Duplicate publication in possibly four papers
Case text (Anonymised)
This case involves four manuscripts. Three of the manuscripts were originally published in another language and then published in our English language journal. There is overlap in the authors who were involved in all four manuscripts.
The first and second manuscripts were duplicated publications from another journal. The evidence is very clear. The papers were published in another country in another language, and then in English. A native speaker of the other language was able to read both versions and found only minor differences, and the editor of the foreign language journal also did this, and recommended that our journal retract the papers. The authors checked the box on our submission form that indicated that the submissions had not been published elsewhere, and they made no mention of any previous publication in their covering letter.
For the third paper, which shares authors, we had no evidence of duplicate publication until we heard from the editor of the foreign language journal who said that it came from two other articles. However, the editor did not say in which journals these were published. Again, the authors checked the box indicating that the paper was original and had not been previously published.
For the fourth manuscript there is no evidence of duplicate publication, but it shares one author and is therefore included. The editor of the foreign language journal did not find a duplicate publication.
Two authors are in common on the three duplicated papers. The paper for which we do not have evidence of duplication has different authors for the most part, but one of its authors is also an author of two of the duplicated papers. To try to make this clear, the authorship of the four papers is as follows, where each letter indicates an author:
1) A, B, C, D
2) A, B, C, E
3) A, B, F, G, H
4) C, I, J, K, L
The editor in chief of our journal wrote to the authors (A, B, and C) telling them that they had violated international standards against duplicate publishing and received an email in reply from a supervisor at their institution, apologising for this.
We seek guidance from COPE on how to publish a retraction in our journal concerning these four manuscripts, or is another course of action more appropriate?
The Forum noted that publication of a translation of a paper is permissible if the process is transparent and the original paper is cited in the translation. In this case, the authors failed to inform the editor of the previous versions of papers 1 and 2, and checked the box on the submission form saying the papers had not been published previously. One option suggested by the Forum was to publish a notice of duplicate publication, as then readers would not be deprived of reading the translated version of the paper. The Forum suggested contacting all of the authors, not just the corresponding author, and asking them for an explanation. If the editor is satisfied with the evidence of duplicate publication, he should retract both papers. There should be one retraction notice per paper so that the notice can be linked to the original paper. The retraction notice should clearly identify the original paper.
Regarding the third paper, the editor should obtain full details from the other editor about where the paper was published previously. When the editor has definite evidence and the names of the other journals, he can then decide on whether or not to retract the third paper.
For the fourth paper, as there is no evidence of duplicate publication, the editor should not retract this paper. COPE advises against punishing authors or imposing bans because of the risk of litigation. However, the editor can contact the authors and ask them questions about the paper, but he needs to have evidence before taking any further action.
After the editor contacted all of the authors, and received all of the information with regard to the third paper, the journal decided to retract the three papers.