rather shady practice- ie of failing to cite relevant papers. The writer, Richard Gallagher, raises an interesting point that“the openness gifted us by the Internet is revealing the lax standards that have been in place all the time. “- one that could easily be made of many other dubious publication practices.

Opinion / The relationship of academia and companies covered in Nature Biotechnology

A news feature in Nature Biotechnology (subscription required for full text) discusses the potential perils of academia and companies getting into bed with each other in these financially straightened times, and the  need for especially careful management of competing interests.

Opinion / Elsevier comments on its "fake" journals

A story that has receive extensive coverage over the past few weeks on the web is of a series of allegedly "fake" journals which were revealed during a court case in Australia concerning marketing of the drug Vioxx.

Opinion / Should the FDA trump the Declaration of Helsinki?

A BMJ editorial discusses the recent FDA ruling  that clinical trials performed outside the US no longerhave to conform to the Declaration of Helsinki if used to supportapplications for registration of products in the US but that the regulatory standard expected is that of the International Conference on Harmonisation Good Clinical

Opinion / Institute of Medicine Medical Conflict of Interest Report Released

This report apparently focuses on financial conflict of interests, especially where there is a potential for patient harm.

Opinion / Victory for science and peer-review publishing

An editorial in American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy describes the outcome of a legal action against their journal from a manufacturer who claimed that an article (abstract only, full text requires a subscription) published in the 15 March 2007 issue of AJHP defamed the manufacturer "through the criticism and test results published in the article" as the manufacturer's prod

Opinion / Wall Street Journal report on an undercover operation by US congress on institutional review boards

The full piece, published on March 26th, which describes the operation as being a "congressional sting operation" is here, excerpt:

"The sting, detailed at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Thursday, involved the creation of a fictitious company and a fake medical device, a surgical adhesive gel. The sham firm then applied to three for-profit oversight groups — called institutional review boards, or IRBs — for approval to begin a clinical trial using their adhesive on human subjects."

Opinion / Trouble over conflicts of interest leads JAMA to revise its policy

An editorial in JAMA1 describes a case of an author’s undeclared conflict of interest which was reported to the journal by a reader, Jonathan Leo. The reason for the editorial (in addition to a published correction) is that Leo sent a copy of his letter to the New York Times and also posted his concerns in a BMJ Rapid Response2 which appeared before JAMA published its correction in its print issue of March 11.

Opinion / Editorial on bias and competing interests in PLoS Medicine

This month's Editorial (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000038) in PLoS Medicine discusses how the publication of scientific research can be inappropriately influenced by various forms of bias and the effects of competing interests. 

Opinion / Editorial on the Journal of Molecular Medicine's policy on scientific integrity

In their January 2009 Editorial (DOI: 10.1007/s00109-008-0428-x), the Editors of the Journal of Molecular Medicine have laid out what they are doing to protect the integrity of the journal. Steps include a compulsory authorship declaration (Download PDF, 40kb), and screening for image manipulation and for plagiarism.

Opinion / NIH to start policing conflicts of interest?

A report (free to view but registration required) in The Scientist describes the introduction by two US Senators of an amendment to the Economic Stimulus bill currently being debated in Congress which is apparently intended to better protect federally-funded NIH (National Institutes of Health) biomedical research from potential bias.

Opinion / Writers propose a checklist to stamp out ghostwriting

Medical writers from the UK, USA and Australia have developed a checklist that they hope Journal Editors might ask authors to complete to deter unacknowledged or inappropriate writing assistance (or 'ghostwriting'). It has been published in PLoS Medicine (doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000023) with a debate on ghostwriting from editors and researchers.

I should declare my interest, in that I am one of the authors (and definitely not a ghost)!

Opinion / Journal avoids the 're-review nightmare'

The Journal of Biology (published by BioMedCentral) is changing its peer-review process, apparently in response to reviewers and authors who disliked their previous system of sending revised papers back to reviewers for further comment which one described as 'the re-review nightmare'.

You can get more details from http://jbiol.com/content/8/1/1.

