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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. June 2014 (Vol. 2, Issue 6)

Letter from the Editor of COPE Digest

The monthly round up shows that publication ethics is always in the news for a wide variety  of organisations. The American Chemical Society has published ethical guidelines of chemical research, and a new publication ethics organisation has been launched in China. Plagiarism, data fabrication and falsification are ever present. Science Sockpuppets is a new one for me, which  I found in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. Finally, we must not forget that 2014 is the 50th Anniversary of the Science Citation Index, and new words to grapple with have entered the Oxford English Dictionary.

If you would like to contribute items or have other suggestions, as always, please get in touch (contact us here).


The COPE audit tool 

The COPE audit tool (a member’s only benefit) supports a journal’s efforts to adhere to the principles of COPE’s Code of Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines on publication ethics. The audit tool lists the 22 principles in the Code of Conduct along with measurable evidence that editors and publishers could consider implementing to align their journals with best ethical practices and provides links to specific resources to augment journal policies and procedures. A journal audit provides the journal editor, publisher or editorial board an opportunity to review author guidelines, operating procedures and policies for handling ethical issues even before they arise. Some of the steps can be as simple as clarifying on the journal’s website how cases of misconduct are handled by linking to the appropriate COPE flowchart or other appropriate guidance documents. Other steps are more complicated, such as integrating a system of checking for plagiarism or image manipulation into the peer review system. In a poster presented at the 7th International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication in 2013, one publisher’s ethics audit process was reported (Ethics in practice: Improvements in ethical policies and practices in Wiley health science journals following a two-stage audit cycle by Graf, Meadows, Stevens and Wager). The two stage audit–feedback–re-audit cycle produced “modest but real improvements in journal policies and practices” in several areas.

The audit tool is easy to use—COPE members should consider doing an audit on their own journal and updating their policies and procedures to align with best practices in publication ethics.

In the news

50th Anniversary of the Science Citation Index

Launched in 1964 and we haven't looked back

Science pseudonyms and science sockpuppets

From the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, a new type of misconduct in the field of the physical sciences: the case of the pseudonyms used by I Ciufolini to anonymously criticize other people's works on arXiv. The article was first published online on 28 April 2014, DOI: 10.1002/asi.23238

Ethical guidelines to publication of chemical research

From the American Chemical Society: ACS ethical guidelines to publication of chemical research

Climate change, scientific journals and the media

Environmental Research Letters's statement from IOP Publishing on the story in The Times
and more from The Guardian

More from +AllTrials

The AllTrials video—make clinical trials count

From the Office of Research Integrity (ORI)

ORI found that Li Chen, intentionally, knowingly and recklessly fabricated and falsified data reported in four publications, one submitted manuscript and four grant applications. Details are provided

COPE resources:
eLearning: Falsification
eLearning: Fabrication
Flowcharts: What to do if you suspect fabricated data

Plagiarism in India

The Department of Science and Technology has written to the University of Mysore seeking urgent clarification on a matter pertaining to allegations of plagiarism against the university’s vice chancellor

COPE resources:
How should editors respond to plagiarism?
Plagiarism flowcharts
eLearning: Plagiarism

Retracted paper in Wetlands Ecology and Management

Chinese bird researchers had a paper retracted in Wetlands Ecology and Management on the migratory habits of shorebirds after the editors of the journal learned that they had plagiarized two of their own previous publications.

COPE resources:
Retraction guidelines
eLearning: Corrections, retractions and expressions of concern

University presses

University presses: “Under fire” or just under the gun (like the rest of us)?

New words enter the Oxford English Dictionary

New words enter the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014 which authors, reviewers and editors will need to grapple with
ethnomathematics, n.
ethnomedical, ethnomycology, ethnopharmacologic,  ethoxylate.........................

New Chinese publication ethics organization launched at the International Seminar of Medical Journal Editors, Shanghai, China

Report from COPE Alumna, Irene Hames

I was invited to attend and speak at the recent International Seminar of Medical Journal Editors (ISMJE) held in Shanghai, 12-14 April, in a visit sponsored by the China Periodicals Association Medical and Medicine Subcommittee. The focus of the seminar, attended by around 200 editors, was the internationalization of Chinese journals, and topics included journal development, evaluation and quality control, peer review, the role of editors, and publication ethics. I gave talks on peer review and publication ethics, and ran a case study workshop using adapted COPE cases. These had been translated into Chinese in advance by former COPE Council member Charley Miao, who also acted as translator during the workshop. The session proved popular, with around 60 editors taking part. It also managed to be interactive despite the language challenges, with the Chinese editors enthusiastically volunteering suggestions and relating similar experiences at their journals.

