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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. November 2013 (Vol. 1, Issue 2)

Letter from the Chair

This month’s newsletter will be a little more digestible than the first one as we get into the swing of updating you monthly of what’s going on at COPE and beyond in publication ethics.

A large part of our activities centre around providing advice on cases. An analysis of these was presented at the Peer Review Congress by Irene Hames and we will be doing further work on this over the next few months. A number of Council members participated in this very lively meeting and our colourful new informational leaflets also had a first outing there.

One recurrent theme you will notice is the international nature of what’s going on at COPE. In the past month we have announced an in-person Forum in November in Brisbane, Australia (where I am now based), which I will be hosting with our ombudsperson, Suzanne Morris. There is also early notification of our European Seminar in 2014, which for the first time will be held in mainland Europe and which will take as its theme 'European perspectives on publication ethics'. This is just one of a number of meetings in the planning stage for 2014. Closer in time, this November we have an Indian Seminar in association with IAMJE.

Being international is crucial but we know that we can’t accomplish that simply by being on the web. We hope therefore you’ll take advantage of in-person meetings near you and come along and participate face to face.

In the news

New kind of misconduct? Bogus authors publish another researcher’s work

The authors of a paper appear to be ‘phantoms’, with falsified names similar to real researchers and false institutional affiliations. The work, however, seems genuine and from a researcher who was preparing to submit it for publication. An attempt to be a ‘spoiler’ of the results is suspected. Whether this case also constitutes a criminal case of internet fraud is being investigated.

‘Misconduct in Scientific Publishing’ Special Issue

The first article in this new Publications Special Issue has been published: ‘Research Misconduct—Definitions, Manifestations and Extent’ by Lutz Bornmann.
The Special Issue aims to ‘explore the surge in scientific retractions’, asking questions such as:  Are retractions a valid proxy for research misconduct?  Does the increase in retractions mean that there has been an increase in misconduct?  How can we measure misconduct objectively?  Are surveys that characterize scientific behaviour valid or do they misrepresent the prevalence of misconduct? Guest editor, Grant Steen, is inviting submissions until 28 February 2014.

New two-part Ethics Special

Both parts of Elsevier’two-part Ethics Special have now been published. Part 1 moves from a broad overview of the current publishing ethics landscape to a more detailed examination of aspects such as bias and conflicts of interest. It also includes an ‘Editor in the Spotlight’ interview with COPE co-Secretary Margaret Rees about her role as Editor of Maturitas. Part II, takes a closer look at the resources available to support editors when problem cases arise. Features include tips on dealing with the media when things go wrong, information on how Elsevier is working with authors and reviewers to train them on good ethical practice, and a range of practical advice (including an offer of free software) from The Office of Research Integrity. COPE Chair, Virgina Barbour, is interviewed and discusses recent changes at COPE along with the benefits of membership.

Role of social media in highlighting problem published papers debated

An editorial on how scientific misconduct should be reported and dealt with published by the journal, ACS Nano has caused some controversy. A response posted on the Chembark blog believes it to be unfair and misguided in its criticism of the role of social media in bringing to light suspicions about the validity of papers.

Beyond the Plagiarism Report

On iThenticate’s plagiarism detection and prevention blog, Managing Editor for the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM), Charlotte Seidman, describes AJPM’s CrossCheck screening strategy and how the journal deals with different categories of plagiarism. She makes some important points aboutCrossCheck reports: “looking at the score alone does not tell the whole story. To set a certain standard number above or below which you’ll accept or reject a paper is mis-using this tool”, and “you should not accept or reject based on the score alone; always dig deeper into the report and read the original manuscript.“

Ask Retraction Watch

In August, Retraction Watch introduced a new feature, ‘Ask Retraction Watch’, and has been running a series of polls on questions sent in by readers. Besides the results being available for viewing, the posts have generated many comments and are worth looking at

Questions covered to date include:
Is this plagiarism? 
Should these papers be retracted?
Can I publish identical data in two different languages? 
Can data from retracted papers be republished? 
How should deceased colleagues be credited in papers? 
What happens to a paper draft after a lab member realizes data are flawed? 
What’s a reviewer to do? 
Can authors republish their own previous work as a review?

