Somebody—possibly a representative of a drug company or a PR acting for the company—rang an editor on behalf of study authors to say that she would guarantee to buy 1000 reprints if the journal would continue to consider for publication a study that conflicted with a policy that the journal had just introduced. “And”, she said, “I will buy you a dinner at any restaurant you choose.” The paper was rejected, but should further action be taken?
_ Generally drug companies have policies against PR companies approaching journals and if the drug company was identifiable then the editor could contact the company concerned to complain. _ The lead author of the study should be informed about the actions of individuals representing the product being discussed in the paper. _ The drug company might also want to know what the PR is doing on its behalf. One of the members relayed how in a similar circumstance he had complained to the drug company which had withdrawn its contract with the offending PR company.
The editor admitted that he could not remember the name of the person involved and was unable to trace the article, but he promised to mention the incident in the journal. He fulfilled his promise.
Editor A wrote to editor B, indicating that one of the reviewers of a paper submitted to Journal A contained material that had been submitted at about the same time to Journal B. Editor A requested a copy of the paper submitted to Journal B. Editor B responded, confirming that the paper in question had been submitted to Journal B (submission date two weeks earlier than the paper submitted to Journal A), but had been rejected eight weeks later after external peer review. Editor B sent a copy of the rejected paper to editor A. Editor A examined the two papers and confirmed that there was “some degree of overlap” between the two and also felt that there was a degree of “salami slicing.” What should the editors do now?
This was a case of an intelligent reviewer catching a dual submission serendipitously.
Sending a copy of the manuscript under review to another editor might be considered a breach of confidentiality with the author, but in cases of suspected misconduct, such action was part of the peer review process and the information sent to the other editor would be on a ‘need to know’ basis.
Public interest in preventing fraudulent publication overrides confidentiality with the author.
Sometimes authors write up different aspects of one research study and send them to different journals, so dome degree of overlap is inevitable, but as long as the authors openly declare what they have done, this is acceptable practice. They should cross reference or include a copy of the companion paper.
Many journals have this sort of provision in their instructions to authors. These make authors think twice about attempting inappropriate dual submission.
What would happen if an editor requests the author to provide the companion paper and the author refuses? The COPE guidelines on redundant publication state that at submission, authors should disclose details of related papers. In cases where a reviewer alerts an editor to the possibility of duplicate publication the duty to the author is to ask them to respond to the allegation and provide the other paper.
The duty of confidentiality to the author is not absolute, and where misconduct is suspected a breach could be justified.
The integrity of the literature is more important than maintaining author confidentiality. And dual submission is a drain on the journal’s and reviewers’ time.
The two journal editors should write “joint letters” to the authors about the matter, pointing out why this is an important issue and requesting a response within a specified time limit.
A paper was received, which detailed a research project conducted on newborn babies, which involved taking an invasive (and painful) sample from them. The paper was worthy of publication from the point of view of scientific value, but two issues worried the editors. First, it was unclear whether the sick babies’ samples were going to be used as part of their clinical management or whether these samples were taken simply for the trial. The referee thought that certain reported parameters indicated the latter. Second, and more worryingly, the control group of healthy babies had a similar sample taken. The control group comprised all the babies meeting the inclusion criteria. The editors were concerned that this would not have been possible without some coercion of the parents. The editors wrote to the authors, asking for elucidation and learned that the samples were, indeed, taken by staff when they were collecting another routine sample. The authors added: “We took the chance and asked parents for consent in taking a little more blood . . . our ethics committee would never sanction [the invasive procedure] in normal infants just for research. ” The editors then asked for clarification of the precise nature of the ethics committee approval and parent consent forms, pointing out that the routine sample collection would not involve the invasive procedure performed except in limited circumstances. The authors responded by withdrawing the paper and declining to send the relevant documents. They complained that the editors had mistrusted them. Should this be taken further? The editors think it should, on the grounds that the babies were unnecessarily subjected to a painful procedure.
_ The editors should pursue the issue further and approach the head of the authors’ institution, and if necessary, involve higher authorities. _ A deadline should be imposed for a response. _ As there appeared to be a discrepancy between the authors’ assertion that the sampling was undertaken as part of a routine procedure and the fact that the trial sample would have to be an additional invasive procedure, it was important to follow this up.
The authors’ institution has not replied to either of the two letters sent. The editor plans to approach a higher authority.
A review by three authors, with Dr X as the lead author, was published in Journal A. Five months later, the editor of Journal A was informed by Professor W that a figure in the review by Dr X had originally appeared in a research paper, co-authored by Professor W in Journal B in 1990. The professor also said that Dr X had published the same or very similar figures in journals C, D (research papers), and E (review). The Journal C paper was reference 5 in the Journal A review. Dr X denied that he had “stolen” the figure. However, after an “expert review” Journal C concluded that the figures were the same and the journal’s editors retracted Dr X’s paper. Dr X has since started legal proceedings against one of the editors of Journal C. Professor W is pushing for a complete retraction of the review in Journal A. Dr X is willing to voluntarily retract the paper, but his co authors do not support this, because the figure in question makes no difference to the uncontroversial conclusions of the review. Journal A published a statement noting the retraction by Journal C, and Journal E has published a similar statement. Journal D recruited an expert to examine Professor W’s original pathological material. Journal A has collaborated with this investigation. The expert concluded that the figures published by journals A and D are the same as Professor W’s original slides. Dr X has been told by journals A and D that they will request his institution to investigate the allegations made against him. This case refers to the same disputed figure brought to COPE by another member journal in case 02/02.
_ If the figure was originally Professor W’s and published in 1990, then the original journal would have copyright over the figure. _ If the review was adequate without the figure, then the journal could either withdraw the figure or acknowledge the original copyright holder. _ The original slide would have to be studied to make a correct assessment of the professor’s claim. _ How could a figure belonging to one author come into the possession of another? The journal has been told that Professor W and Dr X were collaborators in the past and that the image had been entered into a database of clinical images and had allegedly been extracted from there. _ Had any copyright documents been associated with the deposit of the image on the database? _ If Dr X’s co authors do not wish to retract the paper, then the journal could publish an addendum/erratum explaining the issues surrounding the figure ownership, acknowledging the original copyright holder. _ It is not the journal’s duty to resolve the dispute between Professor W and Dr X. _ The editor could decide on a course of action after hearing the results of Dr X’s institutional investigation. _ The editor should try to get more information on the Trust’s investigation. _ The editor should take his concerns to the doctor’s and medical director’s regulatory body, notifying the doctor and the Trust of his intentions. As a registered physician, the editor has a duty to report any serious concerns to the regulatory body. _ The editor is a member of the regulatory body. which imposes a higher duty to report his concerns and act on them. _ The editor’s case for reporting was strengthened by the fact that he had taken the advice of COPE on the matter.
Two companion papers from a single author, a paediatric surgeon working in a secondary/tertiary unit, were received. He had performed the same minor operation on 420 babies and 60 children over two years. His paper purported to report safety and efficacy. From the hanging committee’s own knowledge, and after checking with a surgical board member, a paediatric surgeon might be expected to do four or five such procedures in a year in an average practice, but there were over 200 in the report. Paediatricians regard the procedure as unnecessary. All paediatric textbooks agree. Apparently, some paediatric surgeons overseas, parent support groups, and speech therapists are quite keen on it. There is no good evidence base on which to decide who is right. The concerns were: 1. As there was no known indication for the treatment, should it have been part of a randomised controlled trial? 2. Ethics committee approval was not sought. 3. The stated indications for surgery were highly subjective and, in any case, mostly regarded by paediatricians as representing normal and transient physiological or behavioural events. 4. There were no statements made about mode of referral, and these surely could not have been made by local paediatricians. 5. Many infants were not anaesthetised, although the author claimed it caused no distress. The papers were rejected, and the author was informed of the anxieties. What should be done now?