Chinese journals and editors are acutely aware of the importance of publication ethics in their quest for international recognition and influence, and are working hard to provide a strong publication ethics base and to implement good practice. Central to the seminar was the official launch of the Chinese Committee of Medical and Health Journals on Publication Ethics (CCMHJPE) and appointment of its Advisory Board. CCMHJPE’s mission is to help develop publication ethics and research integrity in mainland China, and to provide support and services in these areas to Chinese editors and researchers. It also hopes to facilitate events by international organizations in Mainland China related to publication ethics and research integrity.

Irene Hames at the ISMJE meeting in Shanghai, China

What's been happening at COPE

The COPE Case Taxonomy is launched!

One of COPE’s most valuable member benefits is the opportunity to present problem publication ethics cases to the quarterly Forum for discussion and advice. The archive of these more than 500 cases represents an extensive searchable resource that editors (and others, as access is free) can consult to help them deal with a whole range of ethical issues.

In 2013, it became apparent that the cases being brought to COPE for help were becoming more complex. A new and more comprehensive classification scheme was therefore developed to make it easier to code cases, to aid searching and to provide a finer level of detail for analysis. The resulting COPE Case Taxonomy comprises 18 main classification categories, and 100 keywords, and was designed to be descriptive not judgemental.

All the cases in COPE’s database were recoded and all new cases are being coded according to the new taxonomy; up to two classifications, denoting the main topics discussed, and 10 keywords can be assigned per case. It is important to note that classification and keyword coding denotes that a topic was raised and discussed, not that a particular form of publication misconduct had occurred.

As others have expressed interest in using the taxonomy, COPE is making it available, with appropriate attribution, for use by other organizations and individuals. We welcome feedback on the taxonomy, including examples of use by others. The full list can be seen here.

FORUM DISCUSSION TOPIC: Fair play for “researchers”: can editors and regulators develop a common approach to the need (or lack of need) for ethical review?

The topic for discussion at this Forum is ‘Fair play for “researchers”: can editors and regulators develop a common approach to the need (or lack of need) for ethical review?’ There are a number of legitimate and valuable tools for gaining information and evidence for scientific advance and improving health care. These include research, evaluation, audit, and others. There is a real danger that UK “researchers” using tools other than “research”, duly following guidance in UK research regulation stating a lack of need for ethical review, find that journal editors will not consider their manuscript for publication because editors dispute the definition of what needs or does not need ethical review

Further details can be found on the COPE website and also via a link from the homepage.

We urge you to read the details of the discussion and then leave your comments.

COPE/CSE joint session held at the 2014 CSE annual meeting 4 May 2014

Report from COPE council member Charon Pierson

Continuing a tradition of collaboration between COPE and the Council of Science Editors (CSE), a panel presentation “Misconduct investigations—balancing collaboration and confidentiality” generated enthusiastic comments on the COPE discussion document “Sharing of information among editors-in-chief regarding possible misconduct”. The panel consisted of Dr Charon Pierson, COPE Council, Dr Steven Shafer, Editor-in-Chief, Anesthesia and Analgesia and Mr Roy Kaufman, lawyer and managing director of new ventures at the Copyright Clearance Center. The audience was a dynamic part of the discussion, with editors sharing their previous experiences and lessons learned.

Specifically, the legal implications of sharing information about submitted manuscripts was a hotly debated point. According to the COPE document, COPE recognizes that there is an inherent conflict between pursuing misconduct and maintaining confidentiality when the suspect manuscript is in the peer review process. COPE does recommend “minimizing the harm while maximizing the benefit” and provides several suggestions about how to do that. The legal perspective from Roy Kaufman in this discussion is worth examining. He contended that a lawyer would look at “fact patterns” related to the conduct of all investigations by journals and as long as the process (the fact patterns of the investigation) was the same in every case, journals would be less vulnerable to legal action. Journals must follow policies that demonstrate a consistent and transparent approach to all investigations of misconduct. The take home message was that editors should maintain confidentiality as much as possible, but that duty has to be balanced with an obligation to maintain the integrity of the scientific record.

