Our journal has recently been the subject of an attack of attempted plagiarism by an author from a military hospital in another country. The first evidence of this was alerted to us by one of our reviewers who identified an almost word-for-word copy of a paper previously published in which the disease being treated was changed slightly and a few numbers but everything else, including the reference list, was almost identical. The case was forwarded to me to deal with and after some consideration I adopted the following course. Firstly, I contacted the authors of the allegedly plagiarised paper to assure myself that it was submitted long before our correspondent’s effort. Secondly, I wrote to the submitter, sent him a copy of the paper and suggested to him that he withdraw his paper. He expressed surprise and affront but agreed to withdraw it. (Incidentally, another of our reviewers identified that the author in question had retracted a paper from another journal last year).
I then looked at Manuscript Central and discovered that he had two other case reports in our pipeline, one of them in a second revision. It was not hard (a simple Google search of the titles) to find the papers from which each of these had been slightly altered as well.
I rejected both of those papers from the Editor-in-Chief desk with a stern email and a request for him to be sure that he did not submit material that had been published previously again.
At our editorial board meeting in November, I am to bring this up to discuss strategies to prevent this but in the meantime, I have asked my specialty editors to be vigilant about this form of intellectual property theft and to do whatever is possible to prevent being a party to it. I will explore whether there is any usable free software or online solution available to deal with this problem easily but in the meantime I have found Google really easy to use.
While I have submitted this anonymised, I feel that serial offenders such as this should be “outed” to the international medical publishing community by name. I have available copies of his submissions and the papers from which I believe he has copied. I would question the ethics of not making this information widely known and am prepared to share them with the Forum or any individual editor.
I have asked myself whether or not I should write to the other of his colleagues or local funding agencies in his home country but am still unsure of what to more to do.
The advice from the Forum was for the editor to follow the COPE flowchart on what to do if you suspect plagiarism in a submitted manuscript. The editor should contact the author’s institution or employer and ask them to carry out an investigation. In doing so the editor might need to contact the insititution concerned to find out who is responsible for research integrity as this can vary from country to country. What is important is to make the institution realise the seriousness of this form of misconduct, to take the matter seriously and to persuade them to carry out an investigation.
A letter was sent to the administration of the hospital but no response (nor additional submissions) have been received.