We received a paper reporting a trial. There has only been one previous trial of this intervention in this condition that we know of (which was also done by these investigators). There were substantial issues with the reporting of that trial but the end result, as reported by them, favoured the intervention.
The trial we received, presumably approved after that result had come out, had the complication that most patients also received another treatment, and on an intention to treat (ITT) analysis of all patients, those given the intervention did no better and there was increased mortality in the intervention arm. The only positive outcome was from a per-protocol subgroup analysis of patients who did not have the other treatment (which they say is the only group comparable to the previous trial, and hence shows that the first trial was correct).
Although the trial was investigator led, it seemed to us that the authors were trying very hard to make something positive out of this actually rather worrying result. We sent the paper for review, including to a statistician; the reviewers raised a number of issues about the interpretation (eg, the overemphasis on subgroup analysis) and the analysis and reporting.
We felt that this was an important trial that needed to be reported, mainly because of the excess mortality in the intervention arm, but we had the rather odd situation that the authors wanted to emphasise the positive, and the need for further trials of this intervention, whereas the reviewers and editors saw the paper as delivering a negative message and feel actually that the paper will be the death knell for this treatment.
We therefore rejected the paper but offered to see a revised version if it was written more in line with our concerns.
The authors revised and the paper was re-reviewed. The paper was felt to be more balanced, but not yet completely satisfactory (ie, there was still too much emphasis on the positive result in one subgroup and not enough on the mortality).
A further issue then arose in that a reviewer spotted (on re-review) that three of the authors were noted as being on the DSMB for this trial. In their author contributions all are listed as having been involved in “analysing the data” and one, X, as “supervising the statistical analysis”
We asked the authors about these points and they replied: "(1) We are fully aware that it is unusual for members of the DSMB to be listed as authors, as independence is obviously important for such boards. In our case, the DSMB’s independence was not affected for the following reasons:
(a) Members of the DSMB worked for the entire study period (ie, between 2003 and 2008) completely independent and without any promises or expectation that they would be credited later by a coauthorship.
(b) My personal decision to include three of the four DSMB members in the list of authors was made a significant time after the final database lock. This decision was long after completion of the clinical study and its analysis. It credited three members of the board who made some significant advisory contributions to the present manuscript. Only for this reason they were included as coauthors, and it was quite unexpected for them. This decision from December 2008 has in no way influenced their independence and objectivity at the time when the study was running.
(2) As to the contribution of X (one of the members of the DSMB), we have to admit a simple language problem. In our use of the word “supervision”, the word meant that he took a final comprehensive look at our data analysis before the paper was submitted for publication. Importantly, he never supervised (like an academic supervisor) data analysis at any time point before database lock and processing of the data by the clinical research organization. We will change the terminology accordingly.”
We subsequently found that X was also an author on the previous trial.
Finally, the authors did not declare initially any competing interest but after we enquired specifically, they declared that the corresponding author “holds a patent on the use of t[he intervention] for treatment of [the condition]”.
Our concerns overall therefore were that this paper not only reports the outcomes in a way that is not appropriate, but also the composition of the DSMB and the presence of some DSMB members as authors means that the trial may not have had adequate independent oversight.
We felt we had two possible options with regard to publication:
(1) We reject the paper because it was inappropriately conducted and not appropriately reported.
(2) We publish the trial after further revision to ensure it is reported appropriately and publish alongside it an editorial that lays out our concerns with the conduct of the trial, but notwithstanding those, our reasons why we think it should be published.
We also discussed whether we needed to raise the issue of the DSMB with the authors’ institution.
We discussed the paper with our internal ethics board and they unanimously agreed we should reject the paper (mainly because of the concerns over the DSMB) and inform the authors' institution. We have as yet heard nothing from the institution.
We are bringing this to COPE as this paper raised a number of serious issues we had not come across before. We would appreciate the Forum’s opinion on whether we handled this correctly.
