The process of naming and describing novel species of bacteria is governed by the Bacteriological Code. As part of this process, authors are required to deposit the type strain of the novel species in at least two culture collections located in different countries, and they are also required to provide documentary evidence that the strains have been so deposited and that the deposited strains are viable and are available to other researchers without restrictions on their use for taxonomic research. This evidence takes the form of a “certificate” issued by the culture collection. This system has been developed to ensure that type strains are available for comparison with new strains isolated in the future, and to insure against collections going out of existence and/or changes in import/export regulations, etc. The priority of names is determined by the date of publication; in our journal, which is the journal of record for the description of novel species of prokaryotes, the date of publication reflects the date of acceptance (ie, papers are published in the strict order that they are accepted). Papers are not accepted for publication before suitable certificates have been provided for the type strains of any novel species described.
A culture collection curator contacted the editor-in-chief of our journal because of concerns about three type strains that had been deposited in their collection by the same group of researchers. Investigation by editorial office staff suggested that the certificates that had been provided by the authors (which took the form of unprotected Word files) might not have been issued by the culture collection concerned. The editorial office staff then undertook an investigation of the certificates from this collection provided in conjunction with all papers submitted by this group and asked the collection to confirm: (i) the specific curator responsible for handling that strain, (ii) whether they had issued a certificate for that strain and (iii), if so, the date on which the certificate was issued. This investigation suggested that a total of six certificates provided by this group had not been issued by the collection. All six were apparently signed by the same curator (who had not in fact been responsible for handling three of the strains, hence the original suspicion).
Following the COPE guidelines for suspicions of fabricated data, as the closest match to this situation, the editor-in-chief contacted the corresponding author of these papers and asked for an explanation. It then transpired that the curator had already contacted the corresponding author to request that this group stop “misusing her signature”, as she put it. The corresponding author was extremely apologetic and assured the editor-in-chief that this would not happen again. He also indicated that one of his co-authors had been responsible for obtaining certificates for these strains but that this co-author had since left his laboratory and returned to his native country. He provided a contact address for this co-author.
The editor-in-chief contacted this co-author and he admitted that he had produced the forged certificates in an attempt to expedite publication, and thereby secure priority for the names, without the knowledge of the corresponding author or his other co-authors. Again he was extremely apologetic and assured the editor-in-chief that this would not happen again.
Because bona fide evidence has therefore not been provided that these type strains have been deposited in two culture collections in different countries, the descriptions do not fulfil the requirements of the Bacteriological Code and the editor-in-chief took the following decisions: (i) a single paper that has been published in print will be retracted and (ii) four papers that have been published ahead of print but not in print will also be retracted in print, as these papers are already listed by PubMed. A sixth paper that was still under review was withdrawn by the corresponding author at the suggestion of the editor-in-chief.
A retraction statement has been drawn up after consulting the unpublished COPE guidelines on retractions and the wording has been agreed by the corresponding author and the co-author responsible for the forged certificates. The statement indicates that a certificate was provided by the named responsible author, without the knowledge of his co-authors, that was not issued by the culture collection concerned. These retractions have not yet been published.
As yet we have not contacted any of the authors’ institutions. Our preferred course of action is to contact only the institution where the responsible author is now based. The remaining authors are based in a country where scientific misconduct is a very sensitive issue and we are concerned to avoid damage to the reputations of those co-authors who were not aware of the falsification. The editor-in-chief is also considering writing an editorial to highlight this issue and to ask other collections to take steps to prevent their certificates from being similarly manipulated. We would like the advice of the committee as to the merits of this course of action.
The Forum reiterated the fact that if something is published online then it is considered published. If the strain cannot be reproduced, then the paper is in effect fraudulent. However, there is a wider question here. Should this process be considered as purely an administration step? The advice was to make sure the instructions to authors clearly state that the authors have collective responsibility. The Forum agreed with issuing a retraction statement and naming the authors responsible but also highlighting those authors not responsible. Some members of the Forum suggested approaching the new institution where the responsible author is now based. The Forum also agreed that an editorial to highlight this issue was a good idea and also asking other collections to take steps to prevent their certificates from being similarly manipulated or to ensure tighter security.
