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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. April 2015 (Vol. 3, Issue 4)

Letter from the Chair

This month sees peer review come under scrutiny with the retraction of a batch of papers following BioMed Central's investigation of a series of papers where false  reviewers were supplied by agencies. In addition, there was a discussion on Twitter and elsewhere about the ethics of paying reviewers for fast peer review. Moreover, peer review is the topic of particularly lively debate at the UK’s Royal Society on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of its, and indeed any, scholarly publishing

BioMed Central's handling of their retractions is to be hugely commended, for the swift way in which it was investigated, their collaboration with COPE and other publishers, and their commitment to follow up. Clearly, the issue of agencies fabricating peer review on a large scale is not one that can be resolved in the long term by one publisher, and the responses of institutions will be critical here.

This issue points out several areas where COPE has produced guidelines either alone or with others (eg, on ethical guidelines for peer reviewers, collaboration among editors and collaboration between journals and institutions) and illustrates the complexity of modern publication ethics . In particular, even though an issue may come to light at the journal level, it virtually always has its roots elsewhere and journals and editors can rarely be solely responsible for resolving. Publishers, institutions, authors, editors and reviewers: we are all in this together.

Case of the month

Every month we will be highlighting a publication ethics case that has been brought to the COPE Forum, Ask COPE session or a query posted to COPE council 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.

Compromised peer review (unpublished) (case #12-16)

A manuscript was flagged as having received reviewers’ reports indicating very high interest. The manuscript had been through one round of review, revision and re-review, and all three reviewers were advising that the manuscript be accepted without further revision. On checking the credentials of the three reviewers, the editor was unable to find the publication record of any of them. All three reviewers were found to have been suggested by the authors. Institutions were given for the suggested authors but the the reviewers were found not to exist. Read the full case details, along with the discussion and advice here:



Report from the COPE Education Committee

This issue of COPE Digest contains several items related to retractions, an ever recurring issue for publishers, editors and researchers. One of COPE’s members, the American Chemical Society, hosted a live Webinar and a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” chat on the topic of  “Catching errors: peer review and retractions in publishing.” Guest panelists for these events were Ivan Oransky of Retraction Watch and Charon Pierson, COPE Council Member. There were enthusiastic comments from participants that, although the topic was not specific to chemistry, it was an important topic for anyone in the field to be able to read and understand the significance of retractions on the progress of science. From some of the questions posed by participants, it was quite evident that reviewers and researchers are very concerned about missing clues to fraud and just plain error. There was considerable confusion about what to do if one uncovers errors or possible fabricated data in a manuscript, either published or under review.

The responsibility to review any such allegations falls to the editor of the journal and investigation should be pursued via the institution. COPE has guidelines for collaboration between journals and institutions, as well as guidelines for editors about how to handle allegations of fraud and error and how to retract an article should that be necessary. It is never appropriate for a reader/reviewer to try to contact the author(s). Manuscripts under review must be kept confidential; therefore, the only appropriate person to contact is the editor of the journal. COPE’s Guidelines for Reviewers cover the major ethical issues for reviewers. 

In the news

Predatory publishing: what authors need to know

Excellent guidelines for evaluating the integrity of a nursing journal

Female editor receives unbelievably sexist email from scientist

Beyond belief in the 21st century

New software to detect fake scientific papers

Springer announces release of new software SciDetect to uncover fake scientific papers generated by computer systems

Inappropriate manipulation of peer review

BioMed Central retracts 43 papers.

Improving article submission and review processes

Cumbersome submission systems, finding reviewers, authors not responding to comments and lots more

Stefan Grimm’s death leads Imperial College London to review performance metrics

And hopefully support their staff

University of Minnesota  board agrees to suspend enrollment in human psychiatric drug studies

Following inquiry into death of clinical trial participant in 2004

Safeguarding research integrity in China

1 in 2 think that ghost authorship, plagiarism, falsification and fabrication, and multiple submissions are common

Concern raised over payment for fast track peer review

Biology papers submitted to the Nature Publishing Group journal Scientific Reports. Papers can be fast tracked if authors make an additional payment, currently set at US$750, with the journal promising to decide on the submission within 3 weeks. A member of the journal's editorial board has resigned in protest.

Plagiarism guideline paper retracted for…plagiarism

The Indian Journal of Dermatology is retracting a paper that presents guidelines on plagiarism for plagiarism

BioMed Central to publish new journal Research Integrity and Peer Review

One of the editors in chief is former COPE Chair, Liz Wager

Data manipulation in top scientific journals

A currently unfolding scandal of alleged data manipulation in plant sciences that apparently extends over many years and features some top scientific journals

What's been happening at COPE

March Forum cases

The cases presented at the COPE March 2015 Forum, along with the advice given and updates on previous cases, are now on the COPE website to view.

New cases

15-01 Institution alleges paper includes fabricated data

15-02 Author disagreement blocks submission

15-03 The ethics of self-experimentation

15-04 Plagiarized figure

15-05 Reviewer requests to be added as an author after publication


13-17 Misattributed authorship and unauthorized use of data

14-07 Authors’ contributions and involvement by medical communications company

14-08 Institutional review board approval needed?

14-09 Institutional review board approval required?

14-10 Possible self-plagiarism and/or prior publication

Successful COPE European Workshop and Seminar in Brussels

COPE’s European Seminar took place in Brussels, Belgium, on April 16 and 17. The event was extended over 2 days and featured three interactive workshops. A full report on the meeting will appear in the next issue of COPE Digest.

COPE North American Seminar 19 August 2015

Date for your diary - COPE's 6th North American seminar, will be held in collaboration with ISMTE (International Society of Managing & Technical Editors), on Wednesday 19 August 2015 at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, Baltimore, Maryland, USA. More details to follow soon.