Some of the members of the Forum suggested that perhaps the journal should have a formal policy that DSMBs should be independent and not involved in the study in any way. The Forum questioned whether these authors fulfil the criteria for authorship, as outlined in the ICJME guidelines. One opinion was that perhaps the paper should not have been rejected until the outcome of the investigation was known. However, most agreed that rejecting the paper was the correct decision and the editor might consider contacting the ethics committee who approved the study if no response is received from the authors’ institution.
The editor reported the case to the author’s institution but no response has been obtained. The editor is pursuing the case.
The issue here is whether formal ethics approval has been granted in order to satisfy publication criteria. By way of some background information, a lot of screening data are collected on many athletes in many sports, both nationally and internationally. Historically, clubs and associations have disclaimers whereby athletes sign consent for their data to be used for audit purposes on the proviso they will not be identified individually. This study appears to do exactly that, except that this is not a retrospective audit, this is an interventional study whereby these players have been subjected to a specific regimen.
In my opinion, there are several issues here. (A) A blanket proforma that these players were asked to sign does not constitute formal ethics approval for this interventional study. (B) These players are under age and therefore warrant additional protection. (C) These players are vying for selection and there is no obvious protection from them being coerced into participation
Whilst new training regimens are being introduced into clubs all the time, if the findings are intended to be disseminated through formal publication, then ethics approval should be sought beforehand. I would be very grateful for the Forum’s opinion on this matter.
The Forum was concerned that the volunteers involved were under age and so coercion may have been a problem. The Forum were unanimous in their view that ethics approval and informed consent should have been sought specifically for the study and that the study should not be published without these. The authors may also have contravened the Declaration of Helsinki, which covers all human trials. The Forum agreed that blanket consent is not sufficient and that the specific treatment needs to be detailed and consent obtained from individual subjects. The ICJME guidelines state that procedures followed should be approved by an ethics committee and be in line with the Helsinki Declaration. There is also a European directive on obtaining ethics approval and informed consent. A suggestion was for the editor to write an editorial in their journal highlighting this problem in general.
The editor wrote to the authors conveying the decision of COPE and they responded that they did after all have approval. The editor requested to see this approval and it was dated after the study had been completed. The editor then wrote to the authors explaining in no uncertain terms that retrospective approval was not acceptable and that he was extremely concerned that throughout the submission process they had failed to demonstrate any insight into research governance. The editor suggested lessons to be drawn for the future and rejected the paper.
An author submitted an article to my journal. The editorial board discovered that the author had already published his article in another journal. The editorial board communicated with the author and he defended himself stating that they were two different articles with different titles. However, the editorial board could find no significant difference between the two papers.
There are two issue related to this article. (1) The author did not notify us, prior to his submission to another journal.
(2) Almost all of the text is the same, indicating duplicate publication. Can this be taken as salami publication? How should we handle this issue?
The advice of the Forum was for the editor to assess the degree of overlap between the two papers. If the editor judges it to be major overlap, he should reject the paper. If it is minor overlap, the editor should contact the authors for an explanation. It was suggested that the editor could consult the “sample letters” on the COPE website which deal with “Overlap of figures or text with a manuscript submitted or published elsewhere”. There is also an issue of copyright, as the same figure appears in both papers. Hence the editor’s journal could be in breach of copyright if it published this paper. It is clear that the authors have not been transparent in their submission of the paper and some advised that the editor could report their behaviour to their institution. Ultimately, it is up to the editor to decide if the paper is sufficiently novel to warrant publication. How much extra value is there in the second paper?
A manuscript was submitted via our electronic submission system and processed in accordance with the standard procedures of the journal. This was originally a single author submission, and in the covering letter the author suggested two potential reviewers.
The Associate Editor assigned reviewers, choosing reviewer A along the suggestions of the author, and reviewer B from his own list of reviewers.
The reviews of the original version came with conclusions "Accept after major revision" (rev A) and "Accept after minor revision" (rev B). On that basis, on 12 December 2008 the Associate Editor submitted a decision "Accept after major revision", and requested the author to prepare it within 90 days.
The revised version of the paper arrived on 20 December 2008. Without sending it to any more reviewers, the Associate Editor decided to recommend acceptance of the paper in its present form. According to the Journal's procedures, the manuscript is available to the editor-in-chief EIC for a final decision.
