Journal A published a paper in 2002. In 2004 the Editor of Journal A was contacted by a reader, who expressed his doubts as to the integrity of one of the authors associated with the 2002 paper. The reader suggested that the author in question had been involved in the fraudulent publication of a paper published in Journal B in 2001. The reader had noted that the article published in Journal B in 2001 was almost an exact copy of an article published in Journal C in 1990.
The Editor of Journal A examined copies of the articles from Journals B and C and concluded that this appeared to be a case of plagiarism.
How should the Editor of Journal A act in this situation, given that Journal A is not the victim of the alleged plagiarism and that Journal C has ceased publication?
The committee questioned if there had been any attempt to contact the editor of journal B and make him/her aware of the situation.
Write to the author and ask for an explanation and if that is not satisfactory contact the author’s institution. Also journal A should check the 2002 article to make sure it is not plagiarised.
We have followed COPE’s advice and have sent a letter to the author at the centre of this case expressing our concerns that the papers in question are very similar and asking for an explanation. We have also written to the Editor-in-Chief of the journal in which the second paper was published to alert him to the situation. We enclosed a copy of our letter to the author and also copies of both papers so the journal has all the information to hand.
Each letter was approved by our legal department before it was sent so the process took a little longer to complete than expected. We do not yet have any response from either the author or the journal but hopefully we should hear soon.
Further update (April 2007)
Following dispatch of the letters referred to in the first update, we did receive a response from the Editor of the journal in which the allegedly fraudulent paper was published. As a result of our letter the Editor had written to the author and asked for an explanation. We have not had any response from the author.
In 2003 a paper was published in a specialist surgical journal following proper peer review. The paper summarised the experience of a group of clinicians concerned in treating malignancy in the Head and Neck using a novel method of therapy - and was a case series of 25 patients. The paper was not considered to be one of high priority but was published because of the paucity of information concerning this method of treatment in the literature. The principal author had 3 co-authors all of whom signed the relevant documentation stating that they had played a substantial part in the preparation of the manuscript and stating that there were no conflicts of interest to be declared. Copyright, following publication, was ascribed to the publishing journal.
In May 2005 the editor of a prestigious journal in the United States sent an e-mail to the current editor in this country stating that he had been in receipt of a manuscript, submitted electronically, which appeared to be an attempt at duplicate publication. He requested that a pdf file of the original article was sent to him and, in due course, confirmed that the new manuscript that he had received was a re-write of the already published paper with the addition of one extra case. The original paper was not cited in the new manuscript. The co-authors had mostly changed but the senior author and one co-author were common to both papers. Once again a covering letter had been received alleging that a substantial original input had been made by all the authors and stating that there were no conflicts of interest outstanding.
The American editor has now written to the senior author of the received manuscript requesting an explanation for this attempt at duplicate publication. To date no response has been received. He, together with other senior editors in the United States, has already published an editorial stating that plagiarism or proven duplicate publication would be punished by denying the individuals concerned access to publishing rights in the major American journals. No tariff was laid out in this editorial and the exact time for which those proven of fraud or fraudulent behaviour would be denied publication in the United States was not proscribed.
The situation is further complicated since the editor in this country is a professional colleague of the senior author who is alleged to have attempted this duplicity. In addition to this the senior author has already, in the past, been suspended from clinical practice for a period of four months while an untoward clinical incident was investigated and a Royal College of Surgeons inquiry was instituted.
Pending further explanation the senior editor in this country has already been in touch with the other British publication covering the same topic areas and both are agreed that they will, in principle, follow the American lead and will deny publication to those proven to have been engaged in duplicate publication or plagiarism. Both have also agreed to write a joint editorial on this issue once the outcome of this case is known.
However I would be grateful if advice could be given to us concerning the appropriateness of such action and also if some insight could be offered as to whether alternative action might prove preferable in this instance.
The committee thought that this was almost tantamount to blacklisting. COPE has never suggested blacklisting as a method. The journal should decide if there should be a notice of duplicate publication and then notify the authors.
The committee thought that it is not right to ban authors, blacklists raise a myriad of legal difficulties and also have a lack of due process. A better route is to contact the institution.
At the subsequent committee meeting in December 2005, the previous advice from COPE regarding the “blacklisting” of authors who attempt duplicate publication—namely, that such action could have serious legal implications and publishers and editors should be very cautious of going down this route—was re-emphasised by the chair. Any attempt to deny authors access to journals might put the publishers of those journals at risk of legal action. Faced with this problem of duplication publication, another less risky route might be for editors to develop a “grey list” of those authors who may have transgressed in this regard, in order that special attention may be paid to articles they submit.
