Our journal (journal A) received a complaint from a 'Clare Francis' alerting us to a case of duplicate publication involving our journal and another (journal B). The article in journal A was published first, but submitted after the article in journal B. Clare Francis requested that the article in journal A should be withdrawn as it is duplicate publication. However, the article in journal B was an extended abstract, included in a section of selected conference proceedings. Our records do not go back far enough to check whether the authors informed us of this but they did not reference their abstract in the article in journal A. The article in journal A is a full paper, with a materials and methods section, detailed results and enough information for someone else to replicate the experiment. The extended abstract in B was not. When we contacted the editor of journal B, we were informed that they had received several such complaints from Clare Francis which have turned out to be somewhat spurious.
A simple Google search revealed that 'Clare Francis' is a widely known self-styled whistleblower in scientific publication.
We responded that we had looked in detail at both papers and did not consider it to be a case of duplicate publication, and that we considered the matter closed. Clare Francis did not agree, and reiterated the issue of the article submission timings, insisting that the paper be withdrawn, and seeming to ignore the substance of what had actually been published. 'She' appealed to our status as a member of COPE as a reason that we should take on board these concerns.
We believe not only that using a pseudonym to pursue these matters is unethical, but that we have followed the correct procedure and have made the correct decision regarding these papers. We would be interested in hearing if the Forum agrees (on the former points, if not the latter).
The Forum agreed with the editor that it would not consider prior publication of an extended abstract as duplicate publication, unless the extended abstract was very detailed and included lots of data, which was not the case in this instance. The editor made the right decision. COPE supports a whistleblower’s right to remain anonymous and would encourage editors to respond to any allegations of unethical behaviour as long as there is specific evidence and not just vague accusations.
We replied to Clare Francis saying we had been to COPE and were satisfied that we had done the right thing, and we are not going to change our course of action. She responded along much the same lines as the original complaint—we did not respond and consider the matter closed.