Examination of the revised manuscript led to a disturbing discovery. This version was headed by two authors, and the name of the second author was the same as the name of reviewer A.
The whole reviewing procedure was immediately halted. The editor-in-chief together with the Managing Editor sent an email to the original author with a request to confirm in writing the authorship of the revised version (this was done also because in the covering letter and in the revised version there were different sets of names). The author confirmed that the revised version was co-authored by two authors: he and reviewer A.
The conclusion of the editors was that indeed there was serious misconduct, most probably on the side of the reviewer. We can only speculate if there is misconduct on the side of the author or of both people together.
The author was asked by email to explain how the second author, reviewer A, had been included as a co-author of this contribution? The reply was that: “Reviewer A helped me improve the manuscript in grammatical and logical feature, and provided some new references. Furthermore, we share some detailed skills in the experimental methods, so I added him as a co-author in the revision paper.”
This situation led the editor-in-chief to assign the paper to reviewer C to determine if the manuscript is indeed worth publishing. The final recommendation of that review was that the manuscript should be rejected.
The editor-in-chief is asking for COPE recommendation as to the further processing of this manuscript: • The editor-in-chief is convinced that the paper should be rejected. However, should it be rejected on pure scientific or also ethics grounds? • Should the authorities from the author's institution be informed? • It seems that more obvious guilt is on the side of the reviewer A. Permanent removal from the journal’s database seems to be an obvious decision. However, from other sources we also know that he is a member of editorial boards of other journals. Should we try to contact editors and inform them about the whole situation? • This reviewer was also keen to become a member of our Editorial Board. This would of course be impossible in the present circumstances. However, should we try to inform the authorities of his institution about his serious misconduct?
The Forum wondered whether the editor has asked the reviewer for an explanation of his behaviour. Has he given his side of the story? The Forum noted that it is possible that the criteria for authorship might be satisfied by the reviewer. If reviewer made a substantial contribution to the revised paper, he could legitimately become an author. So there may be a legitimate reason for the reviewer being an author and the editor needs to contact the reviewer and clarify this. If the editor is satisfied that the reviewer is an author, the paper should be re-reviewed and sent out to a new reviewer. It may then be rejected on scientific grounds. The Forum did not think reporting the case to the institution was a good idea at the present time.
Following presentation of this case at COPE, we followed the advice of the Forum and contacted the reviewer with a kind request to explain his side of the story. At the same time, the manuscript was evaluated by an independent reviewer and the recommendation was to reject this submission.
When the explanation was received from the reviewer, it differed from that of the authors and thus we decided to reject the manuscript and not to undertake any further action against either of the persons involved.
The reviewer is still providing services to our journal and no further signs of misconduct have been observed. However, we have decided that we will not propose the reviewer to become one of the associate editors for the journal.
I am the editor of an international clinical journal and am facing a very unusual problem that does not fit readily into COPE flowcharts.
Through a reviewer, I was informed that an author had submitted a paper without the approval of at least one of the other authors. This appeared to be confirmed by two other authors. In response to my bringing this possibility to the first author’s attention, he asserted that all coauthors had given informed consent to publish the work as it is. I have requested that he provides written corroboration of this. If this is not forthcoming I will send the paper to the other authors and seek permission to identify their views to him.
Another reviewer raised concerns about the ethics of a component of the submitted investigation. The author has responded that the work was investigated by the university to which at that time he was affiliated and received ethics approval. I have requested written confirmation of this. The author is no longer at the institution at which the work is reputed to have been conducted: he quotes as his current affiliation an institution that does not exist and gives only an email contact.
Additional criticisms of the work from a scientific perspective made it clear it was not acceptable for publication and I have informed the author of this. The author has two other manuscripts in submission and I have requested documented confirmation that the listed coauthors of these approve of their content. Furthermore, my attention has been drawn to items in four other journals raising issues about coauthors’ approval of other papers from the same first author and additional concerns about misappropriation of material from the publications of others.