We have just had a paper submitted as an ethical debate in which the author details ethical concerns about a study previously published in another journal. The study involved complementary/alternative therapy for an infectious disease in children. The author alleges that the study gave insufficient protection to vulnerable subjects, who were exposed to unwarranted risks and discomfort; and that the study had violated the accepted tenets of human studies ethics and national regulations.
The submitted manuscript summarizes (with full names of people involved, their affiliations and positions) various correspondence between the author and the investigators of the published study, the Institutional Review Board that approved the study, the office for the protection of human subjects in research of the associated medical school, the country’s regulatory authority for the protection of human subjects in research and the editors of the journal that published the paper.
The country’s regulatory authority for the protection of human subjects in research found that the author’s allegations were unsubstantiated. The author claims in reaching this decision, the authority had misinterpreted aspects of the study, prompted by false statements from the Principal Investigator and the presiding IRB. The authority, the IRB and the investigators all asserted (with reasons) that certain usual human subject protections did not apply in this study. The author gives rebuttals for these assertions.
The medical school stated it would not pursue the matter because of the conclusions already reached by the reviews conducted by the IRB and the country’s regulatory authority for the protection of human subjects in research.
The journal that published the study declared that no purpose would be served to its readers by publishing further correspondence (letter from our author), again citing the conclusions of the country’s regulatory authority.
The author lists as failing in their duty all the above-mentioned people/authorities, including the editors of the journal that published the paper.
Questions:Should we consider this for peer-review?
If we ultimately publish, are there legal issues surrounding perceived defamation of character when the regulatory bodies above have found the allegations unsubstantiated?
Presumably we would have to inform the investigators/authorities involved about our plan to publish and be prepared to publish a response from them?
Would it be acceptable to publish it in an anonymised format if the author agreed to this?
The editor provided further clarification on the case pointing out that the accusations include, the editors of the journals, the institutional review boards, and members of the national agencies involved in reviewing the case. The author also alleges that the principal of the study lied to the authorities. The medical school involved is not pursuing the case as it defers to the national authority. The committee commented that what ever the editor does, they will be in trouble and added to the authors list! It was pointed out that the complaint had been taken to the highest level in the country and it is difficult to see why the editor should join in the debate and there was speculation if the material should be published. It sounded like the author wants all those involved with their heads on the block.
It was asked if the author had completed a competing interest statement, they have not. The editor thought that the author seemed to be investigating and doesn’t seem to have a personal interest. Though the author requested that no-one on the editorial board with any interest in complimentary medicine be involved in peer reviewing the paper.
The committee commented that the first port of call should be the editors lawyers, as the legal issues would take precedence. It was also pointed out that there was a contradiction in the author’s account, as since the issue had gone to the countries regulatory authority, the author would have had chances to air their view and correct the misleading statements. Apparently the author had written to the regulatory authority. Also probably the first legal advice the editor will be given is to check to see that ALL the facts in the article can be substantiated, and probably no-lawyer will advise the editor to publish as they are risk adverse.
Also it was suggested the editor should do a pubmed search on the author, as this perhaps seemed like an author who had a bee in their bonnet about complementary medicine.
The advice was for the editor to seek legal advice. The committee was unenthusiastic on taking further action. This is the sort of paper that should be sent to the press. The editor should reject the paper citing legal advice.
We took legal advice. It was felt that the risk of publishing allegations which respected bodies had already found to be unsubstantiated was too high, laying us open to a claim for defamation from the people the allegations were made about.
We rejected the manuscript, stating that the decision had been made after taking legal advice.
An internet search revealed the author to have previously been involved in various anti-complementary/alternative therapy campaigns.
To date we have not had any further correspondence with the author following rejection of the manuscript.
In summary, we have a case series, with no control group, of patients with different conditions treated for an undiagnosed underlying condition with an arbitrarily prescribed dosage of a drug which is not registered for treating any of the conditions nor the undiagnosed underlying condition. I rejected the paper for publication and let the author know that the ethics committee of the journal will review the paper.
There committee questioned where the institute was based. It was pointed out that in some countries, this type of procedure is standard practice. It was also pointed out that in the past, there is no response from the institution, and often no response. Also it was thought that perhaps journals had a role in publishing such a paper to illustrate what is going no in other countries.
The advice was to: (A) send the author a firm letter, (B) write to the institution, (C) write to the countries registration body.
