A was a researcher in C’s lab for 1 year, during which time they published a joint research paper in a third party journal (journal S). After leaving C’s institute (henceforth called institute X), A published in the journal (journal T as a sole author). The affiliation provided by A on the paper was institute X. All of the data reported in this paper were obtained while A was still employed at institute X, of which C is a senior faculty member and in whose laboratory A was a research associate.
C contacted journal T with several allegations regarding A’s paper in journal T. These were:
(1) A submitted the paper after having left institute X
(2) A never discussed with C his intention to publish these data from C’s laboratory
(3) Material published in journal T is “fully based” on data they had previously published together
(4) A did not have approval to use material published in journal T
(5) Questions two of A’s methods/techniques and the data that resulted
(6) A never acknowledged a funding body
An editor on journal T reviewed these allegations and believes that A’s paper was a follow-up paper, and that it appears to take further the research A and C had previously published in journal S. The paper had undergone peer review on journal T by one specialist referee, who provided a full and penetrating report.
A admits to claims:
(1) The work was conducted at institute X
(6) A admits to a mistake here
A disputes points:
(2) A claims to have raised publication multiple times with C, C’s role in generating the “results were almost non-existent” but indicates that C claimed the data were C’s for C to decide
(3) The paper is a follow-up to their previously published work
(4) A personally analysed the material with the material produced by a technician
(5) A claims that the materials are different images of different samples
Journal T submitted relevant correspondence to the dean at institute X and asked them to investigate. Institute X’s dean responded 4 working days later endorsing C’s position on the basis that A had duplicated material, had misrepresented its novelty and did so both without permission or agreement from C.
The investigation by institute X failed to communicate with A or ask for A’s response to the matter. When the findings were presented to A by journal T, A strongly refuted its key points.
Journal T’s position has been to ask institute X to investigate fully the above allegations (including communicating with A) and to make an official statement linked to the case.
However, we seek COPE’s recommendation whether this should be our position or whether they would advise a different approach.
The Forum acknowledged that the institute failed to handle this case correctly and that their investigation is of little value. However, there is little that the editor can do about the institutional failing other than reporting it to someone more senior than the Dean of the institute. The Forum believed that there was a case for asking institute X to carry out an unbiased independent investigation. In the absence of an independent review, the editor could publish a “notice of dispute”, informing readers of the situation and explaining that it is not for the editor to decide the rights and wrongs of the case. All agreed that the editor had handled the case very well and agreed with his course of action.
The editor requested an independent investigation from the institute. It is the editor’s belief that once he asked for an independent investigation, one that is truly independent and would have taken some effort on their part, that the institute decided it was not worth the trouble. The editor suspects that he will not hear from them again.