_ In the absence of an evidence base relating to the procedure’s indications any trial should have a control arm and be approved by the institution’s research ethics committee. _ The papers were submitted as cases series, where there had been a range of preoperative symptoms and no standardised pre or postoperative assessment reported. It was unclear whether the procedures were carried out in private or public practice. Did the papers represent a research study? _ In similar previous cases, investigators had to go back to the theatre records, patient notes, and original statistical analysis. It is sometimes difficult to draw a line between where clinical innovation ends and experimentation begins. _ The editor should seek clarification from the author, advising him that he would raise his concerns with the institution where the surgeon was based/operations being carried out, over the failure to obtain ethical committee approval for an unusual procedure. _ If patient safety is an issue there is a statutory duty on the chief executive of the hospital to ensure this.
The editor wrote to the author’s institution, informing the author about this course of action. The author had requested a copy of the letter and also the COPE minute on the case. The chief executive of the institution agreed to fully investigate the case. The medical director convened a Trust committee/panel, which concluded that the doctor’s activities did not count as research and gave the procedure a clean bill of health. The panel felt that the work submitted to the journal was a case series. The editor was not informed of the membership of the inquiry. He felt that the committee of inquiry appeared to have not taken external advice on the procedure under scrutiny. Patients had been referred from a substantial group of non-clinicians, a normal practice in this field, but there is some disquiet in local medical circles that this procedure is being carried out in such volume.
It was brought to the attention of Journal A that a paper published in 2002 was similar (title, summary, introduction, case, survey, results, discussion) to a paper published in Journal B. Journal A is a very technical journal that reports conference proceedings and is not peer reviewed. Furthermore, Journal B had received a letter from the authors of another paper, published in a very prestigious journal, which had been criticised in the version of the paper published in Journal B. Journal B has a policy of not publishing letters in their journal, but the letter was sent on to the authors of the paper. When submitting their paper to Journal A, the authors took into account some comments made in the letter forwarded by the editor of Journal B. The authors then made use of these comments in modifying the second paper without acknowledging the authors of the letter. The editor of Journal A often felt that the article published in journal B was a full paper even though the authors disputed this. Journal B’s editor said the authors had been “blacklisted. ”
_ Was the letter from the authors of the paper being criticised analogous to a reviewer’s report? Reviewers comment on papers and authors then rewrite the paper addressing any concerns. _ The editor felt that this was not entirely analogous as the letter was not “friendly” advice and had been written with a view to publication, rebutting the article’s criticism. _ The content of the letter had not been plagiarised. _ The letter authors knew that their comments had been passed on by journal B. _ The editor felt that the authors of the letter would want their concerns published. _ The authors should be asked to respond to the issues raised by the letter authors about duplicate publication and then the editors should publish a notice of retraction. _ If the article in journal B was—as the editor stated—peer reviewed, how could the authors not know about this? _ However, the publication of society abstracts can occasionally lead to inadvertent publication. Peer review can simply mean a panel reviewing the abstracts or posters for proceedings. Some societies record and print everything presented at their meetings. _ The high degree of overlap between the two papers suggested poor practice on the authors’ part. _ The editor should write to the authors’ employers about the issue and inform the authors of this. _ The editor should also publish a notice of duplicate publication in the journal. _ Indefinite “blacklisting” is not a considered action
A paper was submitted to an online journal with the order of authors A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. After review, the manuscript was accepted for publication, subject to the authors making some minor changes. While making the formatting changes, the submitting author changed the order of the authors to B, A, C, D, E, F, G. This change was not noticed by the editors and the manuscript was published on the website as a preliminary PDF document while the final HTML form was being prepared. The submitting author was notified of acceptance and the posting of a preliminary version. At this stage, author A contacted the editors to say that the author list was incorrect. As the manuscript was not in its final form, it was still technically possible to make changes to the author list at this stage. The editor contacted authors A, B, and G (submitting author) to ask them to agree between them the correct author list and to contact the editors, via the submitting author, within one week. The editor also suggested that a possible solution might be to indicate that the authors A and B contributed equally. Author A contacted the editor to say the author list should be A, B, C, D, E, F, G and author G contacted the editor to say that the author list should be B, A, C, D, E, F, G. Given this disagreement, the editor decided it was not the editor’s position to mediate and asked author G (submitting author) to confirm that all authors were aware of the decision to list the authors as B, A, C, D, E, F, G. Author E contacted the editor to say that he was happy for the order to be decided by author G (submitting author). However, author G did not reply. After receiving no reply, the editor contacted author G again, saying that unless they heard to the contrary, the article would be published with the author list B, A, C, D, E, F, and G. After a further week, the editor had still heard nothing from author G and therefore decided to publish the article with the author order B, A, C, D, E, F, G since this was the order the submitting author had specified. The paper had been in preliminary form for over four weeks. The journal’s practice is to send an acknowledgement at submission to all authors. Papers are published on the same day as acceptance or shortly thereafter. This is the citation that PubMed picks up for indexing. The finalised html version is then posted a few days later. The journal now also emails all authors at acceptance stage. Should the case have been handled differently?
