A publisher is responding to allegations about a particular group of authors. The complainants have accused this group of authors of wide scale research fabrication and misconduct, relating to a large number of their papers across many different journals (published by a variety of publishers).
The publisher and the journals that are investigating and responding to these claims have referred the concerns to the institution responsible for the research governance of the authors. The institution said they would investigate and respond by a certain date, but their response is slightly overdue.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum
- Should an expression of concern be published while waiting for the outcome from the institution?
- One of the journals has received another submitted paper by the same group of authors. Should the paper undergo normal peer review, or should it be delayed because of the unresolved investigation about the other papers?
- Should different publishers/journals share information with each other about cases that involve multiple papers and journals? If so, how should the information be shared with others?
COPE typically advises that cases should be handled and judged individually. A new submission should not automatically be dismissed from being peer reviewed, but the editor may wish to consider additional precautions in its review. One suggestion is to ask the author to provide all of the raw data or any underlying images. The journal may wish to do additional statistical analysis to see whether there are unlikely patterns in the data.
Communication with other editors might be fruitful where there are duplications among different papers in different journals across publications. Otherwise, the editor should try to respect confidentiality. The editor should look at their own journal independently of other journals. It is not appropriate to correct or retract a paper just because there are problems with other papers.
There is existing COPE guidance on Sharing of information among editors-in-chief regarding possible misconduct which explains how to share information. It may be appropriate to share some amount of information with other editors perhaps not with the intent of a full investigation but rather for notification and documentation to the institution regarding these claims.
After a delay, the journal heard back from the authors’ institution who carried out the investigation. However, the institution’s response has not given the journals enough information to fully evaluate the articles. The publisher is reaching out to other publishers who have been affected by this case to see whether the institution has given other publishers any more information that might be useful. The journal is waiting to receive responses.