A review paper (paper 1) was published in journal A. A review paper on the same subject (paper 2) by a different author was published in my journal (journal B) later in the same year. The authors of paper 1 and the editor of journal A informed me that paper 2 had in part been plagiarised from paper 1.
I as editor of journal B looked to the COPE flowchart for guidance and I wrote to the author of paper 2 for an explanation. Although I did not consider the author’s explanation satisfactory, I felt uncertain whether this was a case of “minor” or “major” plagiarism based on the fact that the paragraphs copied verbatim from paper 1 constituted only a small fraction of paper 2 and because this was a review paper and not original data.
I then contacted COPE and the chair of COPE gave me some personal advice. I was advised that plagiarism is not a matter of percentages but of principle and to take another look at the flowchart and decide if the author had given a satisfactory explanation for the “overlap”. If there was no satisfactory explanation, I should consider a retraction and informing the author’s institution.
In considering what to do, I was advised to take account of COPE’s guidelines and code of conduct under the headings of encouraging integrity of the academic record and pursuing misconduct..
Based on the advice communicated to me, the journal decided to retract the paper and to inform the dean of the author’s institution about this incident. The retraction note has been published online (and will also be printed in the next possible print issue).
The authors’ institution has established a high-ranking committee to look into this matter, consisting of the dean, the rector and representatives from the Academy of Sciences.
This case is for information only and was not discussed at the COPE Forum.