The editor heard no more from the offending author's institution to support the rumour that his employment had been terminated. The papers concerned have been resubmitted with the legitimate documentation without the offending author's name appearing on them and they are currently under review.
We have recently developed and begun to put into practice a policy on collection and declaration of conflicts of interest statements from any individual involved in contributing to or reviewing our pathways. This policy includes members of our editorial team, and contributor and reviewer members from our stakeholder groups. We have devised a standard form to collect these statements in a uniform way, and publish the declarations of interest from all contributors (both inhouse and external), but collect and do not make public those of peer reviewers.
Stakeholder group A, who provides clinical contributors and peer reviewers for some of our pathways, has a pre-existing declaration of interest policy for any review committee member performing work on behalf of the group which does not align with our own. Stakeholder A’s review committees undertake a number of functions for the group themselves; review of our pathways is an additional role they have taken on over the past 18 months. They collect the statements on a voluntary basis annually (or as new committee members join) and it is their current policy not to share those declarations with any outside group. The stakeholder group has suggested that it would be willing to sign an annual declaration to confirm that their committee members do not have any conflicts of interest.
However, we have requested that if an allegation of conflict of interest is raised with us, we require a process to ensure that the group’s committee make the individual members’ names and declarations available to us. We await the stakeholder’s views on this proposal, but would welcome COPE’s views:
Is it sufficient to collect a statement from the group to say that they have reviewed all of the individual statements for the committee members and determined that there is no troubling statement?
Is it reasonable to request a change in the stakeholder’s policy to ensure our access to the detail of the committee members’ individual statements in case of any allegation of conflict of interest?
The Forum questioned the logic of why you would obtain conflict of interest statements but not be able to see them? The rationale for competing interest statements is that they should be transparent. The advice was to obtain the names of the people and approach the individuals if possible. Also, the Forum reasoned that it is not sufficient to have annual statements—competing interest statements need to be up to date. Some suggested changing the wording and asking, for example, for any relevant interests (as opposed to conflicts) which might elicit more useful information.
We have agreed an exception to our conflict of interest for stakeholder group A. We will collect, hold but will not display the conflict of interest statements for anyone peer reviewing our pathways for accreditation purposes. We have agreed with stakeholder group A that they will provide an annual statement of assurance which describes the issue, outlines what they do to collect declarations from members and agrees a process on what happens should we need to investigate any declarations.
The authors wish to publish a case report that aims to characterise complex chromosomal abnormalities in a rare congenital syndrome. It describes, in detail, the clinical features of two newborn infants. When asked about consent to publish, the authors said they did not obtain it because the data were reported from existing clinical diagnostic test results and therefore did not constitute a systematic investigation and that no identifiable information was included in the manuscript.
The authors were told that consent was still needed and that they should attempt to obtain it from the children’s parents or next of kin. The authors said that it would not be possible to obtain consent from the parents since the mother of one child was now deceased and the other was lost to follow-up, but that they would attempt to obtain a waiver from their IRB. They provided a copy of an IRB approval letter with no specific mention of waiver of consent, but they did provide a copy of the application form which included a section where they provided a justification for not obtaining consent. The justification was that they were unable to obtain consent from the mothers and that the data they analysed was pre-existing clinical information and that no photographs or identifiable information would be published.
The authors feel that they have addressed the question of consent to publish and that their manuscript should proceed to publication. Despite the waiver from the ethics committee, one of the editors-in-chief feels that although consent would be burdensome to obtain, the study does not meet the other criteria set out by COPE to justify a waiver of consent: i.e. that the report is important to public health (or is in some other way important), and a reasonable patient would be unlikely to object to publication. Does the committee agree that an IRB waiver for consent for this study does not justify publication?
