A university institutional review board (IRB) investigation found that there was extensive data fabrication in connection with a clinical research study. Three articles and one abstract reporting results from this clinical study were published. Our journal published the abstract, which we intend to retract. The three articles have been retracted by the journals that published those articles.
Given the serious and extensive nature of the data fabrication, and the fact that the research involved infants, a very vulnerable group of subjects, we are very concerned about the fact that several other articles by this author have been published in our journal. Although the research reported in these articles was not within the scope of the university IRB investigation, the research was conducted at that institution and by the same individual. We feel we have a responsibility to alert the readers of these articles to the findings of the IRB report.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum
• Is there justification to publish an expression of concern about articles that report research not specifically reviewed in the IRB investigation?
The Forum advised against making a unilateral decision to publish an expression if there is no concrete evidence or proof of misconduct related directly to these papers. This could have huge implications for the editor and the journal.
Is the institution conducting an investigation at present? If the editor has concerns about these papers, then he should contact the institution or the review board who initiated the original investigation and inform them that there are concerns with these papers and ask them to investigate. It would be premature to post an expression of concern without first contacting the institution. Also, if there is no ongoing investigation, it would be inappropriate for the journal to publish an expression of concern.
The editor should also consider the fact that there may be innocent co-authors.
One suggestion was for the journal to consider conducting their own investigation and getting a review board to look at all of the author’s work.
The majority of the Forum agreed that going back to the institution and asking for an investigation was worthwhile; if the institution agrees, then the editor can publish an expression of concern.