A review article was submitted by three authors from three separate institutions to Journal A. It was sent out to two referees. One of the referees noticed an apparent similarity with a review published a year earlier in Journal B, but written by two completely different authors. An electronic copy of the published article from Journal B's website indicated that the whole of the submitted manuscript was identical to the published review, apart from the omission of one section and two figures. Indeed, the reference list was unchanged except that the one reference unique to the omitted section remained, although it was not cited in the paper, and one reference to an aspect of the new authors' work had been added at the end. Journal A contacted the authors, requesting an explanation for the overlap and stipulating a one month response time before deciding on further action. The authors were also warned that their respective host institutions would be notified and asked to investigate if the response was unsatisfactory. The corresponding author wrote to say that s/he had mistakenly submitted a “reference paper” and would substitute it with the “real paper.” - Should the authors be banned from submitting future articles to the journal, indefinitely or for a defined period? - Should the editor of Journal B be notified, and if so at what stage, and to what effect? - Should the journal publish an editorial that names the culprits, or take any other actions to notify other scientific and medical journal editors? - If the institutional response is not robust, should further action be taken to name the institutions?
- Institutions do not always conduct robust investigations. - Publishing details of the case before the outcome of any investigation is legally fraught. - Ultimately journals must ensure that they have followed due process in their pursuit of the facts of a case and in any public notification of misconduct. - The editor should contact all authors directly and request clarification within a specified time limit. - The editor should contact the authors’ institutions and request an investigation. The editor should inform the authors of his intentions. - The editor should notify Journal B’s editor and request that the original authors also be notified of the possible plagiarism.