An overriding concern was that certain types of misconduct that put the public at risk must be pursued aggressively while still adhering to consistent and transparent processes. Some additional suggestions from the panel and ensuing discussion included: (1) add a statement to the author guidelines that the editor can at his or her discretion inform other journals or institutions about suspected misconduct during the peer review process; (2) all suspected misconduct should be investigated thoroughly according to COPE guidelines (ie, be consistent in approach to all investigations to avoid the appearance of being harsher with some situations or individuals); (3) keep accurate records; and (4) involve the legal department of the publisher as early as possible to avoid escalation of comments and actions that could create legal jeopardy. 

From left to right: Mr Roy Kaufman, Dr Steve Shafer and Dr Charon Pierson at the CSE meeting. Not in the photo was the moderator, Jennifer Mahar. 

PAME Congress, Lahore, Pakistan

Report from COPE council member Behrooz Astaneh

The second national congress of the Pakistan Association of Medical Editors (PAME) was held in Lahore, Pakistan, on 26–27 April 2014. More than 200 Pakistani medical editors as well as researchers and faculty members from various Pakistani universities participated in the congress. The congress was inaugurated with speeches by eminent Pakistani researchers, including Dr Maqhbol Jafari, president of the Eastern Mediterranean Association of Medical Editors (EMAME).

I was the co-chair of the second session held in the morning. The afternoon session included three different workshops on journal indexing, medical writing and publication ethics. I co-facilitated the last workshop and talked about the revised version of the authorship criteria released by ICMJE, where I focused on the COPE approach. About 25 Pakistani editors took part in the workshop.

The second day of the congress included two sessions related to medical journalism. In the second session, I presented “COPE, aims and new features”, which was well received. I urged Pakistani editors to consider the COPE guidelines when dealing with ethical publishing, and I also  mentioned the benefits of COPE membership. Other presenters also mentioned the COPE guidelines recommended following COPE documents.

The congress finished after the second day. Because of flight restrictions from Shiraz To Lahore, I had to stay a few more days in Pakistan so I would like to thank the organizers, especially Mr Shaukat Jawaid, chief coordinator of the congress, for their warm hospitality during my stay in Lahore.

Behrooz Astaneh presenting at the PAME Congress in Lahore, Pakistan

COPE visit to the Proceedings B Editorial Board Meeting

Report from the Royal Society

The annual meeting of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B Editorial Board was held last month at the Royal Society in London. This year we had a special guest in the form of COPE treasurer Chris Graf who hosted a workshop on publication ethics in the digital age for the journal editors. Although time was short, Chris gave an informative and engaging talk about the changing nature of publication ethics now that online content is becoming the norm. This was followed by a lively Q&A session which allowed the editors to discuss tricky publication ethics issues they had come across and get an expert perspective from Chris. The issue of anonymous whistle blowers in particular sparked an interesting debate among the editorial board.

As many attendees previously only had a passing familiarity with the work of COPE, this session provided a great opportunity for them to get to know the excellent advisory services and online resources COPE offers to member journals. The session was invaluable in reminding editors what to look out for where ethical issues are concerned and reassuring us that help is available if required. All in all, the session was a great success and several editors stated how useful it was to have Chris share his expertise with us. 

Case of the month

Should editors publish papers that are written under a pseudonym?

This was one of the questions put forward by a COPE member at the recent 'Ask COPE' session on 13 May. The advice from 'Ask COPE' was that editors should not publish or consider accepting a paper that is known to be written under a pseudonym. Being accountable is one of the main reasons why this should not be done. Authors need to be named in order that they can be held accountable for their research. There is strong guidance on authorship in the biomedical field—authorship should be taken seriously. If the names of the authors are not known, then it is not possible to hold them accountable for the research they have done.

COPE advised having a written policy on papers submitted to the journal under a pseudonym. If the journal policy is not to accept such papers, then the situation is clear and the editor can refer to this policy if a similar situation arises.

There may be very rare cases of authors having to publish under a pseudonym for reasons of national safety or if the author’s safety is in danger, but if the journal has a policy in place, the editor can refer to this in such situations.

The next Ask COPE session will be on Thursday 19 June at 3pm British Summer Time. Click here for more information.