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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. August 2015 (Vol. 3, Issue 8)

Letter from the Chair

A number of items highlighted in this month’s newsletter, including the case of the month, reinforce how global COPE’s reach is now. Despite such global reach the underlying issues of cases are often similar, and so even though an issue may present in a number of different ways, its handling doesn’t much differ.

As COPE has grown over the past several years, the aspect that I would take greatest pride in is this increased internationalism at all levels—from our membership, through to our council members, and to the events that we undertake each year, including our forums, now exclusively online. And all this is happening at a time when publication ethics issues have become more complex.

What this increase in global reach has meant is that, together with our increase in size, COPE has also become more complex to run (and this happens with a very small paid staff and a small, entirely voluntary, council and officers).

We are therefore planning changes to support COPE into the future. We have already written to our members about our plans and next month we will be putting the detailed plans before the membership at an Annual General Meeting (AGM). We look forward to hearing feedback from our members on this.

In addition, we will shortly be surveying all our members about what it is that they really require from us as an organisation. We encourage you to participate as this will form the basis of much of our future strategy.

Case of the month

Every month we highlight 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.

Publishing different language versions of abstracts

At a recent Ask COPE session, the question was raised by an editor of whether it is ethical to re-publish abstracts of articles that have already been published in one language, in a different journal in another language.

COPE advised that duplicate publication is not unethical if it is transparent and clearly indicated. It is crucial that the original citation is acknowledged and that it is clear that the paper is not an original but is a duplicate. This is the case for translations in general. It is fine to re-publish, but the paper should indicate clearly that the material has been translated and re-published, and the original source of the material must be cited. COPE advised looking at examples in other journals for the exact wording of the notification.

Wiley-Blackwell have also provided advice on this issue in their Best Practice Guidelines on Publication Ethics: a Publisher's Perspective ( Their advice is: “Journals may choose to accept (ie, consider ‘not redundant’) the re-publication of materials that have been accurately translated from an original publication in a different language. Journals that translate and publish material that has been published elsewhere should ensure that they have appropriate permission(s), should indicate clearly that the material has been translated and re-published, and should indicate clearly the original source of the material. Editors may request copies of related publications if they are concerned about overlap and possible redundancy. Re-publishing in the same language as primary publication with the aim of serving different audiences is more difficult to justify when primary publication is electronic and therefore easily accessible, but if editors feel that this is appropriate they should follow the same steps as for translation.”


Compromised peer review

Report from the COPE Education Committee

The COPE Code of Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines for Journal Editors clearly states that editors are responsible for “ensuring that appropriate reviewers are selected for submissions (ie, individuals who are able to judge the work and are free from disqualifying competing interests)”. In 2012, events related to unethical peer review practices prompted COPE to write new guidelines for peer reviewers (COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers), detailing basic principles that help build trust in the peer review process. Among the basic principles outlined at the beginning of the document is the statement “recognize that impersonation of another individual during the review process is considered serious misconduct”. We have now seen that reviewer fraud and fabrication on a mass scale has compromised the integrity of more than 100 scholarly articles from multiple journals and publishers and resulted in large numbers of retractions. We reported the investigation by BioMed Central first in the June 2015 COPE Digest in the Letter from the Chair and followed with another story in the July issue about fake reviewers created by three editors at Hindawi. There may yet be more cases to come as publishers investigate the peer review processes in their journals.

From COPE’s perspective, we have seen the diligence with which publishers have investigated their peer review processes and we commend them for it. All of the publishers who have undertaken this task have closely followed COPE guidelines during the investigations and in the decision making process about retracting articles. The guidance is clear: impersonation of a reviewer constitutes serious misconduct. We are gratified to see that COPE guidelines have informed the process, and we have provided consultation and support to our members as they tackled these difficult issues. We also encourage preventive measures, such as posting links to resources for peer reviewers on journal and publisher websites. The COPE guidelines for peer reviewers were written explicitly with the novice reviewer in mind. We know that scholarly publishing depends on the volunteer efforts of peer reviewers yet few are prepared for this role in any formal way. These guidelines are a useful resource for publishers and journals as well as an educational resource for institutions that prepare researchers. COPE shares most of its resources freely under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.

