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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. January 2014 (Vol. 2, Issue 1)

Letter from the Chair

Welcome to the first COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice of 2014.

2013 was a year of extraordinary activity in research and publication ethics. It felt like the year when scrutiny of papers and journals publicly (and, increasingly, anonymously) passed from being unusual to being part of academic discourse. Along with that came a rise in corrections and retractions and much soul searching by journals about whether this was a good or bad thing for academia.

At COPE we have consistently taken the approach that our overall aim is the practical support and education of our members so that they can do their jobs, but we also aim to take a lead in new issues to do with publishing ethics. Two of our initiatives from last year reflect both the new challenges but also provide some practical advice: a set of principles of transparency for journals which we published together with three other publishing organizations; and a discussion at one of our Forums on how editors might collaborate best when issues arise across multiple journals (we shall also be collaborating with the Council of Science Editors [CSE] on a session dedicated to this topic at their annual conference in May 2014).

This month’s newsletter as usual ranges far and wide across the world of publishing ethics. I hope you find something you’ll take away for your daily editorial work. As always we welcome feedback and look forward to meeting you at one of the many events we have planned this year.


eLearning course

COPE is offering non-members working on scholarly journals the chance to try out our eLearning programme with free access to the module, 'An Introduction to Publication Ethics'. This module aims to highlight the importance of ethical publishing as well as outline the definitions of misconduct. Virginia Barbour, Chair of COPE, says, “The aim of the free taster module is to give potential members a feeling for the extensive benefits that the organisation can offer them". Do you know who might commit publication misconduct? You can find out by trying this free introductory module at ( Feedback on the modules has been very positive. Editors and publishers who are members of COPE have offered their staff and editorial board members the opportunity to access all of the self-paced learning modules as a benefit of COPE membership. Successful completion of each module is acknowledged with a certificate of completion.

COPE Forum discussions

At the beginning of each Forum, COPE discusses a specific topic. Typically raised by one of our members, the topic is intended to stimulate discussion during and post Forum, potentially leading to a discussion document, or more formal guidelines being developed by COPE. The topic for discussion at the last Forum was 'How should a journal deal with persistent complainers?'. You can view the summary and existing comments, as well as post any comments you may have here: We encourage you to add your comments and contribute further to the discussion. 

In the news

Real authors?

The ORCID project is about making sure that authors are real and managing author databases. Researchers and contributors may now link education and employment affiliations to their ORCID records.

Writing to authors

In collaboration with COPE, the Council of Science Editors' (CSE) Editorial Policy Committee has developed sample correspondence that relates to specific situations that journal editors may face, such as authorship, manuscript overlap, etc.

COPE resource: Sample letters

The case for two types of retractions

Setting the record straight with integrity. Authors acknowledge their mistakes and do the right thing to set the record straight. 

COPE resource: Retraction guidelines


More retractions from Shigeaki Kato - image manipulation detected in Nature paper cited 98 times.

COPE resource: Retraction guidelines

Ethical approval regulation for studies in humans: worldwide variation

Regulations regarding what type of study requires ethical approval vary worldwide. In some countries, all studies require ethical approval, but in other countries, not. Journal editorial teams need to be aware of this and not reject manuscripts because of a misunderstanding of local regulations. In the UK, the Health Research Authority provides guidance (see section 2.3 of 'Governance arrangements for research ethics committees: a harmonised edition').

Plagiarism and speciality 

Papers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) plagiarize more than those in the social sciences, according to a study published in  the Journal of English for Academic Purposes

COPE resources:
Plagiarism discussion document

eLearning course

Plagiarism and the law 

French courts sentence researcher found guilty of plagiarism.

COPE resources: 
Plagiarism discussion document

eLearning course

Plagiarism and institutions

The University of Kansas has censured a former Kansas Geological Survey senior scientist after an accusation of plagiarism.