In his response to my request for clarification of the issues raised with regard to the paper I rejected, the author stated his intention to “formally let open further legal steps against you”. Nevertheless, it seems clear that I have a responsibility to continue investigating the foregoing issues.
The journal has no established regular mechanism for this circumstance. A way of proceeding could be, after as much possible information has been assembled, to draw together a small panel, including appropriate experts and representatives from the sponsoring international society whose task would be to review the information (in anonymised form) and advise on any further action, both from the point of view of my journal and the wider issues. In the absence of an identified current employer, it may be that the institution at which the work was performed is the most appropriate to charge with responsibility for any further investigation and action.
Is the presumption correct that, in the event of the author translating his statement about legal steps into action, the editorial team and others involved on behalf of the journal would be indemnified by the publisher?
The Forum noted that this is a case that perhaps can never be satisfactorily resolved. It is very difficult for editors to intervene in authorship disputes. The advice was for the editor to contact the author’s institution and ask them to investigate the authorship dispute. As the editor suspects unethical research, that is another reason to approach the institution, report the matter and request an investigation. The Forum noted that this is as much as the editor can do with regard to the submitted papers. On the wider issue, the editor could publish an expression of concern for the papers already published and alert the other journals where the previous papers have been published. In the UK, a physician could be reported to the GMC for his conduct – there may be a similar body in other countries to whom the author’s behaviour could be reported.
May 2009 In brief, I took advice, based on an anonymised set of information, from the three chairmen of the relevant committees of the European Society of which the journal is the official journal. Their view was clear that the various concerns amounted to a serious departure from appropriate standards. They concurred with the recommendation that responsibility for action should include the employing institution. This was communicated to the main and co-authors. However, at this stage, communication was received from a lawyer on behalf of the main author and the matter has been taken up by the publisher’s lawyers.
Authors A and B submitted a paper PV1 to an international conference which was accepted by the editor E of the conference proceedings. The copyright of the paper was assigned to the publishers PC of the conference proceedings. The editor E of the conference proceedings is also the editor of an international journal J published by PJ. The editor E invited author A to consider submitting a revised and extended paper for possible publication in journal J
Author A submitted the revised paper PV2. The paper was reviewed and accepted by editor E for publication in journal J. The proof of paper PV2 was posted on the journal’s website by publisher PJ.Shortly afterwards Author C contacted Editor E claiming that he was also an author of the paper PV2 and further claimed that he should have been listed as the first author. Author C expressed his annoyance at being excluded from the authorship of the paper by contacting the Vice-Chancellors of the universities of authors A and B. Author C claimed that Authors A and B had passed off his work as their own.
Editor E invited all authors A, B and C to contact him and to provide him with any information they thought relevant.Authors A and B confirmed that Author C had worked with them as a research associate but left before the end of his contract. On looking at the information provided by the authors, the Editor E noticed an interesting discrepancy between the information provided. Author A claimed that an earlier related paper ERP had been published in another journal J2 with the authors names as A, B and C whereas Author C claimed that they were in the order C, A, B. Editor E checked the paper ERP and found that the printed version had the author names in the order A, B and C whereas the web based abstract had the authors names in the order C, A and B. Editor E contacted the publisher of journal J2 and was told that this arose because Author A had asked for the names to be reordered in the late stages of the pre-press of the paper ERP. The original order on the web based abstract had not been corrected. Editor E concluded that there had been a longstanding dispute between Author C and Authors A and B. The evidence provided by A, B and C relating to the authorship of paper PV2 appeared inconclusive to Editor E.
Editor E informed all three authors that he decided that paper PV2 should not be published in journal J until the authorship has been agreed by all three authors. He encouraged the authors to start communicating to agree on the matter. The Editor has not heard from Author C but Author A engaged a solicitor who has written formally to Editor E. The solicitor seeks to encourage Editor E to arrange publication of the paper PV2. The solicitor claims that the copyright of PV2 rests with Authors A and B forgetting that they originally assigned it to publisher PC.