New edition of EASE Science Editors’ Handbook launched

The second edition of the European Association of Science Editors’ Handbook was launched on 24 September 2013 at the joint EASE/ISMTE meeting in Blankenberge, Belgium. The new edition features 56 chapters - 23 are completely new, the others have been extensively revised and updated  -  arranged in six sections: Editing, Nomenclature and terminology, Policies and processes, Peer review, Ethics, and Publishing and promoting.

US government urged to respect ‘freedom to publish’ amid sanctions

Elsevier has sent a letter to the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) seeking clarification that US persons may engage in publishing activities with anyone, including government employee researchers in sanctioned countries. Support for ‘country-neutral’ scholarly and academic publishing is voiced, along with the view that authors and editors around the world should be free to engage with each other in the pursuit of scholarly communication.

Montreal Statement on Research Integrity in Cross-Boundary Research Collaborations

The Montreal Statement, developed before, during and after the 3rd World Conference on Research Integrity, held in May in Montreal, builds on the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity and outlines the responsibilities of individual and institutional partners in research collaborations that cross national, institutional, disciplinary and sector boundaries.

Latest update of the Declaration of Helsinki released

The World Medical Association (WMA) developed the Declaration of Helsinki as a statement of ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects, including research on identifiable human material and data. In the 50 years since it was first published, there have been a number of revisions, the latest of which was released in October .  An article outlining the major changes and enhancements can be found here

New EQUATOR website launched

EQUATOR (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) has a new-look website, with updated content and new features, including a toolkits section and a translations page.

What's been happening at COPE

COPE response to Science paper submission of fake paper

At COPE we have followed with intense interest the recent report in Science of a fake paper submitted to multiple journals, some of whom accepted it. There is no doubt that this "sting" raises a number of issues, that academic publishing and those who seek to improve it, need to tackle head on-though I'd argue they are not necessarily the ones that Science thinks are top priorities.

What have we learnt?

First, that out on the Internet there exist many journals whose peer review is scanty or non-existent. Indeed for many of these journals their editorial processes, reviewer boards and editors may not even exist. That, in other words, the Internet has sites we cannot trust. This is of course not news; as Mike Eisen said in an earlier discussion on this issue, journals such as this are the publishing equivalent of Nigerian banking scams.

Second, that some of these questionable journals have managed to get themselves onto the lists of respected industry association bodies - including COPE. At COPE, some may have been included because they were in the lists of journals submitted by reputable publishers but others may have been included because, as we are very aware at COPE, our processes for inclusion have not in the past been set up to screen every journal individually or to scrutinise publishers in great depth. We have been aware of the increasing number of journals seeking to join us and we have recently increased our checks on those who seek to join - either as a publisher or an individual journal - and this will be a further spur to improve our processes here.

Third, we have learnt that considerable confusion still remains about what constitutes an "open-access" journal and that the term may be used as a cover for journals that seek credibility. However, as many commentators have said, because this article only looked at journals that styled themselves as "open access" it tells us nothing about whether the failing of peer review demonstrated here are due to a particular business model, particularly as practised by reputable publishers.

Fourth, and perhaps most worryingly of all, we have learnt from the coverage in the non-scientific press, who are always looking for a good scandal, that an unforeseen consequence of this experiment may be to cast doubt on the entire publishing industry and peer review’s place in it. It may further confuse the public who genuinely struggle to understand what they should trust in the myriad of research findings that are published each day.

What are the constructive next steps?

First, COPE was founded as an organisation that seeks to educate and support its members and this drives what we do day-to-day. Our focus is on practical, pragmatic advice and to that end we produce a number of resources for members, which provide concrete guidance that can also be used by anyone involved in publishing. Our most recent guidelines, which are especially relevant, set out the basic principles and standards to which all peer reviewers should adhere during the peer-review process. We encourage everyone involved in journal publishing to read them.

Second, journals or publishers who do not share COPE's values have no place as members. We are looking at which of our member journals accepted the paper; however, we do not think it is our role to punish journals who are genuinely trying to improve their processes and we will continue to work with them, including providing advice for any members that have to retract the fake paper submitted to them by Science.

Third, we also believe that this is an opportunity to further educate the public about the role that journals and peer review play in science communication, to help them understand that no paper published is ever perfect or carries a stamp that it won't at some time in the future be revised or called into question and that peer review, even at the most prestigious journals, frequently does not spot fraud or questionable research.

Finally, we hope at COPE that this article provides further impetus to the  debate about how science is communicated and its strengths and flaws, whatever the business model.