The Forum pointed out that consent to a treatment or intervention should not be confused with consent to publish. It is up to the journal to ensure that appropriate consent has been obtained and this is separate from IRB approval. If the balance of judgement is in favour of public interest, then the editor could consider publishing the cases, but only if the cases are completely anonymised with no identifying features. The Forum noted that this is a particular problem in paediatrics, which has often been discussed at the Forum. The Forum questioned whether it would be possible to write a comment on the general condition, without publishing the actual cases. Can a useful message be conveyed without giving specific details on the cases? In the end, it is a judgement call for the editor. He should try and obtain consent from anyone who is eligible or seek a balance of opinion from experts in the field and then decide whether or not to publish.
This research article investigated the effect of the widespread administration of a homeoprophylactic preparation against a bacterial zoonotic disease in a developing country after a period of particularly heavy rainfall. The authors claim to have given this oral preparation to all members of the population over 1 year of age, in three provinces of the country where this disease is prevalent (over 2 million people). This was done in parallel to the country’s conventional vaccination and surveillance programme. The authors claim that this intervention significantly reduced the incidence of the disease in the treated provinces compared with the non-treated provinces.
We asked the authors to provide more information on how they had addressed the ethical aspects of this study and to provide supporting documentation. They stated they would include a paragraph on ethical considerations in the text, but argued that the principle aim of the study was to report the results of a healthcare intervention as a response to an emergency situation and was not classical clinical trial research. They further argued that the product used in the intervention is a registered product of common use on the public health system of the country in question and all the administration was approved and regulated by the “National Regulatory Agency” and “Competing Health Authorities”. They also claimed that they had obtained ethics committee approval from four different ethics committees.
Despite repeated requests from us, the authors failed to provide documentation from the ethics committees or the National Regulatory Agency or to explain how they had obtained consent. They eventually did supply a document in Spanish purporting to be “approval from the National Regulatory Agency for the intervention that was granted after the analysis of proposals by ethic committee and meeting National Regulations from the Minister of Public Health”. However, on translation by one of our Spanish speaking members of staff, it turned out to be a statement of their intention to obtain ethics approval and consent.
We contacted the CDC to enquire whether such an intervention was known to be in use in this country. We were told that they were not aware that this intervention is in use in any official capacity. We rejected the manuscript on ethical grounds explaining to the authors why we were not prepared to consider it. All authors are affiliated to a private institute. The last author is its founder.
We would welcome advice from the committee on whether and how we should take this further, given the scale of the study and the conflicting statements of the authors and the CDC.
The Forum was told that this study was funded privately. The Forum questioned whether it was in fact a study? From the description, it seemed to be a report of a public health intervention. If that is indeed the case, then consent is not needed. The advice from the Forum was to seek confirmation that these interventions actually took place (since the numbers involved are so large and because of the discrepancy with the information from the CDC). Did the government introduce it? The Ministry of Health could be contacted. If the editor discovers that the whole event was fraudulent, then he should bring the case back to COPE.
We attempted to contact the Ministry of Health without success. We have contacted the director of PAHO (the Pan American Health Organization) and are awaiting a response.
This is a complicated case which involves possible plagiarism, double submission and reviewer misconduct. The timeline is as follows:
In year n, a paper P1 authored by A1 and A2 was published in the English language journal X. The paper describes a theoretical analysis of a particular phenomenon.
In year n+6, paper P2 was published in a non-English language outlet by authors A3 et al, which cites P1, but carries essentially the same scientific message.
In year n+8, A3 et al submitted paper P3 to conference Y without referencing P1 or P2. The main content of the paper was essentially the same as that in P1. This paper was awarded a best student paper prize at the conference and journal X, which has an arrangement with conference Y to fast track “extended” versions of best papers , invited submission of such an extended version. Journal Z, unbeknown to journal X, also invited a paper to be published in journal Z based on P3.
In year n+8, paper P4 was published in journal Z; the paper did not cite P1 and was only a very minor extension of P2; under journal X’s rules, P4 would have been rejected as not being sufficiently different from P3 since conference Y is regarded as archival in the field. The editors-in-chief of journal Z were two of the reviewers of P3.