Opinion / Ghostbusting at Blood

An Editorial in Blood on the 15th January describes their experience of finding ghost authorship in a spontaneously submitted review article (which was spotted by a diligent reviewer) and the result of subsequent investigations of other papers. They go on to layout their policies on ghost authorship in both review and original research articles, concluding with this call to action:

Opinion / The FDA and conflicts of interests of clinical trial investigators

A new report by the Office of Inspector General at the US Department of Health and Human Services suggests that the FDA (the US Food and Drug Administration) is not effectively monitoring conflicts of interests of clinical trial investigators in new drug marketing applications submitted to them. The report, summarised in an article on Medscape, is available here.

Its top findings were:

Opinion / Why not make the COPE audit your New Year resolution?

We hope COPE members will find the new audit tool helpful. Journal Editors who were involved with the pilot said it was useful and one said it covered things she'd been meaning to do for ages! Although we're not asking you to share your findings with us (it's an audit not a survey), we would welcome any comments on how we could improve the audit, so I thought I'd start this blog string so you can add your comments or suggestions.

Opinion / Manipulation of physicians and journals: Neurontin discussed in the NEJM

Perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine on 8 January (not freely available, unfortunately) discusses the insights that have come from the documents made available as part of the litigation surrounding the off-label marketing of Neurontin (gabapentin). This is a very long-running story. However, the evidence still has the power to shock — for example, this quote in 1996 of an executive from the company selling gabapentin talking to a new recruit:

Opinion / Publication bias... again

Publication bias seems like a problem that just won't go away. PLoS Medicine published a paper (doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0050217) late last year that indicated that this practice is alive and well in what is probably the most concerning area of all, clinical trials.

Opinion / You are banned from submitting to this journal

A few days ago, a newly qualified doctor asked informally if he could submit a 'slightly modified' version of a paper he'd just submitted to my journal to the BMJ. I told him about the evils of multiple submission and warned him that some journal Editors, if they discover the subterfuge, may well ban the author from submitting to their journal for a number of years. This, indeed, was the punishment that an Editor-in-Chief — not amused by a recent case of multiple submission to his journal — suggested at a recent COPE forum.

Opinion / Authorship trivia

We believe the paper with the most authors ever recorded (a massive 2512!) is Aleph et al. Precision electroweak measurements on the Z resonance. Physics Reports 2006, 427:257–454 (available at http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/hep-ex/pdf/0509/0509008v3.pdf ) — unless somebody knows better...?

Opinion / How much do editors look for misconduct when they assess papers?

Lutz Bornmann and colleagues have tried to find out how much editors look for signs of research misconduct when assessing manuscripts. They reviewed 46 studies that reported editors’ and reviewers’ criteria for judging papers but found that none of the main criteria listed was related to detecting data falsification or fabrication. The paper is available at Scientometrics 2008, 77:415–32. doi: 10.1007/s11192-007-1950-2

Opinion / New version of the Declaration of Helsinki

Last month the World Association of Medical Editors announced the new version of the Declaration of Helsinki. This document, which was first drawn up in 1964, is essential reading for everyone doing research on human participants. The revision was the result of a huge amount of international consultation, and along with many other organisations, COPE provided input into this document.

Opinion / Editors and the pandemic of gift authorship

A while ago, I wrote a piece in the BMJ about gift authorship (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39500.620174.94). I wanted to share a real case with members and seek their opinion: a friend was asked to add the name of a senior surgeon on a submission to a surgical journal, even though the latter hadn’t contributed one jot to the research. I gave him some advice, which after careful consideration he discarded. Still in the early stages of his surgical career, he opted for self-preservation.

Opinion / More awareness of non-financial competing interests needed

A few weeks ago PLoS Medicine published an editorial on the thorny and confusing issue of non-financial competing interests.

Opinion / Not everything we do will be useful to you, but...

To some extent, I’m bound to advocate becoming a member of COPE, seeing as I'm on its Council, but without COPE I could never have transformed the editorial and publishing processes that have existed within the companies I have worked for. It’s partly about better understanding what should be done, but also about getting guidance on how to go about it. COPE did not proactively do the latter, but just being part of a network of editors enabled me to ask the right people the right questions.