The editor wrote to the author’s institution, asking them to investigate the author in the light of the lack of ethical considerations applied in the submitted study. No reply has yet been received. The journal’s own ethics committee discussed the problem of lack of ethical approval for studies conducted in institutions from countries where ethics committees may not exist. It was commented that failure to obtain ethics committee approval may not necessarily be an automatic bar to publishing a paper. Nevertheless, in studies such as this one, ethics committee approval would be expected. Furthermore, there are robust ethical guidelines available in the WMA protocols and the Declaration of Helsinki for authors to follow. It was suggested that an editorial on what to do with articles from authors who have no access to ethics committees might be appropriate. The editor is considering an editorial on the problem of lack of ethics committees in some institutions from developing countries
We had a case of suspected plagiarism recently on one of our journals, on which I would appreciate COPE’s advice. The case has been resolved, so this is not in the least urgent, but I would be interested to hear your views.
Very briefly, at review stage the editor spotted substantial similarities between a paper submitted to our journal and a review published recently in a related title. We queried the corresponding author, on the editor’s behalf, and he claimed that the similarities were just due to “coincidence”. This was somewhat hard to believe given the large chunks of text that had been lifted and given a light edit.
After some to-ing and fro-ing, the paper was subsequently withdrawn, but should the authors have tried to brazen it out, what should our next action have been? Should we have gone to the corresponding author’s institution?
This was the reason given by the junior author, for interest:
I am sorry for my <paper reference>. I might think those sentences is more suitable to express my viewpoint so that those sentences be used directly in his review. However this is bad habit for writing review among few students. I already contacted with <corr author> and another author, we all agree to withdraw this review written by myself.
The committee noted that the paper being withdrawn was not a resolution, as there was a good chance that the paper would be submitted again to another journal. There seemed to have been a lack of communication between the junior and senior author. It was thought this could be a cultural misunderstanding, but it looked like a mistake. It was also thought that the sentences could have been lifted because they were in better English than the author could write (particularly considering the spelling and grammar in the letter). It was also pointed out that there are different views in different countries. For instance in some countries there are many practices that have absolutely no proven clinical benefit. It was also pointed out that when an author submits an article to a journal, then they are agreeing to the journals conditions and standards.
The committee considered if this should be taken any further, for instance to write to the institution involved. Or all the authors could be contacted to see if anyone else has something to say. The committee thought that to prevent further cases in the future then it is necessary to educate people, but were somewhat hesitant as a letter to the institution could have unintended consequences.
The wrap over the knuckles given is sufficient. The committee thought that if the authors had tried to brazen it out, this would have been a different matter and would have required further pursuit.
The editor had already administered a rap over the knuckles to the author. The committee's recommendation was that this was sufficient, especially as the author had withdrawn his paper after admitting to the “bad habit” of using other researchers' phrases.
Information on competitors participating in a popular sporting activity was obtained from a website in the public domain. The authors used this data to see if the competitors' personal characteristics (height, weight etc.) affected their chances of winning. The editor asked the authors how they obtained consent from the competitors for this study. The authors responded saying that this data was in the public domain and therefore exempt from any requirement for ethics review.
By making their personal data available on a public website have the competitors also accepted that it will be available for medical research?
In this study, the authors were only reporting on basic information, but if they had included conditions/illnesses that these people were known to have, is that a problem?
The committee thought there is a lot of medical information in the public domain without consent. For instance if there was a claim that Kate Moss was anorexic and on drugs would we be shocked if it was included in a discussion on dietary habits? The committee thought that this paper was more for the lay press. If the information is available on a public website there is also the question of how robust the data is. It sounds like a dull paper that is not medical.
This is not an issue. Standards are set by the press complaints commission. The research sounds dull and it should be checked to see if it is robust.
The editor contacted the author and asked him to explain the fact that given that readers may be able to recognise the competitors from the information used, had he obtained consent from them? Alternatively, he was asked if he could provide proof that the study was approved by a recognised ethics committee who explicitly considered and addressed this issue. The editor also questioned the existence of the “website in the public domain” as it could not be accessed.
The author replied that at the time of data collection the website was viable, and the result of each match was posted publically. Since then the site has changed and these data are no longer posted on the website, likely because they are outdated. However, similar data are available from another site containing the same elements as the data used in the author’s study. The author also stated that as these data were in the public domain, the project was exempt from the requirement for ethics review as per the following two guidelines for ethics in human research:
(1) Tri-Council Policy Statement, Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, Canada, 1998, Article 1.1(c) "Research about a living individual involved in the public arena, or about an artist, based exclusively on publicly available information, documents, records, works, performances, archival material or third-party interviews, is not required to undergo ethics review."
(2) OHRP-Code of Federal Regulations 46.101(b)(4): (b) ... the following categories are exempt from this policy: (4) Research involving the collection or study of existing data, documents, records, pathological specimens, or diagnostic specimens, if these sources are publicly available..."