In November year n+8, A3 et al submitted paper P5 to journal X. P5 has the same theoretical content as papers P1–P4, but also has a new experimental section, which does make a new contribution. P5 does reference P1, but only incidentally and does not properly acknowledge that the theoretical content of P5 has previously appeared in P1 (or indeed in P2–P4). The editor-in-chief of journal X was not alerted to the overlap with the previous papers by the two reviewers (who were, in fact, the editors of journal Z). It is not a coincidence that the reviewers of P5 were the same as for P3 since this is part of the journal’s fast tracking process. The editor-in-chief of journal X accepted the paper and it was published in year n+9.
Around 6 years later, journal X (with two new editors-in-chief) received two independent complaints that P5 contains large sections of material plagiarised from P1, noting that although P1 is referenced, the reference is not sufficient. Journal X starts investigations. Two editorial board members and an independent reviewer confirm the facts as stated above. One of the complaints was submitted in the form of a paper for publication; at present, this has not been sent out for review but is simply being treated as additional evidence/confirmation of plagiarism. (We have recently discovered that this paper has been posted on a web site devoted to plagiarism discussions.)
The co-authorship has changed over the papers P2–P5. A3 is constant (although not always first author) but the “et al” changes. Of particular note is that the authors of P3 are not a subset of P5, despite the fact that content-wise P3 is a subset of P5.
P5 has become highly cited and A3, although junior at the time of submission of P2–P5, has become well known with many papers and sits on the editorial board of journals. This should of course not affect our action, but it is worth noting that our decision could have a significant impact.
A3 has admitted in a non-English language web site that he was invited to submit a revised version of P2 to journals X and Y.
One of the complainants has just pointed us to another publication by A3 et al in a foreign language journal which again appears to have a high degree of overlap, published in the same year as P3 and P4. At the time of submission of this case we have not yet contacted A3 or the referees of P5.
Questions for COPE:
It is clear that the theoretical part of P5 is effectively plagiarised as the reference to P1 is insufficient. How severe should our response be?
There is some element of double submission (P4, P5): is this worth pursuing?
Should we take any action against the reviewers of P5 who have arguably acted unethically, or at least less than ideally?
Other comments are welcome on this complex case.
The Forum discussed this complicated case and agreed that there was some culpability on the part of the editors, given that authors A1 and A2’s work was plagiarised, there was redundant publication and possibly dual submission. The advice was to contact authors A1 and A2 and solicit their opinion. This will give the editor a stronger case against author A3. For multiple papers, the editor should assess the level of overlap and consider retraction of the second paper if the overlap is unacceptable. A3 was a junior author but was also the supervisor on the paper but it may be that publication practices were not correctly understood. The advice from the Forum was to address the plagiarism issue. If there is an acceptable explanation, then the editor should consider the less serious offense of redundant publication. Or the editor may wish to issue a correction, mentioning that papers P1 and P2 should have been cited in the other articles.
We sent a letter to the author A3, setting out our concerns and asking for a response. We also followed the advice from COPE to contact the authors (A1 and A2) of the allegedly plagiarised article. One of these two authors (A1) replied (the other is now emeritus) and said that they had already been contacted by A3 asking for their help in defending the charges. A1 confirmed our view—essentially that the paper did replicate ideas without proper acknowledgement. He was perhaps inclined to be lenient to a junior researcher and regard it as ‘unintentional plagiarism’ but left the decision to us of course. A3 replied, heavily defending their position both on the count of plagiarism and that of double submission. This response was reviewed by the Editors-in-Chief and the two editorial board members who had advised initially as well as the same external referee.
Our conclusion was that the charge of double submission could be dropped (since P3 contains sufficient novel material) but there was definitely inadequate reference to the earlier paper in the theoretical part of the paper. We also decided that there was sufficient novel (and interesting and important) novel material in the paper so that a retraction was inappropriate. We therefore wrote to A3 et al again asking them to sign a short note to be published in the journal acknowledging the inadequate reference to prior work, and apologising for this (we also said that if no response was received we would publish the note in the names of the editor in chiefs. This note also (implicitly) acknowledges that no citation was made to P1 in P3 published in conference Y.
