A paper described an unusual approach to disease modulation in an experimental animal model. The apparently clear cut findings were somewhat surprising. The authors also seem to have used high and low power photomicrographs of the same tissue sections to illustrate completely different experiments within the study. This occurred twice in the paper. Furthermore, this particular area of study was a complete departure from the previous work of the first and senior authors. The editor wrote to the authors pointing out that the photos were the same. He received a garbled response, saying that computer photomicrographs got muddled up. There were 15 authors, all of whom were faxed. The first author responded immediately.
Need to pin down author responsibility and responsibility for data collection. This is either an author muddle or fraud. Editor should ask to see the raw data.
Further correspondence took place between the editor and the corresponding author, and two further sets of figures were received for consideration. The editorial team were unsure as to whether this constituted fraud and rejected the paper on the grounds that they “had lost confidence in the data.” The rejection letter was sent to all the authors.
A manuscript was submitted which described the effect of a drug on cell turnover and apoptosis in a deletion mouse model of a common cancer. One of the reviewers noted that a very similar paper by the same authors had been published in another journal in the same specialty,and went to the trouble of underlining blocks of text that were identical in both papers. In one paper the authors had reported “tumour volume” whereas in the other they had reported “tumour multiplicity”— both measures of tumour mass. This was pointed out to the authors who “recognised our concern” and decided to withdraw the manuscript. However, they indicated that they would revise the manuscript and resubmit it to the journal for further consideration at a later date. What should the editor do?
The editor was advised to report this case to the head of the author’s institution.
The paper was rejected, but the case was not referred to the head of the author’s institution.
A paper reporting an attitudinal study was sent for peer review. The editor received a letter from the reviewer stating that as he was personally acknowledged in the paper, he felt there was a conflict of interest and so unable to review the paper. The reviewer also pointed out that the research in question was part of a larger commissioned project with strict conditions of confidentiality. The persons surveyed were given assurance that the views expressed would remain unattributed and that the information gathered would be for research purposes only. The reviewer asked the editor to put the article on hold until he clarified whether or not the publication of part of the research findings would be acceptable,given the confidentiality agreements undertaken. What should the editor do now?
There is a breach of confidentiality here. The editor should go back to the first author seeking clarification of the supposed premature publication/breach of confidentiality, stating that a reviewer had brought this to his attention. If the reply is unsatisfactory, the editor should refer to the head of the institution. The reviewer should not lead this; the editor should.
The editor was satisfied with the lead author’s reply and publication proceeded.
Two articles were published in two different journals. The articles had been submitted within days of each other, and were subsequently peer reviewed, revised, and published within a month of each other. The authors failed to reference the closely related article as submitted or in press, and the editors of the two journals were unaware of the other article.
After publication the editors viewed this as duplicate publication because of the considerable overlap of material and failure of the authors to disclose the existence of the other paper. Both editors issued a notice in their journals of duplicate publication. It was also noticed that two of the authors were only mentioned on one paper and another author indicated that he had been unaware of the submission of the article at all.
The editors have been asked by a third party to formally withdraw both articles on the grounds of fraudulent behaviour by the authors.
The editors should write to the third party who has made the allegations of fraud and ask for the evidence.
If this is forthcoming,the editors should write to the head of the institution involved.
If a subsequent investigation proves the fraud,then the editors should take appropriate action.
The editors of the two journals felt very strongly that they should not be involved in investigating allegations of fraud, and that this should be the responsibility of the institutions involved, with the third party actioning this. They therefore decided to take no further action.
An author submitted a review to journal A in February 1997. It was accepted for publication in November, after peer review. The same author submitted a review on a similar topic—sufficiently similar that there was substantial overlap of content—to journal B in September 1997. Journal B accepted it in January 1998, after peer review. Neither journal editor knew of the parallel paper.
Journal B published its review in March 1998. The editor of journal A saw this paper and contacted the author. The author claimed that during negotiations in 1997, journal A had led him to believe that his review was not acceptable for publication.He had then contacted journal B.
In January 1998,the author,realising that he should inform journal B about the paper with journal A, sent a letter to the negotiating editor explaining that there was a similar review (which he claims was enclosed) elsewhere. That letter was received and filed but not seen by an editor. There is no record of the paper having been received. The editor of journal A has now rejected the review that he had accepted. The author believes that this editor should honour his earlier decision and publish his review. The paper, he claims, is sufficiently different to merit a separate publication. What should these editors do next?