order. In cases of dispute the journal might want to sanction temporary withdrawal of the paper from the website. _ However, the order, which promoted author B, would have already been picked up for citation purposes. _ The journal could post a temporary retraction, but this would lay the process open to abuse by those maliciously objecting to the authorship order. _ A comment could be posted, outlining the authorship dispute. _ The journal could review its editorial policy and procedures concerning authorship disputes. _ Rearrangement of authorship often occurs in cases of duplicate publication or where co-authors are clearly not looking at the work.
A paper was submitted, detailing a small overseas trial of a drug treatment of a politically controversial disease. The treatment was moderately toxic. The paper was seen by two referees (A and B), who had considerable criticisms of the methodology used. Comments were also received from C, who was invited to review but refused, because s/he did not want his/her name known to the authors under the terms of the journal’s open peer review policy. C said that there was little justification for this trial and therefore could not imagine it having been granted research ethics committee approval. C also mentioned that the study was funded using non-peer reviewed, government funds. Another referee (D) was consulted, who again did not want his/her identity to be revealed to the authors, but reiterated C’s concerns. The paper was rejected on methodological grounds, but with an offer to see if the authors could address the criticisms. The authors revised and resubmitted the paper, which was sent to the more critical referee (B). His view was that the authors had done little to improve it. Another referee (E) was consulted, who was also sent the comments from C and D. E was happy to take part in open peer review, and concluded that the trial had little biological justification;was poorly conducted and reported; and that it was of such poor quality that the research ethics committees who approved it must be informed. The editors rejected the paper and wrote to the two research ethics committees who approved the study, enclosing B and E’s signed reports (with their permission). The authors were informed, and wrote a letter expressing their outrage that the journal had contacted the research ethics committees. It proved difficult to identify contact details for the research ethics committees that approved the intervention part of the study. Should the editors do more? Should the authors be asked to provide full details of their research ethics committees now and in the future?
_ The authors should have been contacted first and asked to respond to the doubts raised before the editor went to the research ethics committees. _ Write to the authors’ institution to check that the research ethics committee approval process had been correctly undertaken. _ Research ethics committee approval of potentially unethical research implicates the employer, so it would have been difficult to approach the employer first with these concerns. _ Open peer review policy needs to be explicit: it is open at all times, except in cases of suspected misconduct. _ Ask the authors to respond to doubts about the paper. (The editors had gone back to the ethics committees and wanted to re-review the articles. Did they have a duty of confidentiality to the author?) _ Ideally, the ethics committee should contact the authors directly. If the authors refuse to send the articles then public interest in the ethics committees being able to review the work would justify a breach in editorauthor confidentiality. But the editor should inform the author of any such action. _ The willingness of editors to breach editor-author confidentiality, where public interest justifies a breach, should be made explicit. _ Authors may not be aware of this fact and some rely on a lack of communication between journals to perpetrate duplicate submission and publication. _ It is usually the case that where the author is open about papers and their submission to another journal, that there are legitimate reasons to send the other papers elsewhere and sufficient differences in the papers to justify separate publication. _ In North America there was a fear of litigation arising out of such cases, but following the Tarasoff case, where it was held that the duty to warn and protect identifiable third party interests overrides a duty of confidentiality, a breach of confidentiality can be justified. In Belgium the duty of confidentiality is absolute, but there is no EU law on the issue.