We have recently had a response from A3 et al, agreeing in principle to sign an apology note to be published, but disputing the exact extent of what was to be apologised for. We are currently reviewing these questions within the Editorial Board and will respond to A3 et al shortly.
We also considered the issue of possible unethical behaviour by the editors of journal Z who published paper P4 and who reviewed P3 for journal X. We have decided not to pursue this further owing to lack of hard evidence.
It seems that the substantive issues have now been addressed and the case can probably be regarded as closed (subject to our final editorial board review).
The case concerns a paper we published, ahead of print, on the journal’s website on 5 October 2009. A week later we received a letter from Dr A who claimed that the authors had a major conflict of interest and implied that she should have been listed as an author. The paper we published is based on an idea which was tested in 2002 in Country P, and in 2004 in Countries Q and R. The authors of the resultant paper, published in another journal in 2009, were author C, a PhD student of author B, and author B, with Dr A as the last author. Dr A and Dr B collaborated further in Country S in three investigations
In June 2006, November 2006 and June 2007, Dr A was invited to participate as a representative of an international centre for medical research in Country R. When in the field, Dr A examined and screened patients . Dr A used data gathered in July 2007 within the framework of a study headed by Dr B. Dr A is listed as “another scientist involved” in the report from the funder and in a grant application. This application was to be on behalf of both Dr A and Dr B, and some others, but made no mention of Dr B’s study, although Dr B’s study had provided the funding for gathering the data at its basis.
Dr A’s grant application excluded any input by Dr B’s group, contrary to what had been agreed at an earlier meeting . Dr A did not participate in the November–December 2007, June–July 2008, November–December 2008 or June–July 2009 investigations.
The paper which we accepted, by Dr B and colleagues, includes data on patients recruited in June 2007, 2008 and 2009. It makes no mention of Dr A, who would have examined and screened some of the patients in July 2007. Dr B asserts that Dr A’s input was purely technical and that Dr A had no input into the conduct of the study. Dr A claims that the technique was based on her research (because she was senior author of the previous publication), which Dr B counters by saying it’s a free country and anybody can use the concept once it’s out there.
So we have a group of people who used to collaborate quite amicably but seem to have fallen out over some undisclosed conflict in the summer of 2007, at which point they drifted apart and pursued grants from separate donors. The patent animosity displayed by both parties precludes asking them to sort it out among themselves.
All agreed that this is fundamentally an author dispute. The advice from the Forum was to ask both parties to set out clearly their complaints. The Forum was unanimous in its opinion that the journal cannot get involved in an author dispute, and the editor cannot act as adjudicator. The advice was to contact the authors’ institution or funder. The authors should be informed of the editor’s intention. The editor should ask the institution to investigate the case. If the institution does not respond, the editor has a duty to alert readers to the situation and so he should publish an expression of concern or notice of disputed authorship. Other advice was to ensure that the journal’s instructions to authors make clear the criteria for authorship and contributorship. Another suggestion was to ensure that in the future, all correspondence is sent to all of the authors and not just the corresponding author.
We followed COPE’s advice and wrote to the rector of the university, copying the authors, asking him to resolve the authorship conflict, and mentioning that unless they managed to do this quickly we would have to take unspecified measures to inform our readers. They did. The author who had started the whole complaint by claiming that her idea had been stolen was removed from the acknowledgement section in a revised online version and of course in print. This permitted her not to be associated with the research. This was a rather surprising outcome but it kept everyone happy and we did not have to retract the paper, with all the unpleasant ensuing consequences.
A manuscript was submitted to my journal. The author, on his own accord, submitted the manuscript for review to several reviewers under the guise that this was sent by me. The author sent the following explanation:
“In some of our previous encounters, you have indicated that finding sufficient cooperative reviewers has been a problem for you. In order to provide you with some help in this area, I have invented an ad hoc entity, ‘Nominated Reviewer Referral Service’, under which aegis ‘blind’ emails were sent to an assortment of academics and journalists, advising them that they had been ‘nominated’ to provide a brief review and evaluation of the paper, which I attached. I did not identify myself as the author or give any kind of a ‘sales pitch’, nor did I try to give the impression that you had anything to do with the sending of these emails, or were even aware of them. If any of these people choose to respond, it will be directly to you, and I will never see the responses unless you at some point forward them to me.”
