The first meeting of COPE took place in April 1997 and was a relatively informal gathering of a group of concerned editors, prompted by Mike Farthing, who in his first year as Editor of Gut, encountered four cases of misconduct and wondered whether this was unusual. At that first meeting it became clear that the group had seen the full spectrum of research misconduct from fraud to authorship disputes and that getting other editors’ advice and exchanging views on how to deal with these cases was a valuable exercise. Initial exploratory meetings and discussions of anonymised cases were attended by editors of a number of journals, including the BMJ, The Lancet, British Journal of Anaesthesia, Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Annals of Rheumatic Diseases and Journal of Clinical Pathology, and the first open meeting was held in November 1997. “COPE is an experiment”, wrote Mike Farthing in his first annual report in May 1998, and Richard Smith (then editor of the BMJ) added “it may not prove useful in the long term, and we will be delighted if it is made unnecessary because the international profession produces an adequate response to research misconduct”.
In 1999, in its second report, COPE issued its Guidelines on Good Publication Practice after broad consultation and workshops at the annual meeting in an attempt to define issues and advice on how to investigate suspected cases. In its early years, COPE established and maintained links with international experts from the Nordic countries, the USA, and bodies, such as the World Association of Medical Editors, the General Medical Council (the UK’s physician licensing body) and the Royal College of Physicians.
By 2000, COPE had over 90 members, had drafted a constitution (Download PDF, 63 kb) setting out a more mature organisation with elected Officers and a Council, and in 2001, Mike Farthing was elected Chair, Richard Smith Vice-Chair and Alex Williamson Treasurer of COPE. Members started to join from other European countries and some publishers signed on several of their journals. During these years, COPE also continued to push for the establishment of a Council for Research Integrity in the UK.
In 2004, Fiona Godlee took over as Chair and Harvey Marcovitch became Vice-Chair of COPE, and COPE appointed Richard Green as Ombudsman. The Code of Conduct (replaced with Core Practices in 2017) for Editors was launched and published on COPE’s website. The Code set out the minimum standards to which Editors should strive to adhere and all COPE members were expected to abide by it. By now, COPE’s membership had risen to almost 350.
In 2006, COPE published a series of flowcharts guiding Editors through the steps of due process in dealing with straightforward cases of suspected misconduct. Work started on updating the Code of Conduct (replaced with Core Practices in 2017) and writing the Best Practice Guidelines, an extension of the Code as a gold standard to which to aspire. Harvey Marcovitch took over as Chair of COPE, Sabine Kleinert was elected Vice-Chair and Jeremy Theobald was appointed Treasurer.
During 2007, COPE applied to become a charity and was granted charity status in February 2008. Liz Wager was elected COPE Secretary. International reach continued apace with members now coming from all over the world and regularly calling in by phone for the quarterly Forum meetings from as far as India or the USA. COPE was a major partner in the First World Conference on Research Integrity held in Lisbon in September 2007 and convened by the European Science Foundation, the US Office of Research Integrity and the Portuguese Government. COPE's annual reports from 1999 to 2007 are available here.
In 2009, recognising the need for full-time staff created by the growth of the organization, COPE appointed an Operations Manager to work alongside our part-time Administrator. These posts are currently held by Natalie Ridgeway and Linda Gough, respectively. Recognising the importance of the web in communicating with members around the world, COPE also appointed Cynthia Clerk, as a part time Web Manager. In March 2009, Liz Wager took over from Harvey Marcovitch as Chair. The COPE officers now have monthly phone conferences to carry on work between Forum meetings. Several subcommittees and working groups have also been established. COPE Council members continue to give presentations and promote the work of COPE around the world. COPE was involved in planning the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity in Singapore and the Chair and Vice-Chair led the development of international guidelines for authors and editors agreed at that meeting.
In 2011, the following officers were elected: Virginia (Ginny) Barbour as Chair; Charlotte Haug, as Vice Chair; Margaret Rees and Andre Van Steirteghem as Co-Secretaries. Chris Graf has been Treasurer since 2010.
In 2017, the Code of Conduct was retired and replaced with the Core Practices.