Two pieces are especially pertinent: one from the Scholarly Kitchen on the vital role editors play, which is perhaps especially relevant in the world of crowdsourcing; and another from the ever thought provoking Richard Smith (one of COPE’s founders) on whether scientific misconduct should be a crime. His piece points at the tension that editors (and COPE) face daily. It’s easy to get distracted by the big cases as they are certainly more newsworthy and somehow easy to understand.
The truth, however, is that the less glamorous but more important side of publication ethics is in what I often think of the housekeeping related work. Here in Queensland, a place where storms happen regularly and violently, it’s storm season and everyone is exhorted to prepare now to stop damage later. Clean up the yard, fix the gutters, get the emergency supplies in place; all of these small things make the city more resilient and the infrastructure more secure. This is analogous to the day to day of ensuring good hygiene, as it were, in publishing: good record keeping, secure and proper data archiving, clear writing and proper referencing. All areas where it is easy to cut corners without good education, solid systems and good role models.
It doesn’t mean of course that the big disasters won’t strike and shouldn’t be cleaned up after. But to come back to the role of editors and of COPE, I would argue that having an ethical framework to work in might not be able to stave off every storm but it will, over time, build resilience and trust in the literature.