The Seventh International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication

The 7th International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication was held on 8-10 September, 2013, in Chicago, IL, USA. A number of topics related to the quality of scientific publishing were discussed both in plenary and in poster presentations. Abstracts of all the presentations can be found here ( Many COPE members were present, and COPE guidelines and flowcharts was frequently mentioned in the discussions as very helpful. COPE Council member Irene Hames presented an analysis of the almost 500 cases COPE has discussed since it was established in 1997. Her plenary presentation was very well received and sparked a lot of comments and questions. It will later be followed up by more detailed analysis. 

Delegates at the Peer Review Congress 

Virginia Barbour and Charlotte Haug perusing a poster that uses COPE guidelines

COPE Treasurer Chris Graf presents a poster on behalf of Wiley Blackwell

Ex COPE Chair and Vice-Chair, Liz Wager and Sabine Kleinert



EASE/ISMTE joint meeting, 23-24 September, Blankenberge, Belgium

A joint meeting between EASE (European Association of Science Editors) and ISMTE (International Society of Managing and Technical Editors) was held recently in Belgium. COPE Council members Irene Hames, André Van Steirteghem and Mirjam Curno conducted a COPE Case Study Workshop as a parallel session. The prgramme and presentations can be seen here

COPE Council member, André Van Steirteghem, talking with delegates at the COPE Case Study Workshop



International Conference on Medical Education (ICME), 2-6 October, Balaclava, Mauritius

International Advisory Group member, Professor Kusal Das, attended this conference in Mauritius. The theme was Health Professions Education: Aspiring for Excellence and included discussions on topics such as 'ethics and professionalism in medical practice' and 'scholarship and leadership in medical education'.

Professor Das's report of the meeting can be read here.

2nd International Scientific Practical Conference 'World-class scientific journal: problems, solutions, preparation and inclusion into citation indices and reference databases', and 'Innovative Educational Technologies in Medicine', Russia

COPE Council member, Behrooz Astaneh, attended both of these conferences in Moscow, Russia on behalf of COPE in September. 200-250 particpants attended both conferences and Behrooz spoke to the delegates about COPE and its ethical guidelines. This led to the idea of having a specific Russian Ethics Committee for such issues. Behrooz's full report can be read here.


COPE European Seminar 2014, 14 March 2014, Brussels, Belgium

For the first time in its history, the COPE European Seminar is moving outside of London and being held in Brussels, Belgium. The theme of the seminar is 'European perspectives on publication ethics' with the invited speakers and full programme available to view here. We will also be accepting posters for display at the seminar as well as offering up to two scholarships. Information for submission of a poster or application for a scholarship can be found here:


COPE materials

COPE has recently redesigned its stationery and marketing materials. The first set consists of a glossy A4 brochure, a smaller A5 flyer, business cards, compliment slips, and headed paper. All materials are available for our members to download and distribute and you can contact us here for more details on how to obtain these.

Irene Hames, Virginia Barbour and Charlotte Haug with the new COPE brochure at the Peer Review Congress


What's in a name?

COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice - how did we choose the name? The inspiration came from COPE Council member and Newsletter Editor, Irene Hames, and from COPE member, Professor Karen Woolley. Irene suggested COPE Digest and Karen suggested Publication Ethics in Practice. We felt that the title really sums up what the newsletter is all about - a brief overview of what is happening in publication ethics in the wider world, as well as offering guidelines and resources to help you with ethical issues on a practical level.  Karen says "The title reflects what I sense members value most about COPE – an organisation that helps each of us deal with real-life issues in a very practical way".

Case of the month

Every month we will be highlighting a publication ethics case that has been brought to COPE by one of its members. Cases will be highlighted for a number of reasons - they may be of broad interest, introduce an important new issue that members may not be aware of, or reflect a topic that COPE is increasingly being asked for advice about. We welcome comments and further discussion about the cases and will provide summaries in future issues.

Editor as author of a paper (case #13-05)

A subject editor who oversaw a manuscript was invited by the authors to become a co-author after the first review round. His name was added to the author list and the revised manuscript submitted to the journal. The authors expected that a different subject editor would handle the paper in the next review round. No one (including the subject editor himself or the Editor-in-Chief) noticed the addition of the subject editor’s name to the revised version. The paper was accepted, and published with the subject editor listed both as an author and as the communicating editor. COPE Forum was asked what the journal should now do. To find out what was discussed and the advice offered, click here.

Feedback can be provided here.