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Paul Graham Fisher

Council Title: 
Elected Council Member

Palo Alto, CA, USA

Term of office on council:
2021-2024 First Term

Paul has been Associate Editor for The Journal of Pediatrics since 2014, after starting on the editorial board in 2006, and serves on the editorial boards of Journal of Neurooncology and Journal of Clinical Oncology. Paul holds several positions at Stanford University; Senior Vice Chair for Faculty Affairs in the Department of Neurology, Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics, and by courtesy, Epidemiology, Neurosurgery, and Human Biology; and the Beirne Family Professor of Pediatric Neuro-Oncology. He has conducted research into plagiarism and publication ethics, in anticipation of presenting that work at the Peer Review Congress in 2021, and recently stepped down from the Congress Chair role.

Competing interests statement: 

2022 competing interest statement for Paul Graham Fisher  (PDF 138 KB)

Getting to know you

An interview with Paul Graham Fisher

What is your current professional position?  

In short, I have been Associate Editor for The Journal of Pediatrics for the last seven years, an editorial board member for boards of Journal of Neurooncology and Journal of Clinical Oncology, and Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at Stanford University.

What kinds of work have inspired your interest in being involved in COPE?

During my career as a researcher, peer reviewer for more than 30 journals, board member, and editor, I have become keenly interested in how our academic communities put forth the most objective, original, and accurate recording of biomedical research. Recently my greatest interest has focused on plagiarism and text recycling. I am embarking on an effort within our own journal to look at the incidence, nature, and common themes to plagiarism and text recycling. I have become our journal’s go-to person and unofficial ombudsman on plagiarism issues.

What are the most frequent, or pressing ethics issues you and your colleagues encounter in academic publishing?

Our increased capacity to disseminate knowledge openly and rapidly in many forms has been a great advance, but also a new weakness. Such rapidity has led, particularly in biomedical and health sciences, to intense pressures for rapid review and publication, open access, and prepublication. While these new developments all have benefits, this revolution has also fostered sometimes subpar peer reviews, burnt out reviewers, predatory open access journals which are sometimes pay to publish, overstated or falsified data, text recycling, and plagiarism. We need to work collectively to balance rapidity with ethics in publication to preserve objectivity and truth in the science.  

What ethics cases have you found the most complex to resolve?

Minor to widespread plagiarism and text recycling is the issue that I have found to be most thorny and ironically difficult to resolve. Instances can vary highly, and I have found myself in situations ranging from occasionally allowing authors to resolve these lapses by revision and resubmission, to outright rejection or even notification of a supervisor or university. Why? First, in the scientific disciplines there is disagreement on how much wording one can borrow or repeat, especially in methods sections, or in other sections reusing one’s own or others’ words, phrases, or sentences.  Second, in academics, there is regrettably sometimes more leeway granted to professorial peers than University students. As a former chair for college undergraduate students, I have been stunned sometimes by the opinions of some colleagues to allow second chances for authors, when for university students we suspend or expel for the same infractions of plagiarism. Do we practice what we teach?

Are there any ethics issues which are unique or more common in your field, or country?

Politics has encroached upon science and the publication process. Ironically, in the US and other countries publishing the most advanced biomedical science, political forces,  governmental funding restrictions, or even censorship have been intruding upon the neutrality of science. How politics shapes research funding, such as stem cell research, has led to inconsistencies among states in the US (eg, California vs others) regarding work done and published. Political maligning of medical science in the US has led to an increasing attitude toward non-acceptance of published science.  

Are there any tools or services, or processes you think would help enhance awareness or engagement with good ethical conduct?  

Education and creation of a global community in publication are key to help enhance awareness and engagement with “good” ethical conduct. This points out why the mission of COPE is so important.   

What are you hoping to get your teeth into at COPE?  Are there any projects in particular you would like to get involved in, or any initiatives you have in mind? 

I am hoping to continue to dig deeper into what is and is not plagiarism and text recycling, and how we create awareness, set limits, and enforce such. I’m honored to be a member of COPE Council. COPE’s mission mirrors my values regarding the integrity of research all the way to publication - I believe that clear communication is fundamental to ethical publication. We need to be clear, original in thought, and to the point in publication.