In the news

Perverse incentives and perverse publishing practices

COPE Chair, Virginia Barbour, discusses how the pressure on academics to publish has become increasingly intense

BMC editors update retraction after investigation clears authors of faking peer reviews

BioMed Central have updated a retraction notice after an investigation found the authors were not responsible for a peer review process gone awry

Retraction because of honest scientific error in rice immunity paper

Careful redoing of experiments to check what went wrong to ensure that others would not waste time trying to reproduce irreproducible results and correct the scientific record

AAAS acquires peer review evaluation service to help promote transparency and public trust in science

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publisher of the Science family of journals, has announced the acquisition of "Peer Review Evaluation" (PRE), a web based service that promotes public trust in science by making the review of original research more transparent and verifiable

The hidden silly side of higher education

Hamsters, cats and dogs as co-authors and more....

End of semester roundup by Debora Weber-Wulff

A nice summary of recent cases of plagiarism and academic misconduct

Plagiarism in book publishing: the case of Régine Detambel "Les livres prennent soin de nous"

Leads the publisher Actes Sud to ask booksellers to insert a note about unattributed quotes in their remaining stock,129138.php

Another case of data fabrication and falsification from the Office of Research Integrity

David Anderson: and now four papers need to be retracted or corrected

AllTrials campaign launched in USA 29 July following success in Europe

Promoting the global call  for every clinical trial—past, present, and future—to be registered and the results from it reported to improve evidence base for patient care

Ethics in journalism from the UK Independent

Journalists must: “use their best efforts to get all the facts right; do the necessary research; and seek a response from the subject of an article if appropriate”

What's been happening at COPE

COPE AGM and Forum

For the past 18 months, we have been actively reviewing our governance and internal structure at COPE, which has been a lengthy and complex process. The context for this can be found here:

Members will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed changes at an Annual General Meeting (AGM) to be held on 9 September at 2.00pm at The Montcalm Hotel, 34-40 Great Cumberland Place, London, W1H 7TW (you will also be able to vote by proxy or by returning your voting form by email). Full details of the changes will be circulated with the AGM email notice shortly.

The AGM will be followed by a COPE Forum at 3pm, where we will discuss cases submitted by members. The deadline for submission of cases is 26 August. Cases must be anonymised and should be submitted via the website (go to Cases, and then Submit a case). You need to be logged in as a member to do this. We would like those presenting a case to join the meeting in London but there will be an opportunity to join the meeting by phone.

Survey of our membership coming soon

As a valued member of COPE—either because you have signed up with us personally or because the journal you edit has been registered with us by your publisher—we are seeking your views on all aspects of the organisation - as it is now, and how we can change to improve our offering to you over the next few years.

We have commissioned a professional market research company called Spotlight Market Research to conduct an online survey that will help us deliver these changes. As part of their brief, and in accordance with Data Protection laws, Spotlight will be contacting you soon, by email, with a link to the questionnaire for you to complete. 

We would be very grateful for your time and input to the questionnaire. This will help us to enhance and improve the support and resources we can offer all our members across the globe, as well as direct our strategy over the next few years.

If you do not want to receive the email and questionnaire link from Spotlight, please contact Natalie Ridgeway at [email protected]

COPE workshop at WAME International Conference for Medical Journal Editors, 2-4 October 2015, New Delhi, India

COPE will conduct a pre-conference workshop number II on 1 October 2015: "Detecting and Responding to Research (and publication) Misconduct" in collaboration with the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME). 

The workshop will be led by COPE Vice-chair Charlotte Haug, and will include the following:
1.  Introduction to COPE
2. Ethical challenges for journals:
               * COPE Code of Conduct for Editors and Publishers,
3. How to deal with suspected misconduct
               * Flowcharts
               * eLearning
               * COPE Forum and Ask COPE
4. Breakout session with discussion of cases
5. Wrap-up of cases and presentation of the COPE Audit as a tool for editors.

To register for the WAME conference or just the workshops, see here

COPE Seminar: “An introduction to publication ethics”, London, UK, 12 October 2015

COPE will host “An introduction to publication ethics” seminar in London this year. This seminar is aimed at new or less experienced editors and editorial and publishing staff, who would like to learn more about COPE and publication ethics. The seminar will focus on the themes of plagiarism and peer review.

The seminar is being held in collaboration with ISMTE (International Society of Managing and Technical Editors), on Monday 12 October 2015 at the Park Inn Hotel London Heathrow, 10am–4pm.

The seminar will include an overview of COPE, two invited speakers, in addition to breakout sessions in the afternoon with cases workshops.

The seminar is free for COPE members and ISMTE members, and £300 for non-members. Numbers are strictly limited to 50 and early booking is advisable.

For more information and to register, see the COPE website: