Paper 1 was submitted to journal A. The paper dealt with monitoring of a chemical element in various occupations in a range of workplaces. Samples were taken from the workplace air and bodily fluids of the workers, and conclusions were drawn about what metabolite should be measured in order to estimate a worker’s dose of the element. The chosen reviewers were experts in relevant biological monitoring.
The paper was accepted, subject to revision. The authors submitted a revised version. In going through the revised paper, the editor noticed problems with the methods of air monitoring which seriously affected the validity of the interpretation and which had not been picked up by the reviewers. The samplers used were inappropriate for the target size fraction, and some had been used at the wrong flow rate. Correspondence with the main author produced contradictory replies, and when the author was pressed it emerged that the air monitoring had been subcontracted to another laboratory which did not appear in the author list.
This gave the editor severe doubts about the paper but while he was considering whether changes to the discussion could cover the point and restore the validity of the paper, journal B published paper 2. This was by the same authors listed in a different order, and dealt with the biological and air monitoring of a closely related chemical element. From the number of samples and number and descriptions of the workplaces, it was clear that the two papers dealt with the same samples which had been analysed for the two elements and their metabolites. The conclusions drawn in paper 2 about the appropriate metabolite to measure were closely related to those drawn in paper 1, as would be expected from the chemistry. Neither paper cited the other, although the findings seemed to reinforce one another.
Journal A’s instructions tell authors that they must declare closely related submissions which are in process elsewhere, on the grounds that reviewers need to assess the papers’ implications for one another. The editor of journal A rejected paper 1 on the grounds that this requirement had not been met, and rebuked the corresponding author for the apparent deliberate attempt to deceive.
Within five months paper 1 was published in apparently rewritten form by journal C.
(1) This is not a case of duplicate publication but an attempt to deceive editors with a potential effect on the scientific validity of the papers.
(2) The authors subcontracted the air monitoring, and did not understand enough about it to be able to guarantee the validity of the methods.
This took place before journal A had fully implemented the COPE guidance, but for future reference, the editor of journal A would be interested in COPE’s view as to whether rejecting the paper was enough, and any other comments on the two issues. Should editor A have told Editors B and C what had happened? (Journals A and B are signed up to COPE; journal C is not.)
The discussion centred around the fact that the authors tried to deceive both editors (journal A and journal B). The instructions to authors of journal A provided clear grounds for rejecting the paper. It was also discussed whether in fact the two papers should really have been combined into one paper. The advice given was for the editor to write to the editor of journal B who published paper 2, stating that paper 1 was closely related to paper 2 but had not been cited. Also, the editor should write to the editor of journal C, informing him of the situation and asking whether the author had cited paper 2 in the published paper in journal C.
We had already taken action on this case and case 06-10 but for future cases which might arise we were interested to know COPE’s view. The Editorial Board discussed the COPE views but decided that as the two matters were now largely history it was not worth taking further action. Since then, however, we have had a further case of partial dual submission, and the COPE discussion on 06-09 has helped me with what line to take.
However, I have to report that our Editorial Board were surprised that COPE felt that we had been mistaken to say that we would not consider further papers from the plagiarising authors for a specified period (case 06-10). The academics on the Board are involved in university policies on plagiarising students and thought that COPE was taking a fairly lenient view in just reporting the erring authors to their institutions without taking action ourselves, which we felt appropriate to defend the journal.