A paper was submitted to journal A and received a ‘revision’ decision. At some point following this decision, the authors emailed the journal to request withdrawal, citing inconsistencies in their data and subsequent conclusions. A search of the literature showed that the same paper (with the same authors) was published in journal B the day before the withdrawal request. Clearly, the authors waited for the acceptance before withdrawing from journal A. Journal A contacted journal B to explain the duplicate submission, and that the authors requested withdrawal, citing doubts in the validity of their paper’s data.
Questions for the COPE Forum
- Should journal B retract the paper on these grounds?
- What happens if journal B does not receive a response from the authors or their institution?
This case of duplication submission is complicated by the data issues, with the authors saying there are inconsistencies in their data and subsequent conclusions. Could the authors have used the data issues as an excuse to withdraw the paper from journal A so that they could publish in journal B for speed of publication or higher impact factor, for example? The Forum was told that journal B has tried to contact the authors and the authors' institution but has not had a response.
The Forum noted that the paper should only be retracted if there are sufficient grounds for retraction. COPE retraction guidelines do not support retraction of a published article in the case of dual submission (versus dual publication) but in this case, the data issues also need to be taken into account. The Forum advised that journal B might consider publishing an expression of concern. Journal B could inform the authors and the institution that the journal’s next course of action is publication of an expression of concern on the grounds that questions have been raised about the validity of the data, giving them a deadline to respond. Journal B might also ask the authors and the institution for the data underlying the research so that the journal can then access if there are flaws in the data. If they do not supply the data, the editor might add that information to the expression of concern.
The Forum agreed that there is little that journal A can do. Journal A could inform the authors that duplicate submission is not acceptable but the onus is on journal B to decide if retraction or an expression of concern is appropriate. Journal B needs to draw their own conclusions about the validity of the data by contacting the author and the institution. It is journal B’s responsibility to follow-up on the data issues and handle the duplicate submission. Journal B might also want to review their policies on duplicate submission to ensure they are clear and explicit in their instructions to authors.
A unified approach from both journals might be helpful. The authors should be aware that the two journals are corresponding about the paper and unless a response is received (from the authors or the institution) their paper could be jeopardised.
After discussion of the case at the Forum, journal B published an expression of concern.
Journal A considers the case closed.