Case text (Anonymised)
A paper was submitted to journal A which was published as a rapid communication. It was subsequently discovered that the major US journal in this specialty had published other findings from the same set of patients, and that the paper had been considered by them at the same time. The messages of the two papers are closely related but different, but either one could have been amalgamated into the other for one publication. All of this came to light when the authors submitted a further paper to journal A about the same patients. This time they used a new technique to expand on their studies which seemed perfectly reasonable; what is strange is that they did not acknowledge that the samples they analysed were taken from patients whose cases had been used and published before. Indeed, neither of the two previous papers acknowledges the other. A letter was sent to the senior author, asking for an explanation. The senior author responded by saying that her submission letter to me stating that none of the work had been published elsewhere was a proforma letter and the signature was an oversight.
There is no problem in using the same samples for different assays, but it is very important to be explicit. The head of the institution should be informed: non-disclosure is always a reason to inform the head of the author’s institution. This should have been one paper. A statement of redundancy should be published in all three journals and the authors should be blacklisted but the editors’responses should be consistent.
The editors have informed the authors that they have been blacklisted for two years. One of the authors who is head of department wishes to appeal and the editor has directed him to apply to COPE. The editor of the second journal blacklisted the authors permanently.