The overlapping papers with conflicting data
Case text (Anonymised)
Three papers concerning one hospital problem had been submitted to three different journals. Before publication the three editors of the journals became aware of the three different papers and the substantial overlap between them. The three editors communicated with each other and realised that they had four concerns: 1. There was very considerable overlap among the three papers. There didn’t seem to be any justification for publishing three papers rather than one or two. 2. The authors of the papers had not disclosed the existence of the other papers to any of the editors. 3. The three papers all had different sets of authors, and it seemed most unlikely that all authors met the definition of authorship devised by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. It also subsequently emerged that at least one author was unaware that he had been listed as an author on one of these papers. 4. There were inconsistencies among the papers. One particular patient was described in all three papers, and there were inconsistencies in the nationality of the patient, the readmission date, the results of a particular test, and the final diagnosis. The three editors took a very long time to decide what action to take, and in the end differed in their responses. One editor decided simply to notify the authors that she would not publish the paper and that she was concerned about the circumstances of the paper. The two other editors decided to ask for an investigation. One editor wrote to the chief executive of the institution where the authors had worked some ten months ago, but no explanation of what happened had been received. What should the editor do now?
_ The chief executive has now responded and agreed there were problems with redundant publication and as a result they will be revising their policies. Reasonable answers had been given that explained the discrepancies raised. _ A letter should be published in all of the journals regarding the redundant publication. _ A common agreement between all of the editors should be obtained, noting that it could be a prolonged procedure.
The matter was investigated by the chief executive, who agreed that the overlap was evident on re-review. But he believed there was no deliberate intention to deceive.