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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. October 2014 (Vol. 2, Issue 10)

Letter from the Chair

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.


COPE seminars—at a computer near you

Report from the COPE Education Committee

Unable to attend a seminar? Inconvenient to travel to London, Pennsylvania, San Diego, Australia, or Belgium to attend a 1- or 2-day seminar? COPE resources may have the answer to your problem. Since 2010, COPE has posted podcasts, papers, and presentations from seminars held in all of these locations. Although attendance at a COPE sponsored seminar is free for COPE membership (another benefit of belonging to COPE), we know it’s not always convenient to travel to the actual meeting. The resources available under the Seminars tab provide members with some of the content online.

COPE brings internationally recognized, authoritative speakers to present at these conferences. We try to address new and the persistently problematic issues that we all face daily in the world of scholarly publishing. If you did have the opportunity to attend one of the seminars in person, you can use the resources to bring back information to your staff and editorial boards.

Our resources continue to expand and develop, and we encourage you to take advantage of all our resources, which you can find under the Resources tab. And we hope to see you at a seminar in the future. You will find announcements of upcoming events on our website, either on the home page or under the Events tab

In the news

Should scientists handle retractions differently?

A study asks if retracted papers needlessly stigmatize and jeopardize solid research in related fields

Richard Smith on making serious scientific misconduct a crime

Research misconduct degrades trust in science and causes real world harm. As such, it should be a crime akin to fraud, argues Richard Smith

It's never too late to publish a forgotten or abandoned clinical trial

AllTrials publishes stories of researchers who have published abandoned trials

Detailed retraction notice for duplicate publication by Acta Radiologica

It really explains what happened and the reasons 

The vital role of editors in chief

So often forgotten

Fake journals: their features and some viable ways to distinguishing them

Tips published in Science and Engineering Ethics

Call to action to nurse editors

The International Academy of Nurse Editors (INANE) has published a call to action to nurse editors to inform authors about predatory publishers

Plagiarism, patch writing and the media

What happens in newspapers

Daily Mail Australia and News Corp settle over plagiarism claim

News organizations reach confidential legal settlement

Achieving open access in conservation science: cost and solutions

Models proposed so that information can be made available quickly to those implementing management

Editorial board mass resignation from an open access journal

Food for thought for editors

Editorial on sudden increase in Nature retractions

Reflections on the complexity

What's been happening at COPE

What constitutes authorship? New COPE discussion document

A new discussion document looking at some of the issues around authorship has been published by COPE. 'What constitutes authorship' ( examines existing guidelines on authorship, puts together some basic principles to help prevent common problems, and sets out some of the more thorny issues that have come to light in previous discussions, many of which are discipline-specific and which require more nuanced consideration.

This document aims to stimulate discussion around the most common authorship issues faced by COPE members and we welcome feedback from members (and non-members). We encourage journal editors and publishers to comment, and also welcome comments from researchers/authors and academic institutions. Please email all comments to Natalie Ridgeway, COPE Operations Manager here


The next Ask COPE will be held on Wednesday 22 October 2014 at 2pm (British Summer Time). Available as a member benefit, members can ask a publication ethics related question of Council in real-time via our webinar facility.

At a set time and date each month, you can sign up to Ask COPE. There will be two members of Council available, and you will be given a 20 minute slot for your question. You will be the only member on the call so your query can be answered in confidence. If your question proves more complicated, you may be asked to submit it to Council via one of our other channels (eg, a Forum, or for it to be discussed among the full Council via email). Please contact Linda Gough to register or for further details at

Forum Discussion Topic: Standard retraction form

Retractions are often used as a proxy for publication quality. Retractions have been studied with cohorts of various sizes over differing time periods. Time after time these studies have pointed out that there is often no clearly stated reason for retraction and when given these reasons are often lacking in detail. This was the Forum discussion topic at the COPE Forum on 23 September 2014. of A summary of the discussion and of the comments on the COPE blog can be found here or downloaded from the Discussion Documents page on the website. 

Podcasts from the COPE North American seminar

Podcasts of the presentations from the COPE North American seminar on 13 August 2014 in Philadelphia, USA, are now available on the COPE website here. Listen to COPE Council member, Charon Pierson, discussing how editors share misconduct; Mark Seely, Senior VP/General Counsel at Elsevier, on open access and copyright; and Michael Carroll of Creative Commons talking about mobile platforms, linked content, and copyright.

Case of the month

Every month we will be highlighting a publication ethics case that has been brought to the COPE Forum or the Ask COPE session by one of our 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.

Possible breach of reviewer confidentiality (case # 14-06)

Soon after rejecting a paper, the author wrote to tell the editor that he was asked questions ‘about the manuscript’ at a presentation at a national meeting. The authors were concerned that one of the reviewers may be a colleague or collaborator with the person who asked the question. The editor emailed the two reviewers to inform them of the concern about confidentiality and to ask if they shared the manuscript or its contents and, if so, how and why. Both reviewers replied that they kept the paper confidential and did not share it with anyone else. Did the journal handle this situation correctly?
Click below to find out the views of the Forum