We had a case of suspected plagiarism recently on one of our journals, on which I would appreciate COPE’s advice. The case has been resolved, so this is not in the least urgent, but I would be interested to hear your views.
Very briefly, at review stage the editor spotted substantial similarities between a paper submitted to our journal and a review published recently in a related title. We queried the corresponding author, on the editor’s behalf, and he claimed that the similarities were just due to “coincidence”. This was somewhat hard to believe given the large chunks of text that had been lifted and given a light edit.
After some to-ing and fro-ing, the paper was subsequently withdrawn, but should the authors have tried to brazen it out, what should our next action have been? Should we have gone to the corresponding author’s institution?
This was the reason given by the junior author, for interest:
I am sorry for my <paper reference>. I might think those sentences is more suitable to express my viewpoint so that those sentences be used directly in his review. However this is bad habit for writing review among few students. I already contacted with <corr author> and another author, we all agree to withdraw this review written by myself.
The committee noted that the paper being withdrawn was not a resolution, as there was a good chance that the paper would be submitted again to another journal. There seemed to have been a lack of communication between the junior and senior author. It was thought this could be a cultural misunderstanding, but it looked like a mistake. It was also thought that the sentences could have been lifted because they were in better English than the author could write (particularly considering the spelling and grammar in the letter). It was also pointed out that there are different views in different countries. For instance in some countries there are many practices that have absolutely no proven clinical benefit. It was also pointed out that when an author submits an article to a journal, then they are agreeing to the journals conditions and standards.
The committee considered if this should be taken any further, for instance to write to the institution involved. Or all the authors could be contacted to see if anyone else has something to say. The committee thought that to prevent further cases in the future then it is necessary to educate people, but were somewhat hesitant as a letter to the institution could have unintended consequences.
The wrap over the knuckles given is sufficient. The committee thought that if the authors had tried to brazen it out, this would have been a different matter and would have required further pursuit.
The editor had already administered a rap over the knuckles to the author. The committee's recommendation was that this was sufficient, especially as the author had withdrawn his paper after admitting to the “bad habit” of using other researchers' phrases.