A paper was submitted to this journal and sent out to be refereed. The paper had five authors, all from the same institution and department. The bulk of the data were contained in four tables. One of the reviewers pointed out that these four tables were identical (verbatim) to those published recently in a paper by the same five authors in another journal.
The paper was rejected for publication (the other reviewer recommended rejection for other reasons).
The Instructions to Authors states clearly:
“Submission of a paper implies that it reports unpublished work and that it is not under consideration for publication elsewhere.”
I wrote to all of the authors by email explaining the decision and asking for an explanation. I received no reply. After a suitable period I wrote again asking for an immediate response. Again, I have heard nothing.
My inclination is to disqualify the five authors from submitting anything to the journal for a period of 3 years, and to write to their departmental dean informing him of this decision and of the reasons for it. I would also inform the editor of the journal in which the data were published already, because even though duplication has been avoided on this occasion, I feel that others should be alerted to possible future practices by these authors.
Before proceeding with this course of action, I would welcome the views and advice of COPE.
The committee wondered if it was possible that this was a misunderstanding, or that perhaps junior authors were involved who were unfamiliar with publication practices. The editor however thought that this was unlikely. The advice was to contact the authors a third time to give them the opportunity to present a legitimate reason. The authors should be given a deadline in which to respond, and obtaining a receipt that the email actually reached the authors was considered a good idea. In general, COPE is not in favour of banning authors because of the legal difficulties this may cause. The committee questioned whether it was fair to ban all of the authors or just the corresponding author, as often the other authors are unaware of the misconduct. Informing the editor of the journal in which the data were published already was thought to be a good idea.
After the advice from COPE, the editor did some searches on the first author and noticed two papers with similar titles, one of which was published in the editor’s journal in 2006. Both papers had the same four authors, all of whom were authors of the paper in question (which had a fifth author). On closer inspection the editor discovered that approximately 90% of the data in these two papers were the same. The text was also very similar and the references were the same. The editor informed the editors of the other journal, who noticed that some of the additions made on revision to their paper had appeared in the paper in question. The two papers had been submitted less than two months apart.
The editor emailed and wrote to all of the authors and received a reply only from the first author.
The letter from the first author stated that he was very sorry for the unethical issue raised about the articles but that the mistake was not intentional. He explained that the studies published in the editor’s journal were part of an experiment of which some of the results had been published in another journal. But as it took a long time to analyse all of the results and the results were not available when the first paper was submitted, the authors decided to publish the new results alone. When all of the results were compiled, the authors then decided to publish the previous results together with the new results in a new paper.
The author added that the results published in two of the journals had only one experiment in common. The author promised not to repeat this behaviour in the future.
Discussions with the editors of the other journal have continued and it has been decided that both of these papers should be retracted, having been improperly submitted. The editor has written to the authors to inform them of the action that has been taken and of the decision to bar them from submitting to the journal for the next three years. The editor has also informed their Faculty Dean by letter of this action and the reason for it, detailing both the case of attempted duplicate publication and the case of “successful” duplicate publication. The journal will be publishing a note of retraction, which will state the reason for it.