Author A published a paper in Journal X, which presented evidence of failure by another research group to declare a serious conflict of interest in a paper that had been published some years before in Journal Y. This conflict of interest centred around the undeclared involvement of a third party with a vested interest. Evidence for this was presented in the form of correspondence from the third party stating explicitly that they had developed the work and written a draft of the paper. The paper reached conclusions which had significant favourable policy implications for the third party.
A year later, the research group submitted a response to Journal X, in which they strenuously denied Author A’s conclusions. They accused Author A of libel for suggesting that this undeclared involvement had taken place. They stated “We conceived of this paper, collected the data on which it was based, performed the statistical analyses, wrote the manuscript, and had the final say as to what went into it.”
Most importantly, the research group stated explicitly that they had had no contact with the third party other than to obtain some publicly available, although expensive, information. This remark was made in the context of their emphatic denial that the third party had had any role in the conception, data analysis and preparation of the manuscript.
The editor of Journal X asked Author A, along with three other reviewers, to review the research group’s reply. Each reviewer raised significant criticisms, which prompted the editor to request a radical resubmission from the research group.
Author A’s review presented authentic documentary evidence in the form of correspondence between the third party and the research group. This referred explicitly to research being undertaken on the same data used in the published paper. This contradictory evidence thus revealed thor the the research group had made a serious misleading statement in their original reply to Journal X.
The research group duly resubmitted their revised response. Critically, it did not contain the statement they had originally made, but reiterated that the third party had had no role in their published research.
Author A was shown their revised response and invited to write a reply for simultaneous publication. He was advised that he could not refer to the statement in his reply because this no longer appeared in the revised manuscript. Author A’s response however, did reference the contradictory evidence, in the process of reiterating that the research group had failed to establish that the third party had not been involved in their original paper.
Journal X then accepted both submissions. But the research group withdrew their reply, compelling the withdrawal of Author A’s reply, because it relied on the publication of the research group’s response.
The editors felt the research group had submitted a misleading statement, which they imagined would never be revealed as such, and intended that it would constitute a defence for why they had not declared the involvement of a significant vested interest in their original paper to Journal Y. Had the editor not chosen to select Author A as a reviewer, this intended deception might never have never been revealed.
The review process allowed the authors to sanitise their reply for eventual publication. The editor, Author A, and the research group thus remain the only people who know about this. By withdrawing the paper, the research group may have calculated that they would thus avoid the embarrassment of having the contradictory evidence exposed.
When authors attempt to mislead readers and are found to have done so during the review process, do editors have any right or duty to publicise such attempts in their journals?
When authors withdraw a paper, do editors have any right to override that withdrawal?
Should the editors’ duty go beyond taking the matter up with the authors’ institutions?
Notwithstanding his agreement that the review process is confidential, should Author A have any right or duty to publicise his experience in uncovering this attempt at deception?
It was intriguing that the authors denied the allegation, when they seem to have lied and tried to cover up what they had done.
It was not clear if the lead author was a university employee.
Editors do have a right to publicise attempts to mislead; it is also in the public’s interest.
The editor should publish and be damned, but after having sought legal advice.
The journal should write a very strong letter to the author's institution.
Author A should have the right to publicise his experience of uncovering deception.
A reviewer informed Journal A that a manuscript s/he had been asked to review was very similar to one s/he had reviewed for Journal B. The lead author was informed about this and told the editors would come back to him after discussing the matter further.
These discussions found striking similarities between the two papers and that the two manuscripts had been handled within the same time period. The Editorial Board concluded that the author had violated publication ethics for medical journals, and plans to reject the manuscript, explaining the reasons to the author, and informing Journal B of its findings.
Dr B accepted an invitation to review a manuscript for Journal A. Dr B was aware only of the title of the manuscript and had read the abstract before accepting the invitation. He was also aware that he was to return his review within two weeks.
When the review failed to materialise within the allotted period, the editorial office of Journal A sent the reviewer four email reminders over the course of the next month. Without ever replying to any of these reminders, Dr B submitted his own manuscript to Journal A for consideration. When the editorial office confirmed the acceptance of this manuscript, they also reminded him that they had yet to receive his review. Dr B did not respond.
When Dr B’s own paper was looked at, it became clear that there was a significant degree overlap in the content of his paper and the one he was supposed to be reviewing. While the editors did not feel that Dr B had plagiarised the review manuscript, they were concerned that he had acted unethically.
He had accepted an invitation to review a manuscript that was very similar to research that his own laboratory was conducting and planning to submit to the same journal. Although this scenario is not explicitly addressed in the journal’s instructions to reviewers, it is Journal A’s expectation that professionals in this situation will decline the invitation to review in order to avoid a conflict of interest.
Because of the obvious conflict of interest in this case, the editors cannot help but wonder whether Dr B deliberately failed to complete his promised review of the first manuscript until he had submitted his own work so as to delay the review process for the first manuscript, perhaps in an effort to advantage his own.
Should sanctions be imposed in this case?
What should be done with the manuscript that Dr B submitted to Journal A?
The reviewer’s conduct does seem to be malicious and perhaps the manuscript should be given to a second reviewer.
The reviewer should have declared his conflict of interest.
Does the covering letter sent to reviewers ask them to declare if they are working on something similar?
Decide on whether or not to publish the first paper: it takes precedence because it was the first to arrive in the editorial office.
Decide then whether to publish the second paper, based on the decision on the first paper (with another reviewer).
It would be acceptable to send the first paper out to the reviewers of the second, asking how much the second paper adds.
Check the letter sent to peer reviewers: does it make clear that reviewers should declare if they are working on a very similar piece of work?
Write to the reviewer expressing concerns about his behaviour, and ask him to give an account of himself.
An English language journal received a study describing a randomised controlled trial. The paper was accepted and published several months later. Five months after its publication the editors were informed that a similar study had been published in a German language journal two years earlier. Three of the four authors were involved. It had been carried out over the same time period, using the same methods, and had arrived at the same conclusion. The only difference was that the earlier publication involved 168 cases and the later one 200. The second article did not reference the earlier publication nor had the editors been made aware of its existence. Had the editors known about the earlier publication the chances of publication of the second paper would have been significantly weakened. The lead author was contacted to explain. He apologised for the oversight, acknowledging that the second article should have referenced the first, but arguing that the first article would not have been generally accessible to most of the journal’s readership. He continued that the second publication expanded on the earlier pilot study of 32 patients, while the discussion considered other countries. The tables and text were original and not copied from any previous article, he said. He added that the authors would be pleased to acknowledge in an erratum that this was an unintentional oversight. - Does this constitute dual publication? - Should the authors’ apology be accepted or should the matter be taken further?
- This case should really be called redundant publication. - The explanation that this was an oversight is simply not credible. - The question is how will other people know that this is an expansion of the first study? - The editors should write to the authors’ institutions and post a notice of redundant publication.