I did hear from several people with the assumption that I had invited them to review the manuscript. I understand that I could ignore these reviews. However, I wonder what I can do with a manuscript that has been submitted under these circumstances. What is the best ethical course of action?
The Forum questioned the motive of the author. Did he genuinely believe he was being helpful? Regardless of the answer, the author is being misleading in that recipients would assume that the email came from the editor, whether or not he is doing it intentionally (and whether or not the message mentions the journal name or some other fictional organization). The Forum agreed this is unacceptable behaviour on the part of the author. The editor should write a firm letter to the author telling him his behaviour is unacceptable. The review process should be honest and transparent. On a practical level, the author could also do damage to the editor’s relationship with the reviewers. The author’s behaviour undermines the system and the editor should also point this out to the author in his letter. Other advice was to contact the author’s institution and inform them of the situation. If the editor feels that the trust between the editor and author has been lost he should consider not publishing the paper.
The journal proceeded to let people know that they were contacted not through the editor. However, due to the fact that the editor had selected those who had been contacted (to accept their review), the reviews were considered. The paper was indeed accepted. The author was admonished for his inappropriate behaviour.
On initial assessment of a submitted review paper with a single author, the editor checked some of the references to the author’s own work that were cited in the paper. The author mentioned in the covering letter that he had written extensively on some of the specific themes of the paper, as the references made clear, but he claimed that the paper was an original synthesis of the material.
Examination of four or five easily accessible references revealed an unacceptably high proportion of direct replication: many phrases and sentences and some complete paragraphs. The paper was rejected with an explanation that this practice of self-plagiarism is unacceptable, and that the journal would be contacting the head of research ethics at the author’s institution.
The author appealed against the decision, saying that he had been open about previous publications and questioning why he is not allowed to repeat arguments and ideas, even when they were first published in little known publications with limited circulation in other fields. The journal’s decision was upheld.
The journal then contacted the institution’s director of research integrity. His response quoted a section from the national code for the responsible conduct of research: “It is not acceptable to repeat the reporting of identical research findings in several different publications, except in particular and clearly explained circumstances, such as review articles, anthologies, collections, or translations into another language.” The institution’s decision was that the author had clearly explained that the paper was a critique and that he has published before on some of the themes, drawing attention to relevant references. The conclusion was “I am of the strong opinion that the author has not committed a breach of the code for the responsible conduct of research.” The issue of direct replication was not addressed in this response. Is there anything else the journal should do?
Some members of the Forum expressed sympathy for the author. However, the article was submitted as original work (not solicited by the journal) and the author failed to mention the other papers in his covering letter. Some Forum members commented that it may be legitimate to present the same material for different audiences and both articles may therefore have a place. All agreed however that this was a question of transparency. Authors should declare if they have published previous papers, as well as citing them in the text. There may be a question of breach of copyright and the editor might want to remind the author of copyright law. Otherwise, the Forum agreed that the editor has done all he can but he should ensure that his instructions to authors are very clear regarding this matter.
We wrote to the head of research governance at the author’s institution saying that the case was taken to the COPE Forum and the Forum disagreed with the author’s opinion that self plagiarism is acceptable in the context of a review paper. We wrote that we believe it is not sufficient that “an author who submits … work similar to work already published, must disclose this at the time of submission”. The important issue is not disclosure, but that publication of such work would be redundant. The previously published material remains in the public domain and is generally subject to copyright. Discussion of the work is, of course, acceptable, but not replication of whole sentences or paragraphs. No further action is contemplated, but we strongly suggested that they reconsider their policy in relation to this issue. We have not received a reply but we hope they may at least be reconsidering their policy.