The Editor has had numerous emails from Authors A and B. Their complaint is that Author C has stopped the publication of their paper. It is clear that a disaffected research collaborator could maliciously stop further publications by his erstwhile coworkers by claiming authorship of all of their future papers. On the other hand, authors who leave a research team should be given appropriate acknowledgement for their efforts. What is appropriate in this case is unclear, but Author C was not given any acknowledgment because Authors A and B did not think it appropriate.The usual advice to authors is that they should agree authorship prior to submission but in this case Authors A and B claim that Author C is not an author so that they have nothing to agree.
The Forum agreed that the editor has done all he can in this messy authorship dispute. As the institution has been unhelpful, it was suggested that what was needed was an independent arbitrator or the funding agency that could liaise between the authors and come up with a solution. The Forum did not think there was a legal case for the journal to answer, and in any case the journal should be indemnified by the publisher.
What is important here is the fact that the paper has been published, as it was published on the website. It also has a DOI number, which means that it is citable. COPE’s view is that it is wrong for a publisher to take a paper down from the website without due process (for example, a formal retraction). COPE would advise the publisher to put the paper back on the website. The Forum agreed that a notice should be attached to the paper to the effect that the paper will not be published in print until the author dispute is resolved. In the meantime, the advice was to tell the authors it is up to them to sort out the dispute and suggest they allow a third party, someone they all agree upon, to arbitrate and hopefully resolve the situation.
This is a report of two cases of possible misconduct by the same author(s): one that was identified during the review process and one only after it was published.
We believe the author tried to publish a paper that was a verbatim copy of one that had appeared in another journal a few years earlier. A vigilant reviewer of the “copied” paper alerted the editor that, on verifying the references, he had found that the paper was a carbon copy of an already published article. Having realised that the author and the same graduate student had already published a paper in our journal a year before, we took the time to search the literature for any IP violation from the first paper. We discovered that the paper already published in our journal was a verbatim (not a single word or graph changed) copy of another one.
Also, one of the two reviewers who accepted the first paper that was published in our journal was the author of the original paper from which it was copied. Did he accept it inadvertently, not recognising his own original publication, albeit after a few years? Was he in collusion because he was a friend or a compatriot “wanting to help”?
We then wrote to the authors informing them of the two discoveries and requesting an explanation, an apology or retraction, and notifying them that we may contact the University President about their unethical behaviour. The senior author withdrew the paper being currently reviewed but nothing else. We then wrote to his University’s President, only to discover a couple of weeks later, through a more thorough search, that he was indeed the University President.
We then wrote to the Ambassador (High Commissioner) of this person’s country, explaining the incident and the cloud of suspicion such behaviour (far from being isolated) would bring to science from their country. What we found particularly repulsive is how a professor can act like this, in collusion with graduate students. We received no response despite a reminder. We then decided to write to the President of that country directly, as he was known as an eminent mathematician. We got no response. Finally, we wrote to the President of the Maths Society of that country but again no response was received.
The first published paper was retracted from our journal and the guilty authors were named. We also informed 6–7 journals in our field not to accept any papers from this individual or his group.
I would be very curious to know what COPE would bring to cases like these (denunciation, banishment, penalties, general alert?).
The Forum congratulated the editor on his handling of the case and considered that this was a model way of proceeding under the circumstances. The Forum noted that it can be very disheartening to follow-up on these inquiries when no response is forthcoming. It was suggested that the editor could now mention the fact that he has brought the case to COPE - sometimes this elicits a response. The Forum wondered how the reviewer did not spot the plagiarism and suggested looking into the reviewer’s conduct. Another suggestion was to see if the author belongs to a society or association that the editor could lodge a complaint with. Other advice was to write an editorial in the journal highlighting the issue. This could be done anonymously and would demonstrate to the reader that the journal’s system is working and also that this type of misconduct will not be tolerated by the journal. The Forum also agreed that it would enhance the reputation of the journal. The Forum reiterated COPE’s general view that it doesn’t endorse sanctions against authors.
We submit to COPE a case regarding the suspected multiple publication of research on four separate occasions in four different journals.
