Author group A deposited a preprint onto a preprint server and simultaneously submitted the manuscript to journal A. Peer review in journal A took some considerable time, but the paper (paper A) was eventually published. During the long peer review of paper A, author group A noticed that another set of authors, author group B, had published paper B in journal B. While paper B was submitted several weeks after paper A (and after the preprint appeared), peer review in journal B was somewhat faster, and so paper B was published before paper A. Author group A suspect that some of the data and language in paper B was taken from their preprint, and that author group B had used this to "scoop" paper A. A citation to the preprint was given in paper B but author group A felt that this was only to guard author group B against accusations of plagiarism, and certainly did not assign full credit to their original discoveries.
Author group A feels like author group B took advantage of some key results in their preprint to accelerate some major points in paper B. Unfortunately, author group A did not raise this with journal B. Journal B has only found out about this through word of mouth. Journal B does not know exactly which paper they refer to.
Questions for the Forum
- Is there a case to answer here?
- Should the editor of journal B advise author group A (who remain anonymous to journal B, and who can only be contacted through one of the editors of journal B)
that they should formally report the issue to journal B so that it can be investigated
as a plagiarism case in a published manuscript?
- What measures can journal B take to help prevent this happening in the future
(eg, better training for editors and reviewers to identify the issue)?
The Forum believed there was no case to answer because journal B has not been contacted by author group B looking for a resolution. A formal complaint has not been received by the journal so it is not the journal’s responsibility to actively pursue this matter.
The Forum noted that plagiarism detection software does scan some of the common preprint sites and will indicate if direct plagiarism has occurred from a preprint.
Measures that the journal can take to help prevent this happening in the future could be for the journal to review their author guidelines to ensure there is sufficient information on how to cite preprints, if the journal allows preprint citations. If a case of plagiarism arises, the journal may wish to follow COPE’s flowchart on what to do if you suspect plagiarism in a published paper, which advises the editor to contact the authors initially in a neutral tone for an explanation, before taking the matter further.
The journal took the advice of the Forum and alerted the editors to the issue raised so that they would be better informed going forward and could hopefully pick up any issues like this in the future. As no formal complaint was made, as per the Forum’s advice, no further action was taken. The journal considers the case closed