(presented by Liz Wager on behalf of an author) (NB: COPE doesn’t normally discuss cases from non-members but as this raised some interesting general points, we thought it would be interesting to hear Forum’s views)
According to the COPE guidelines, editors should “ensure the quality of published material… publish cogent criticisms from readers… [and] ensure research articles conform to ethical guidelines”. Yet, editors enjoy an (almost) absolute power and are barely accountable. I describe here how a Letter to the Editor submitted by myself to a COPE member journal was rejected only after it was forwarded by the editor to the concerned authors purportedly to get a reply.
In that letter, I pointed out the omission of a relevant reference which I considered was deliberate. I was also concerned that the article represented duplicate publication (which was supported by evidence from Déjà Vu)
I submitted the letter to the editor in December 2008. One month later, I got a rejection letter in which the editor-in-chief expressed his reluctance to expose “not strictly scientific aspects”. I immediately appealed this decision only to get the rejection confirmed in April 2009 on the basis of the explanations offered to the editor by the concerned authors. Thus the editor seems to have violated the confidentiality of my unpublished letter in forwarding it to the authors only to ultimately reject it.
My question to COPE is, should editors treat submitted material as confidential, or is it acceptable for them to show it to the authors of the work criticised, even if they have no intention of publishing it?
The question posed was “did the editor breach confidentiality?” Some members of the Forum said that in their instructions to authors they make it clear that they will send the letter to the criticised author but will not necessarily publish the letter. If an author is making a serious allegation of misconduct, most agreed that the letter should be anonymised when it is sent to the criticised authors. However, if it is a straightforward matter (ie simply critiquing or commenting on the published research), then most thought there was no need to anonymise the letter. While most agreed that the editor should not have dismissed the issue, the consensus was that it was not a breach of confidentiality. The author did not submit the letter in confidence so he should be prepared for it to be seen by the the criticised authors regardless of whether or not it was subsequently published.
The author published the letter in another journal.
An article was published online (e-pub), and a reader notified the editor about a section of the abstract that was taken from a review article published in another journal by different authors. Subsequent analysis of the e-pub manuscript found sections plagiarised from additional articles, often with citations but not quotation marks. Some sections were from manuscripts previously published by the authors in question.
At least seven articles were used to compile the entire manuscript: one for the abstract, four for the introduction, one for the results and one for the discussion. Overall the data look original but sections of the text are obviously not and have been in the literature for at least 13 years (1996). The authors have not been contacted to date.
The COPE options for plagiarism are retraction and public admission. The grey area is how to treat the situation as the science does not appear to be flawed, only how it is presented as the big picture. While the case clearly involves plagiarism (true plagiarism, self-plagiarism and unquoted use of text), there is no way to ensure the science is fairly presented while the authors are reprimanded.
Accepting current e-publication status and future print publication of this manuscript as is, inadvertently declares that the publishing journal accepts partially plagiarised work; retraction limits the release of original science.
The editor told the Forum that the article is in the process of being retracted. The Forum emphasised the fact that, in this case, all authors should agree to the retraction, and the reason for the retraction must be stated. In this case, the editor is convinced that the data are not fraudulent. This must be stated in the retraction notice. Hence the retraction notice should say that the editor is satisfied that the data are not fraudulent but that the article contains plagiarised material. Repetition of the introduction or discussion sections of an article is less of an issue that repetition of the results section. The advice was to consult the COPE retraction guidelines, published on 1 December. The Forum advised the editor that you cannot rely too heavily on software that detects plagiarism. It has to be a judgement call on the part of the editor. Self-plagiarism can be a grey area—the author must cite previous papers otherwise there may be a breach of copyright. The Forum questioned whether the authors really understood that they need to re-write language in their own words—does the paper just need to be better edited? Other advice was to contact the author’s institution, informing them of the situation.
Most authors were contacted, with the exception of the first author. A retraction of the article was made initially, and a statement was generated according to the legal guidelines established by the publisher, and was agreed by the corresponding authors and editors. The authors were given the option to resubmit a rewritten manuscript using the same data as there was no evidence of fraud or plagiarism in the results. Upon resubmission of said re-written text, the sections initially highlighted as having been plagiarised were modified but additional, similar sections of plagiarism were detected elsewhere in the manuscript. The revised work was immediately rejected.