In 2003 a paper was published in a specialist surgical journal following proper peer review. The paper summarised the experience of a group of clinicians concerned in treating malignancy in the Head and Neck using a novel method of therapy - and was a case series of 25 patients. The paper was not considered to be one of high priority but was published because of the paucity of information concerning this method of treatment in the literature. The principal author had 3 co-authors all of whom signed the relevant documentation stating that they had played a substantial part in the preparation of the manuscript and stating that there were no conflicts of interest to be declared. Copyright, following publication, was ascribed to the publishing journal.
In May 2005 the editor of a prestigious journal in the United States sent an e-mail to the current editor in this country stating that he had been in receipt of a manuscript, submitted electronically, which appeared to be an attempt at duplicate publication. He requested that a pdf file of the original article was sent to him and, in due course, confirmed that the new manuscript that he had received was a re-write of the already published paper with the addition of one extra case. The original paper was not cited in the new manuscript. The co-authors had mostly changed but the senior author and one co-author were common to both papers. Once again a covering letter had been received alleging that a substantial original input had been made by all the authors and stating that there were no conflicts of interest outstanding.
The American editor has now written to the senior author of the received manuscript requesting an explanation for this attempt at duplicate publication. To date no response has been received. He, together with other senior editors in the United States, has already published an editorial stating that plagiarism or proven duplicate publication would be punished by denying the individuals concerned access to publishing rights in the major American journals. No tariff was laid out in this editorial and the exact time for which those proven of fraud or fraudulent behaviour would be denied publication in the United States was not proscribed.
The situation is further complicated since the editor in this country is a professional colleague of the senior author who is alleged to have attempted this duplicity. In addition to this the senior author has already, in the past, been suspended from clinical practice for a period of four months while an untoward clinical incident was investigated and a Royal College of Surgeons inquiry was instituted.
Pending further explanation the senior editor in this country has already been in touch with the other British publication covering the same topic areas and both are agreed that they will, in principle, follow the American lead and will deny publication to those proven to have been engaged in duplicate publication or plagiarism. Both have also agreed to write a joint editorial on this issue once the outcome of this case is known.
However I would be grateful if advice could be given to us concerning the appropriateness of such action and also if some insight could be offered as to whether alternative action might prove preferable in this instance.
The committee thought that this was almost tantamount to blacklisting. COPE has never suggested blacklisting as a method. The journal should decide if there should be a notice of duplicate publication and then notify the authors.
The committee thought that it is not right to ban authors, blacklists raise a myriad of legal difficulties and also have a lack of due process. A better route is to contact the institution.
At the subsequent committee meeting in December 2005, the previous advice from COPE regarding the “blacklisting” of authors who attempt duplicate publication—namely, that such action could have serious legal implications and publishers and editors should be very cautious of going down this route—was re-emphasised by the chair. Any attempt to deny authors access to journals might put the publishers of those journals at risk of legal action. Faced with this problem of duplication publication, another less risky route might be for editors to develop a “grey list” of those authors who may have transgressed in this regard, in order that special attention may be paid to articles they submit.