Journal B is at fault for for failing to act on receipt of the letter from the author.
The authors are also at fault for failing to tell journal B until much later.
Journal B should get an independent expert to assess the degree of overlap of the two papers first, and if found to be acceptable, contact the author apologising for the administrative error.
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.
In March 1996, journal A published a case report about an eye condition with two authors credited, Drs X and Y, both radiologists. Exactly two years later, one of their former colleagues (Dr Z) wrote to the editor claiming that she had been responsible for the patient’s care; she was the ophthalmologist on call the night the patient was admitted. She argued that, as the clinician responsible for the patient, her name should have been on this case report. Indeed, the clinical facts of the case were, she alleges, inaccurate.
Dr Z wants journal A to publish a full case report with additional facts about the case history. The editor of journal A wrote to the corresponding author of the original case report. Dr X discovered that the patient’s chart was missing; it had been taken out at the request of Dr Z. It turns out that Dr Z was “moonlighting”in the hospital at the time that the patient was admitted. The clinical history remains disputed. What should the editor do next?
Authorship should have been resolved before.
The authority needs to hold an inquiry.
The true facts or a retraction should be published.
After looking at the available evidence, it was felt that the claimant did not have a strong case for authorship
In 1995 a group of nine authors published a paper in a leading general medical journal. Copyright was granted by all authors to the journal. In 1998 the senior author received a complimentary copy of a recently published book. One of the chapters was essentially a reprint of the original paper. It was attributed to the sixth, first and second authors. Neither the first nor second author (the guarantor) had ever heard of this chapter or the book. They had not consented to the publication or the authorship of the chapter. The remaining six original authors were acknowledged for their help with the study, but were not listed as authors of the chapter. The chapter acknowledged that the data it contained had been published before. Enquiries to the publisher of the textbook revealed that the sixth author had applied for and, for £60, had been granted permission to use the original article by the medical journal in which it was first published. What are the professional, ethical and legal issues? What should be done?
The editor was advised to write a conciliatory letter to the publishers and a letter of complaint to the author who had reproduced the article without permission.
The author admitted he had made a mistake and apologised profusely.
A letter was submitted for publication in which a general practitioner described how he treated patients with vitiligo “simultaneously with an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial medicament over a prolonged period.”He has done this because:“As is now known,a fungus resembles the human being genetically and there is a possibility that a fungus can hide in the melanocyte (analogically as is being done by the HIV virus) and therefore cannot easily be diagnosed by laboratory means.”The research seems to have been done without controls. The editor wrote to the general practitioner asking whether his patients had given fully informed consent and whether he had obtained ethics committee approval. What should be done, if he has neither?
Write to the GMC.
The doctor did not have ethics committee approval. A complaint was made to the GMC, but the doctor was no longer on the register.
A medically qualifed author submitted a paper in which he described the treatment of four cases of “pesticide poisoning presented as ME.”These four cases had doubtful sounding evidence of pesticide poisoning. The author treated them with a mixture of choline and ascorbic acid. He did this because: “Between the years 1968 and 1973 I had carried out a number of unpublished experiments on patients with high blood cholesterol,including the familial form,and had found that oral administration of a choline and ascorbic acid mixture would lower the blood level more successfully than did clofibrate...the blood level of cholesterol would initially rise before it eventually fell, suggesting that cholesterol was being mobilised from the tissues into the blood stream prior to excretion. I decided,therefore,to try the same mixture on this patient as the pesticide is lipid soluble to see if it would respond in a similar manner.”
All four patients seem to have shown some improvement, and all four have given signed consent for “details [of their cases] to be offered for publication in a medical journal.”It was suspected that the four signatures might have been written by the author himself. The paper will not be published,but should more action be taken? Should the author be referred to the GMC?
Write to the author,asking if ethical approval had been obtained.
This is a bizarre medical practice,which should be flagged to the GMC.
In cases of overseas authors, or those who are not medically qualifed, contact the local licensing authority.
The editor wrote to the author and received an unsatisfactory response.
The GMC was alerted. It emerged that the author had already been struck off the register.