The manuscript was then reviewed. Both referees recommended that the manuscript be rejected as it had has no valid biological question.
A review article by an expert group plagiarised an article from another journal. It was largely a direct translation, involving large slabs of the text. Some of the authors are on the editorial board of the journal where the paper was published. There was no declaration that this was a translation of another article.
The editor is potentially in a very difficult situation, and someone will have to search through the work of the entire group to see if this has happened before.
The minimum charges here are that the authors have received gift authorship.
Write to all the authors separately and ask for an explanation.
Write to the authors’ institutions.
Inform the advisory board.
Retract the article.
Check all the articles from the authors.
Remove the offenders from the editorial board.
The paper was retracted by the authors, who gave all sorts of explanations, from trying to get around the allegations, to saying they shouldn’t have been listed as authors. The editor wrote an editorial on the paper, which attracted considerable media coverage. Members of the editorial board were removed and the institutions involved took the matter very seriously.
A paper submitted to Journal A was rejected after critical peer review. Although the data and methods were sound, the data in the paper were not new and had been described, at least in part, in previous publications. The authors could also have combined the outcomes in the current paper with previous papers, thereby avoiding salami publication. The methods section was opaque, making it very difficult to decipher which subjects were new and which were already counted in previous studies.
The authors appealed against the referee’s comments saying that the data were new, and the method of data collection was entirely different from their previous studies. They argued that there were too many outcomes for all of them to be included in one study. The journal that published one set of outcomes had actually asked them to divide them. All four papers referenced each other so that readers could see what the overlap was. The authors also stated that it was only through analysing the previous papers that the hypothesis for the latest study came about. But they agreed that the method section was not clear and agreed to rewrite it to clarify the relationship with the previous papers.
Journal A considered the appeal but did not feel able to recommend or reject the paper because they did not have the depth of knowledge about the dataset that the reviewer did. There were also discrepancies between the author’s rebuttal and the paper itself. The rebuttal was therefore sent to the original referee who re-analysed the data and concluded that the overlap between the current and previous studies amounted to about two thirds of the data.
There were major discrepancies within the current manuscript in terms of the number of participants analysed. Even he could not be sure what the degree of overlap was, but he was not surprised that the editorial team were confused, and he suggested that readers would never be able to work this out. He therefore recommended that it would not be ethical for Journal A to publish the paper.
The editors can’t be absolutely sure that this is a case of salami publication without asking the authors to provide a much more detailed paper that they have very little intention of publishing.
What should the editors do?
Is salami publication a heinous enough crime to warrant all the extra effort and bad feeling?
A distinction needs to be made between salami and redundant publication: where there is a two thirds overlap, it is redundant publication.
If the hypotheses were completely separate questions then it is acceptable for them to be posed in two separate papers.
If they are related questions, or very closely related, then they should be published as a single paper.
Salami publication is where papers cover the same population, methods, and question.
Splitting up papers by outcomes is not legitimate.
It is an editorial decision as to whether to publish or not: there is no ethical problem here.
An observational study submitted to an institutional journal was sent for peer review. The authors were invited to submit a revision six months later. They did so, but had not responded fully to the reviewers' points, so they were asked for further clarification of their selection criteria, publication plan, and evidence of ethical approval. A paper by the same authors describing the same cohort had been published in another journal, and there was considerable overlap.
It then transpired that the study had no formal ethical approval, which the authors justified by saying that their institute had no ethics committee, the study involved no intervention as such, and that they had voluntarily adhered to their country's medical research council guidelines for research on human subjects.
A request was sent to the funding body, a branch of the journal's institution, to clarify the procedure by which a study with no ethical approval had been funded, in obvious breach of the institution's stated policy. The reply indicated that the protocol had not been reviewed by the appropriate committee, and that the principal investigator had been funded through a temporary contract. The paper was then rejected. The authors appealed, but the editorial committee decided at a subsequent meeting to uphold their decision.
How should an institutional journal's editors investigate such a procedural lapse when it has occurred in their own institution?
There was a question of what the journal should do with the information.
A paper was published in an Italian language journal, together with an English abstract. A second paper was submitted to a UK journal, one of whose referees spotted the similar content.
Closer inspection indicates that both papers contain identical data and had an almost identical abstract and conclusions. The second paper does not reference, acknowledge, or cite the previous Italian publication. The covering letter to the journal confirms that the submitted material had not been published before.
The editors considered that parallel publication is quite common and acceptable when the purpose is to disseminate data from a foreign language only paper more widely, but wondered whether the authors should have been more forthcoming or accurate in their citations and covering letter.
This is a clear cut case of duplicate publication.
The editors should write to the authors and their institution.