One of the referees of our journal has brought to our attention a potential case of plagiarism.
The referee feels that the a manuscript submitted to our journal, representing a retrospective study of a cohort of patients with a particular condition, plagiarises an article published in another journal in 2003. The authors are from an institute in a middle-eastern country.
The submitted paper contains numerous full paragraphs identical to those in the previous paper.
We also suspect that fraud may be involved. For example, the submitted paper reports data on 28 patients (72% male and 28% female); clinical sign 1 was present in 68%; sign 2 in 26%; sign 3 in 9% and one was asymptomatic. A particular investigation was diagnostic in 45%. In the first paper, 47 infants were studied. He percentages of the parameters detailed above were identical!
We would be grateful if COPE could provide an opinion on this issue, as well as advice on what would be the best course of action.
Our editor-in-chief was considering the following course of action:
(a) Write a specific editorial on plagiarism and fraud.
(b) Publish the abstract of the published article (with the editor’s permission) together with the abstract of the submitted article with the identical text highlighted.
(c) Inform the authors of our intention and ask if they wish to make any comment.
(d) Inform the publisher of our intentions.
Does the Forum think this would be an appropriate course of action?
The Forum agreed this was blatant plagiarism but also that fraud was likely in view of the identical percentages in the various subgroups of cases reported. It begs the question as to whether the research was actually performed.
The advice from the Forum was to ask all of the authors for an explanation of why the text was identical to that of the other paper and why the percentages were identical. No allegation should be made and a deadline for an answer should be set. If no or no satisfactory answer is forthcoming, COPE recommends reporting the matter to the Vice Chancellor for Research at the authors’ university asking him to investigate. It was also suggested to COPE that the matter should be taken up with the Ministry of Health.
If the university does not respond appropriately, they should be politely reminded at 3 month intervals, asking for the result of their investigation.
The Forum advised that if the editor decides to publish an editorial on plagiarism/fraud etc, he should not identify the paper or authors concerned until the proper authorities have reached a conclusion.
The editor-in-chief wrote to all the authors asking each of them for an explanation as to why the text was identical to that of the other paper and why the percentages were identical. None of the authors responded by the set deadline. We have subsequently sent a reminder email and none of them has responded. We are now in the process of writing to the Deputy Director of the Research Institute where the authors performed the research, to ask him to investigate.