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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. August 2014 (Vol. 2, Issue 8)

Letter from the Chair

One headline this month stood out for me above all the many posts there are each month on publication ethics–that concerning the suicide of Yoshiki Sasai, an author of the retracted Nature papers on Stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP). There has been much comment on the tragedy of his suicide; but I believe above all it should be a reminder of how important it is to handle these issues sensitively, carefully and consistently.

At COPE we deliberately do not weigh in to the more sensational coverage on publication ethics that the Internet is awash with. Our overarching aims are to support editors and publishers in handling these issues, in a professional way, by providing tools and education and a place they can debate these issues as peers.

As publishing moves online and becomes more open there is no doubt that scrutiny of what is published will continue to increase, and all in scholarly publishing should welcome that. At the same time, however, scholarly publishing is, at the end, a human activity and people’s careers will be determined by what they publish and what happens after publication. The pressure to publish and the effects that this can have on publication practices, ranging from sloppiness through to outright fraud, is one of the biggest challenges facing publishing today. However, I hope this tragedy will make everyone involved in publishing, whether as editors, authors or readers think before they rush to judge.

At COPE we will continue to do what we can to ensure that everyone involved in publishing has the tools, the knowledge, and the support to handle issues in as professional and constructive a way as possible, whatever the outcome.


E-Learning module addresses authorship issues

From the COPE Education Subcommittee

One of the most frequent issues brought to the COPE Forum involves questions about authorship. This Authorship online module addresses the most common problems encountered by editors and publishers when authorship is either contested or possibly unethical. Authorship is important because credit and recognition as well as responsibility for the work must be clearly articulated. When people are credited with work they did not perform or cannot defend, this is a serious ethical breach. An audio presentation about “gift authorship” explains this problem in detail.

Additional resources linked to this module on Authorship include guidelines on adding or removing extra authors before and after publication and how to spot possible guest, ghost, or gift authorship. This has been such an important issue that COPE awarded a research grant to conduct a systematic review of authorship guidelines across all scientific disciplines and geographic locations. The findings from that review were published in PLOS One 2011;6(9):e23477 (

In the news

Citation of an unpublished book

Queen’s University Belfast is to investigate references in its research portal to an apparently non-existent book said to be co-edited by a pro vice-chancellor who was censured last year for citing a book of his that had never been published

Criticism of research assessment exercises

Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics, University of Warwick, on how these can block innovation

EQUATOR Network on the pulse of ethics in health research

Dr Iveta Simera, Head of Programme Development for the EQUATOR Network, recently connected with iThenticate to delve into key ethical issues in health research

An initiative to promote research ethics in schoolchildren

Workshop for schoolchildren to discuss the importance of ethics in research at IIT-Kharagpur

Three PLOS One  papers retracted

Three PLOS One papers retracted because of data fabrication following investigation by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research

COPE resources:
Retraction guidelines

Crack down on scientific fraudsters

The New York Times supports a crack down on scientific fraudsters and repayment of funding

Charging for peer review

Archives of Biological Sciences, the official publication of the Serbian Biological Society, co-published by 10 organisations in Serbia and Bosnia, is accused of accepting a paper in 24 hours with no peer review, and demanding 1785 Euros for publishing

COPE resources:
COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers

Retractions are not new: is this the oldest one?

From the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society on 24 June 1756

COPE resources:
Retraction guidelines

SAGE retracts 60 articles

SAGE retracts 60 articles implicated in a peer review and citation ring at the Journal of Vibration and Control, and the Minister of Education in Taiwan (one of the authors on some of the papers) resigns

COPE resources:
Retraction guidelines

Publication misconduct among medical professionals in India

Gift and dropped authorship, alteration of data, plagiarism, and so it goes on

PAME Congress, Lahore, Pakistan

The proceedings of the second national congress of the Pakistan Association of Medical Editors (PAME), which was held in Lahore, Pakistan, on 26–27 April 2014, have now been published

Jawaid SA. Proceedings of PAME Second National Conference 2014. Pak J Med Sci 2014;30(5):1161-1176.

What's been happening at COPE

New COPE council members appointed

COPE is very pleased to announce the appointment of two new COPE council members, Christopher Leonard and Muhammad Irfan. Following our recent call for nominations, two candidates were short-listed by council following an interview. In accordance with our regulations, where the number of short-listed candidates is equal to the number of vacancies (ie, the candidates are unopposed), the nominees are appointed if approved by a majority of the members of Council. Hence Christopher Leonard and Muhammad Irfan were appointed to COPE council following approval of COPE Council.

Christopher Leonard is the Editorial Director at the Doha-based academic publisher, Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals. Muhammad Irfan is currently working as Head, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Peshawar Medical College, Peshawar, Pakistan, and is the managing editor of the Journal of Postgraduate Medical Institute, Peshawar.

We very much look forward to working with them.


New council members Christopher Leonard (left) and Muhammad Irfan (right).

Text recycling guidelines for editors

A common issue encountered by editors is overlap of text with an author’s own previously published work, particularly with the increasing use of plagiarism detection software. This practice is known as ‘text recycling’ (also sometimes referred to as ‘self-plagiarism’). Opinions on the acceptability of text recycling vary greatly and it can be a challenge for editors to know how to deal with it once it has been identified.

In response to this uncertainty, the biology and medical editors at BioMed Central, in collaboration with COPE, have developed a set of guidelines to help editors handle cases of text recycling. During the development of these guidelines, a wide range of viewpoints were sought from Editors from a variety of fields, including discussion at a COPE forum (

The guidelines cover how to deal with text recycling both in a submitted manuscript and a published article and include situations where text recycling may be acceptable as well as those where it is unlikely to be. For example, it may be entirely appropriate to have overlap in a methods section of a research article (referring to a previously used method) with citation of the original article. However, undisclosed overlap, or overlap in the results, discussion, or conclusions is unlikely to be acceptable.

While individuals will naturally have different views on the acceptability of text recycling, the aim of these guidelines is to provide a summary of the key points for editors to consider when handling particular cases of text recycling.

COPE Council strategy day

COPE Council held a strategy day on 17 July to discuss our plans and strategy for next year specifically, but also for the next 3–5 years.

We reviewed our governance and, among other issues, agreed a new structure for COPE council with more formalised subcommittees.

We reinforced our intention to be at the forefront of the debate on publication ethics by providing education, support and a place our members can debate publication ethics; we affirmed that our role is not to police publication ethics. 

Many seminars and Forums, alone and in collaboration with other organisations, are planned, including one focusing on issues related to the social sciences. We will also be conducting a major survey of our members, so watch out for that. This and other events coming up will be communicated to the membership over the next few months. 

COPE council members at the recent strategy day.


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 about. We welcome comments and further discussion about the cases and will provide summaries in future issues.

Omitted author (case # 13-12)

The editor allowed an omitted author to be added to a paper even though he was unsure if the omitted author satisfied the International Committee on Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) authorship criteria on the basis of the information available to the journal. However, the omitted author and all the coauthors agreed to add the omitted author and signed new authorship declaration forms. Was the editor correct in his course of action?
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