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.