A contribution about training in family medicine training was published in a journal. Subsequently, a letter from the chairman of the department of family medicine at the university with which the author claimed to have been affiliated, said that the author did not work there. The author was asked for an explanation. He replied that he had done it involuntarily and that he would be happy for an erratum to be published in the journal, making this clear. Is the author guilty of misconduct or something else?
_ The editor needs to find out if the author had worked in the department before or whether he had never worked there. _ Had the author used the university’s headed notepaper when making his submission? _ The current employer, or appropriate regulatory body if there is no employer, should be asked to investigate the use of another affiliation. _ Passing off papers under false credentials is potentially serious and could call into question the author’s ability to write the paper. _ But this would only be the case if there were a deliberate intention to deceive. _ The editor needs to investigate why this happened more thoroughly and find out what the author meant by “involuntary mistake. ” _ Publish an erratum clearly stating the affiliation is wrong.
A paper was accepted, pending a revised version, which made use of official government information on reported health reactions in a particular age group over a 20 year period. Two of the authors were academics and two worked for the government’s health department. When the revision arrived, the names of the latter two authors were missing. One of them explained that they could not reach agreement with the first two authors on the revision, which seemed odd as they had presumably agreed the original version and the subsequent changes were minor. The lead author said that publication of the revision could lead to a major public health scare as the wording of the conclusions was very likely to mislead the media into ascribing causation to what was actually association. The dissidents were invited to write a commentary detailing their objections. The lead author agreed, but subsequently, a high ranking official telephoned the editor, pointing out the health department’s concerns. The official assured the editor that s/he had no intention of suppressing research, but asked the editor to consider the possible implications for the public interest. The official did not want the juniors to write the commentary. The academics’ head of department button holed the editor at a scientific meeting and explained that s/he was also concerned over the risks of misinterpretation but could not intervene because s/he had a conflict of interest, being a member of the government’s regulatory body controlling the database used in the study. Consequently the head of department had asked the vice chancellor, who luckily had a relevant qualification in the area, to intervene instead. The editor was informed that the senior author might have contacted a politician, requesting a parliamentary question be raised, if the data were suppressed, although this has not been confirmed. The chairman of the regulatory body then contacted the editor, also expressing support for academic freedom, but urging great caution. The editor believed the real message was that the database concerned was an inadequate method of determining safety in the area it purported to cover, rather than the stated message, which was that certain adverse reactions had caused deaths. Concerned that the pressure exerted had tainted his judgement, the editor sought the advice of an independent reviewer, who largely agreed with him. The editor then discussed the whole issue with the authors and suggested ways to rewrite the paper, such that the data were protected, but also that the public interest was best served. Not surprisingly, the authors had been put under pressure, but agreed to consider the editor’s suggestions in a further revision. The editor wrote a commentary to accompany the article, which was directed at the media. Despite the anxieties of the authors’ superiors, the paper attracted little media attention. The editor felt largely untouchable, because he is not a health service employee, but other editors who are might find similar pressure difficult to deal with.
_ If junior authors could not publish without the consent of their superiors, this raises the matter of authorship, whereby some of the authors are not acknowledged for their work, whether for credit or accountability to the readers. _ The work itself might be regarded differently because the source of the information would not be clear. In some ways this was analogous to pharmaceutical trials being withdrawn if the results were unfavourable. _ “Disappearing authors” are a frequent occurrence and the work of those who contributed significantly, for example, statisticians, is often left out. _ Ultimately, the editor can refuse to publish a piece where authorship issues arise.