A paper describing an outbreak of infectious disease was submitted to three journals. The submission to one journal described the index case; the submission to another included investigation and follow up of other cases and contacts in the country where the outbreak had occurred. The third paper looked at the spread of the disease into other countries.
A considerable amount of the epidemiological data had been repeated in all three papers. Additionally, the authors did not submit copies of all three papers when making their submissions to each journal. The most important problems were the discrepancies between the papers: the nationality of the patient differed; the time of readmission differed;even the final diagnosis differed. There were also inconsistencies in the details of the secondary cases. What should the editors do?
It was noted that specialist journal editors are in a more difficult position as they are part of the “community.”
Write to the authors submitting copies of all three papers, asking for an explanation.
Write to the heads of the institutions,submitting copies of the papers,plus the correspondence and ask for an investigation to be conducted.
All three editors met up and wrote to the authors (letter signed by all three).This elicited a trenchant response and elaborate explanations. The consensus was that the institution should investigate the case further and the case was referred to the chief executive.
Two of the journals asked the chief executives of the organisations to investigate.They did, and found that things had not been done correctly. However, they did not think that any sanctions were necessary, but they revised their guidelines on authorship.