Close inspection of the articles in question revealed that the author had directly copied and reused extensive sections of text, including tables in all four articles. After this matter was bought to the attention of the Editor of Journal A, the chronology detailed below was pieced together. It demonstrates that there is significant overlap in the dates the articles were submitted and copyright forms signed. This, coupled with the extent of the similarities between the articles, lead us to believe that the author would have been aware they were submitting near identical articles to multiple journals over a short space of time.
Upon this realisation the authors were contacted according to the COPE guidelines and the lead author cooperated with us in putting together the information below. Because of the complexity of the case, the number of journals and the time frames involved, we would be grateful if COPE could advise us on the correct course of action.
• In January 2002, three UK authors submitted a paper to Journal A based on the lead author’s PhD thesis. This paper was accepted by Journal A in October 2003 and a copyright assignment form was signed in November 2003. This article appeared in Journal A in January 2005.
• In July 2002, the lead author presented a conference paper based on the same PhD research and submitted it to Journal B. This too was accepted and a copyright agreement was signed in June 2003. This article went on to appear in Journal B in January 2004. This paper acknowledges the conference it was given at.
• In June 2003, the lead author gave another conference paper based on their PhD research which was subsequently published in Journal C in December 2003. The copyright assignment form for this article was signed in September 2003.
• In January 2006, another paper was published in Journal D, again based on the same PhD research. We do not know when this was submitted or when the copyright form was signed.
The advice from COPE was to consult the flowchart for “redundant publication in a published paper”. The flowchart advises that you check the degree of overlap. If it is substantial, contact the authors. If an unsatisfactory response is received, the editor should consider publishing a notice of redundant publication or retraction. Sometimes the author makes a genuine mistake or the instructions to authors are not clear enough (does your journal say that submitted work should be original and not submitted elsewhere) or the author is very junior. In such cases writing to the author explaining the situation and outlining the expected behaviour is sufficient. However, if the editor is satisfied that this is not a simple error and an unsatisfactory response has been received, he should consider contacting the author’s institution and asking them to investigate. The Forum would also advise contacting the other journals.
We have agreed with the publisher that the paper will be retracted.
We are fortunate to have very knowledgeable reviewers who are immersed in their specialty and in the literature. A reviewer informed us that s(he) was working on a review of a manuscript and thought that there had to be more qualitative studies on this subject. S(he) began to look and found three articles not cited by the author and then a fourth.
The fourth study was published in another journal but was written from the exact angle, reporting the same data and in the same way as the article submitted to us. While some of the wording had been changed and the introductory material moved around a bit, it was essentially the same study. The quotes describing each category had also been changed, but little else. Surprisingly, one of the major differences is that the published article contained a much richer explanation of the methods, a sample description and study limitations than the version submitted to us. We do not understand what the author was thinking, submitting essentially the same paper, albeit one of lesser quality.
I ask that COPE provide me with recommendations as to the follow-up course with the author.
The Forum was unclear about whether the same authors were involved—was this a case of plagiarism or duplicate publication? The Forum also noted that any action depends on the journal guidelines. Does the journal document in its guidelines how much overlap is allowed? If the authors are the same, the advice was to follow the steps in the COPE flowchart “Suspected redundant publication in a submitted manuscript”. The flowchart advises that you check the degree of overlap. If it is substantial, contact the authors and request an explanation. If an unsatisfactory response is received, reject the paper and contact the authors explaining your position and the expected future behaviour. The editor might also like to consider contacting the author’s institution and informing them of the author’s misconduct.
Sometimes the author makes a genuine mistake or the instructions to authors are not clear enough (does your journal say that submitted work should be original and not submitted elsewhere?) or the author is very junior. In such cases writing to the author explaining the situation and outlining the expected behaviour is sufficient.
May 2009 We rejected the article and the author said he learned an important lesson. The editorial board met and it was unanimous that the situation should be reported to the author’s university academic integrity committee for review.
February 2010 The case is now closed. The author self-reported within his university and did a faculty workshop about the issue. He submitted some information to the editor that will be incorporated into their editorial on duplicate publication.