Sixteen randomly chosen papers were examined from a PubMed search of 370 publications between 1995–2000 by the same author. Two papers were virtually identical, differing only in the form of the introductory paragraph and the list of authors. Neither publication acknowledges the other. Another paper reported a “second ever published case”, and two subsequent papers reported the same “second” case without reference to the earlier published paper. The text was again very similar. Subsequently Journal A received a paper which was rejected. Apart from a change to the list of authors, it was identical to a paper that had been published two years earlier in a different journal. A paper with the same title and introduction had also been published in another journal. This could not be inspected as the journal is not available in any UK research library. Two further manuscripts were submitted to Journal B, one in the form of a letter, and the second a full research paper. The letter was lifted directly from the paper; furthermore one of the tables was identical to that presented in the paper. A further paper which had originally been rejected was resubmitted to Journal B, albeit slightly expanded, but with an entirely new list of authors. An independent statistician reviewed both papers and found that the content of two tables was identical except for the p values. Many of these had acquired a significance not suggested in the first manuscript. Further to this example and the examination of just a few of the listed publications, clear cases of duplicate publication and attempted duplication were found. It’s worrying that seemingly similar work can have different lists of authors, which suggests “gift” authorship. Changes in details of treatment and statistical significance throws the veracity of some of the work into question. Furthermore, the group’s general failure to cite its own publications suggests a deliberate attempt to cover up duplication. The editor of Journal B wants to inform the author that his publication will not consider any further submissions from this group. There is no guarantee that manuscripts would be original and issues of copyright are unclear. The editor would also like to alert the editors of the other journals involved. Is this a reasonable course of action to take?
_ A wider enquiry would have to be made; merely writing to the authors would not be enough. Independent assessment had been obtained in which the author’s misdemeanours were very evident. _ This was a matter for the author’s institution(s) to investigate. _ Previous cases of gross duplicate publication had been detected by simply undertaking searches on MedLine. _ The role of all of the co-authors whose names appeared on several of the papers was also questionable, although many might be unaware of their involvement due to gift authorship. It would be unwise not to consider any publications from this group until all of the authors had been approached. _ The main issues for the editors were retraction and notice of duplication of known articles and referral of the authors to the head of their institutions, raising the issue of the wider crime of fraud. _ Overseas regulatory bodies often don’t reply, perhaps because they are uninterested or feel it is not COPE’s business to investigate misconduct. _ Check the submission letter to see if all of the authors have signed it. _ The editor should present a fuller version of the case presented at COPE to the corresponding author and all co-authors who were repeatedly linked to this work, asking for a response. _ If there is no reply, or only an unsatisfactory reply is received, then send a second letter asking for a response, giving them a set time limit in which to reply. _ If still no reply is received refer the matter to the authors’ institution(s). _ The journal editors should jointly publish a retraction and unravel the story in an editorial. _ A further option would be to send a letter to a national journal such as The Lancet or the BMJ, exposing the duplication.
The corresponding author had signed the submission letter on the other authors’ behalf. In view of the large numbers of co-authors involved, the editor considered it impractical to write to them all, but contacted the editors of three other journals where there was evidence of duplicate publication. One editor said that his journal was already refusing to consider any more work from the corresponding author. The other two editors indicated that they would take up the cases of duplication publication with the corresponding author. One of the three journals was in the process of publishing an apology, along with a fourth journal, concerning a separate case of duplication from this group. The corresponding author had also been contacted and indicated that the cases of duplicate publication emanating from his group could have been due to insufficient care being exercised by some of his staff. After consulting the journal’s editorial board the editor decided not to consider any further manuscripts from this group because they could not be confident that the work would be original.