In April 2007, an original scientific article was published on line (ahead of print—it is now published in print, September 2007). In July 2007, the editors received the following request from a scientist who read this article: "Since I am interested in this subject and I already work with it, I need to know some technical information from the authors. I have called the group five times and wrote them several emails, but unfortunately there was no response. I have decided to write to the editor to help me get the information I need".
What should be the responsibility of the editors to try to influence the authors to comply? Note that the Instructions to Authors include a statement that the journal adheres to the COPE guidelines.
The Editors have already replied as follows:
"We agree that manuscripts should provide all information regarding the technical details to allow repetition of the scientific work. In addition, it is generally accepted scientific practice for investigators to share materials and reagents that are relevant to the experiments and are not publicly available to allow parallel work, once the research has been published. It is generally accepted that "publish-ahead-of-print" manuscripts are published work. However, the editors consider it beyond the scope of their activities to intervene in discussions or interaction between investigators regarding work published in the journal."
Is this response appropriate or should we have done more?
The Forum considered that the editor has a duty to write to the authors and remind them that they are obliged to provide technical details to any interested party. The editor might wish to try to establish whether the authors are just being uncooperative or if there is any more ominous reason as to why they are withholding the details. If the editor receives no response from the authors or the information is not available, then the scientist could be encouraged to write a letter to the journal with his complaint. In this way it will highlight the fact that the authors are not following good practice. The editor should ensure that the instructions to authors states that all data should be available to interested parties. COPE is generally not in favour of sanctions and would not recommend them in this situation
In response to the advice from COPE, the editor had made the following addition to the Instructions to Authors to make it clear what is expected: “Authors should fully describe their methods so they could be reproduced by others. Additional technical information, unique reagents, antisera, cell lines, and genetically modified animals necessary to replicate the work should be made be available to interested parties”.