Data fabrication in a rejected manuscript
Case text (Anonymised)
An author submitted two manuscripts to our journal and the data were clearly fabricated, which was confirmed when we examined the original patient data files. The lead author admitted that they had only recruited a few patients and fabricated all of the remaining data and said that the co-authors had done this without their knowledge.
We reported this to the institution, who conducted an investigation. However, this investigation exonerated the lead author from misconduct, who went on to publish one of these manuscripts elsewhere and is still publishing suspicious manuscripts in other journals.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum
• Should other journals be warned about this case so that they can take a view about further submissions?
• Should anyone else be informed about this case?
The Forum suggested it may be appropriate to contact the journal who published the similar paper because the editor has specific information relating to that particular article, but a general communication about dissatisfaction with an author is not advisable. The Forum advised the editor to proceed with caution.
Is there a way for journal editors to communicate across publishers? Sharing of information between editors can be very helpful, but there are legal implications to be considered, especially in terms of defamation of authors. The editor may wish to consult COPE’s guidelines on Sharing of information among editors-in-chief regarding possible misconduct (https://publicationethics.org/files/Sharing%20_of_Information_Among_EiCs_guidelines_web_version_0.pdf).