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Referee with a conflict of interest


A paper was received by Journal A in August and sent to Dr X for comment. Dr X advised that the paper was not original in the light of a publication by his own research group earlier in the year in another journal, and that furthermore, this study contained over twice as many patients as the paper the journal had sent to him to referee. The journal decided to reject the paper on the strength of Dr X’s report.


Difficulty in obtaining patient consent


An article describing three similar cases was submitted to Journal A. The author was asked to provide evidence of the patients’ consent for their details to be used in the paper. The author replied that all the patients’ personal details in the report had been anonymised and that signed consent would destroy this. Also, two of the three patients had since died and correspondence could be distressing for the relatives.


Stolen data and omission from the authorship list


An author wrote to the editor of a specialist journal, indicating that a paper had been published without appropriate recognition of himself as an author. In his letter he stated that he had contributed more than 50% of the cases reported. The first author had “not only stolen my data and published it without my consent, but also omitted my name. ” The editor has written to the authors of the paper asking for further information, but should any further action be taken?




The reviewer of a paper contacted Journal A to point out that a significant proportion of a review paper, on occupational stress measures, was a near verbatim copy of a longer review in a journal of a different, though related, speciality. The editor of journal A confirmed this was the case. Not only were the descriptions of the measures lifted from the previous publication, but also comments about their usefulness, etc.


Randomised controlled trial without ethics committee approval


A paper reported a randomised controlled trial relating to a common investigational procedure. There are two different postural positions into which a patient may be put while the procedure is carried out, and individual operators may have a preference for one or the other, but both are in routine use.


Allegation of reviewer malpractice


A member of the editorial board of Journal A was approached by an overseas colleague with a strange tale. An epidemiological study had been conducted in the community around an industrial facility, funded by a group of plaintiffs’ lawyers. The study concluded that health effects in the community were related to exposures emanating from the facility. A paper based on the study was submitted to Journal A and rejected.


Redundant publication and a question of authorship


A paper was reviewed and subsequently published in December 1999. A further publication with an almost identical title, but with different authors, was published in another journal in 2000. It is quite clear both papers relate to the same study, and apart from some minor differences in style, which were probably requested by the editorial offices, they seem to be identical.


Anonymous case presentations (without patient consent) on a specialist society website


A specialist society wishes to post “case of the month” on the society website. The society is not proposing to obtain patient consent from all patients, but will anonymise the case reports instead. It has been suggested a case might be anonymised by changing details including age, occupation, or gender. It has also suggested that there is often much to learn from patients who have died, from whom consent would not be possible. Is this approach reasonable?


Publication of dead patient’s name at the request of the family


An author requested advice about reporting unusual ocular manifestations of a patient who died from a fatal injury. The author sought the permission of the family to report the case, but they also requested that the patient’s name be added to the report in her memory.


Ethical standards in animal research


An author received a manuscript describing the biological behaviour of an infectious agent in an animal model. The manuscript contained new information, but the experimental procedure involved interventions that would not be permitted by UK Home Office regulations. What should the editor do?