COPE resources: 
Plagiarism discussion document

Guidelines on Cooperation between research institutions and journals on research integrity cases
eLearning course

Publication of clinical trials

Of the 600 trials with results posted at, 50% had no corresponding published article, a study from PLoS Medicine found

Publish or perish

Scientific misconduct will be found out eventually, Hashem Dbouk from The American Society for Cell Biology warns.

Responses to a sting

Some ideas from Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication

Teaching publication ethics from a young age

A journal with editors aged 5-18 years 

What's been happening at COPE

COPE Council elections

Voting for the 2 vacancies on COPE council is now open and will remain open until Friday 24 January 2014. All Full and Associate Members of COPE are entitled to vote. Please note that there is only one vote per journal title, even for journals with multiple editors. The vote should be cast by the member editor, who is usually the Editor-in-Chief, or otherwise by the nominated contact for the journal. Editors of more than one journal will have a vote for each journal.

Each Full and Associate Member with voting rights is entitled to vote for UP TO 2 CANDIDATES on the ballot paper. The candidates receiving the highest numbers of votes shall be deemed elected to council.
Please go to the website to cast your votes  

COPE Forums by webinar

In 2013, COPE conducted three of the quarterly Forums via webinar. They proved to be very successful, and have achieved one of our main aims - reaching more of our global membership. Our March Forum saw members from 14 different countries (attendance 50), the September Forum reached members from 18 different countries (attendance 67) and December saw 60 members attend from 17 different countries. Participation has been from countries as wide-ranging as Australia, Cameroon, Iceland, Japan, Myanmar, Pakistan and South Africa, among others. For the future, we plan to conduct all of our quarterly Forums in this way. We also plan to meet with members face to face at meetings around the world.  

If you have attended one of our webinars, we are always keen to receive your feedback. You can contact us here.

COPE December Forum

The cases presented at the COPE December Forum, along with the advice given and together with updates on previous cases, are now on the COPE website. You can also listen to the discussion of each case by downloading the audio. 

13-14 Ethical concerns about a study involving human subjects
13-16 Two reviewer reports contain a significant amount of verbatim textual overlap
13-17 Misattributed authorship and unauthorized use of data
13-18 Claim of plagiarism in published article
13-19 Identifying patient information published in a figure
12-34 Journal refuses to correct the record
13-01 Paper submitted for publication without consent or knowledge of co-author
13-08 Unusually frequent submission of articles by a single author
13-10 Authorship dispute
13-12 Omitted author
13-13 A case of plagiarism?

XXV Annual Conference of the Physiological Society of India, 9 December 2013.

The conference and workshop was organized by Kamineni Institute of Medical Sciences, Narketpally, India, and endorsed by COPE. It was led by COPE International Advisory Group member, Professor Kusal Das, along with Professor Deepak of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. The 26 physiology participants discussed authorship criteria and some of the COPE cases. All found it very interesting and worthwhile. Professor Das's full report can be read here.


Top 5 cases of 2013

Food for thought: the top 5 cases discussed at COPE forum in 2013.

13-01 Paper submitted for publication without consent or knowledge of co-authors

A co-author complains that the corresponding author (a PhD student) submitted research for publication without their consent or that of the other seven co-authors. The co-author has submitted a slightly updated version to another journal with a higher impact factor. The complaint includes the fact that the corresponding author was not allowed to publish the research due to an agreement with the research centre where the research was carried out.

13-04 Findings of a published trial called into question by a subsequent audit of trial conduct

A random inspection by the national regulator 3 years after publication reveals inconsistencies and lapses in the conduct of a randomised controlled trial.

13-05 Editor as author of a paper

A subject editor, who oversaw a manuscript, inadvertently becomes a co-author on the same paper. The manuscript slipped through two rounds of the journal’s editorial process. 

13-08 Unusually frequent submission of articles by a single author

A sixth year medical student submitted 29 original articles and 17 Letters to the Editor within 8 months, an average of five submissions per month. Higher authorities are unresponsive.

13-11 A case of salami slicing

Two submitted manuscripts mimicked a published paper and were found to be reporting on the same data, but presented as two different papers.