Two authors submitted a case report which was interesting but not written in the style of the journal. The editor therefore invited the authors to rewrite the case report, and resubmit it. They did so within a week. The case report was sent out for peer review, accepted and published.
The head of department of one of the authors then wrote to the journal, stating that the case report had previously been published in a non-English language journal. Moreover, in that version of the case report, but not in the more recent version, the head of department had been listed as an author. The head of department had not been asked or informed about the submission to the British journal. The head of department gave the reference of the previous publication. The editor obtained the paper: it did indeed appear to be the same case, since it had essentially the same story and identical figures. The head of department was listed as an author, together with the two authors who had submitted the case report to the editor.
The authors had written a cover letter for each submission. Both cover letters stated that the case report had not been submitted to any other journal. They had been sent after the case report was published in the non-English language journal. The authors were contacted separately by email, and asked to explain the discrepancy. They were warned that if no satisfactory explanation was provided, the journal would have to retract the case report. At the time of writing, they have both written to say that they will provide an explanation, but have not yet done so.
The majority of the members of the Forum agreed that there were grounds for retraction of the paper. However, others argued that as the papers were in different languages, a “notice of duplicate publication” would be more appropriate. All agreed that this was a definite case of misconduct. There are two issues here: (1) the author issue in relation to the names on the two papers and (2) the duplicate publication issue. There may also be copyright issues with the first journal. The advice was to write to the author’s institution, but not in this case to the head of department as he may be unable to remain unbiased. It was suggested to write to the Dean of the university and ask him to investigate.
The authors wrote to us to say that the previous publication was not a scientific publication (ie, in a magazine rather than a journal). They said that the magazine had no editor, no peer reviewers and no signed author agreement. They sent us a photocopy of the instructions to authors, and highlighted a sentence saying “bear in mind that you are not writing a scientific publication”, from which they inferred that the magazine was not a scientific publication.
However, the publication is quite a well known journal in their country of origin. It does have an editor. It is indexed on PUBMED, as indeed was their original publication. The statement about “not writing a scientific publication” appeared to refer to the section, rather than to the journal as a whole: moreover, it was in the section “guide to style”, and hence appeared to be intended to encourage lucid writing.
We therefore retracted the publication.
We also wrote to the professor who had let us know about the duplicate publication, to thank him.
We received a case report from one of the authors of this paper, and the professor who had told us about the duplicate publication. We rejected it on the grounds that it was good, but not exceptional.