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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. May 2015 (Vol. 3, Issue 5)

Letter from the Editor

Metrics is in the news this month. This was the theme of the recent COPE European seminar and workshop in Brussels last month (see report below) and will be theme of the upcoming COPE North American seminar in August (registration now open). There are several news items on this topic, including stories on bibliometrics, Altmetrics and length of abstract influencing citation numbers. Maintain academic integrity in the race to publish in high impact factor journals in now even more important. Also in the news is new ethical challenges, such as publishing on human embryo editing, outsourced peer review with payment by authors and sexist reviewer comments.

If you have any items for COPE Digest, would like to contribute items or have other suggestions, as always, please get in touch (contact us here), and please do forward COPE Digest to your colleagues.

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.

Retraction or correction? (case #11-18)

A reader contacted a journal with evidence that a number of western blots in a manuscript published in 2007 had been duplicated from other published papers; in one case, the same gel was duplicated in the paper itself. Some of the blots had also been duplicated in other papers. In the meantime, the editor of another journal told this reader that the two affected papers in its journal were being retracted by the author. The Forum suggested that this was a case not only of redundant publication but also of image manipulation and fraud. Read the full case details, along with the discussion and advice here:


How metrics incentivize researchers … and what that means for publication ethics

Report from the COPE Outreach Committee

COPE's recent European Seminar and the upcoming North American Seminar share the theme of how metrics incentivize researchers, and how this can lead to research and publication misconduct. COPE’s Chair Ginny Barbour aptly stated “it would not have been possible to cover this topic even three or four years ago”. Why is that? The impact factor debate is old news, despite its continued misuse. It is ingrained and even though major funding agencies are moving away from the impact factor as a measure of an individual’s success, the researchers themselves “don’t trust this new direction yet” argued Sarah de Rijcke at the European Seminar.

The trend now is to evaluate a researcher’s achievements in a more holistic manner, through what Elsevier’s Lisa Colledge terms “a basket of measures”. So now  we are inundated with data about our impact. You have your Research Gate score, your Altmetric score, your views and downloads, your citations from CrossRef, Scopus and Web of Science, your H-index and Google’s top publications. Not surprisingly researchers feel overwhelmed. And what should a researcher also do to promote their work; update the profile, blog, tweet and post on Facebook? Although researchers can now be evaluated using more varied metrics, one can see how the simplicity of the impact factor was appealing.

Editors are positioned at the end of the research process, where metrics output come into play. Publishers routinely offer data about metrics to authors and promote highly viewed content. Can editors and publishers influence publication ethics through the provision of metrics? Many cases discussed at COPE point towards a link between certain publication misconduct, such as salami slicing or overstating a study’s implications, and the incentives set for researchers to obtain funding and receive tenure positions. Sarah de Rijcke described the researchers as “cashing in” on their publications before they think the papers get "too old". This window of opportunity for promoting one’s work is when outcome metrics can come into play, to show the impact of these in funding applications for example. Impact data may enter a positive feedback loop for how metrics shape author behaviour … and may in fact one day incentivize ethical publishing.

In the news

WHO calls for all clinical trial results to be published

Researchers have an ethical duty to make results of all clinical trials, including past ones, publicly available, according to the World Health Organization

Human embryo editing poses challenges for journals

New ethical challenges for journals

NIH peer review scores of 130,000 grants predict impact of research findings and subsequent publication

A 1 standard deviation worse peer review score among awarded grants was associated with 15% fewer citations, 7% fewer publications and 19% fewer high impact publications.

Sexist peer review

Reviewer makes sexist comments in review about paper looking at the progression of PhD graduates to postdoc positions in the life sciences

How one misconduct case brought a biology institute to its knees

The fallout from the STAP case is still being felt across Japan

Short or long abstracts: what should be recommended?

Papers with long abstracts cited more than those with shorter ones

Introducing the New Altmetric Details Pages

Improving usability and transparency

Bibliometrics: The Leiden Manifesto for research metrics

Best practice in metrics based research assessment

Ethics and academic integrity

How to navigate the ever increasing demands for research, practice and educational productivity

NPG outsourced fast track peer review unease

Concerns raised by researchers and editors over two tiered systems at Nature Publishing Group where wealthy authors are favoured over those lacking funds.

What's been happening at COPE

COPE Workshop at 4th WCRI, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 31, 2015

COPE will be leading a workshop at the 4th World Conference on Research Integrity in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on publication ethics for editors, members of editorial boards and reviewers on Sunday May 31, 2015. This is an excellent opportunity for participants to discuss current trends in publication ethics, learn about how to handle possible misconduct and improve the quality of their reviews. The workshop is targeted at novice and experienced editors, editorial board members and reviewers.
Full details on the workshop are available at  

Register now:

COPE is also leading a symposium at the main conference on Wednesday 3 June on “Publication without borders: Ethical challenges in a globalized world” which will be chaired by COPE Vice-chair, Charlotte Haug. Also speaking are council member, Muhammad Irfan, and former council members Behrooz Astaneh, Shiraz, Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Iran, and Rosemary Shinkai, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS), Brazil. A copy of the full programme for the whole event can be found here:

COPE European Seminar report

Report from COPE council member Zoe Mullan

COPE’s European Seminar took place in Brussels, Belgium, on April 16 and 17. Following feedback from previous seminars, the event was extended over two days and featured three interactive workshops: a discussion of past cases, a practical session on incorporating COPE guidelines into journal author and reviewer guidelines, and a “design-a-flowchart” session. All three generated a good level of participant interaction, and participants and COPE Council members alike gleaned useful insights to take away with them.

The theme of the Seminar programme was “Weighed and measured: how metrics shape publication (mis)behaviour”. Attendees heard presentations from Altmetrics’ Euan Adie, Elsevier’s Lisa Colledge, and Sarah de Rijcke from Leiden University. Euan Adie introduced Altmetrics as “metrics that aren’t citations”, representing a numerical quantification of attention. Although there is less potential for “gaming the system” than with citations, he nevertheless outlined examples such as authors paying for retweets and discussed how the organisation deals with “suspicious attention”. Lisa Colledge spoke about the issue of self citation by authors and journals, and the temptation to use a journal’s impact factor as a measure of individual article quality. However, she stressed that most abuses stem from reliance on only one metric, and that combination of metrics with other forms of merit-based analysis could still be a useful exercise. Sarah de Rijke concurred. Her ethnographic research on how evaluation shapes biomedical research has revealed concerning issues such as young researchers avoiding collaboration because of the individualised nature of publication impact and huge bonus programmes for researchers who publish in high impact factor journals. She introduced the Leiden Manifesto, which contains ten recommendations to research institutions on the use of metrics in research evaluation.

Finally, a panel discussion with Jonathan Montgomery (whose organisation the Nuffield Council of Bioethics recently released a critical report on the culture of scientific research in the UK), Mike Thelwell (University of Wolverhampton), and COPE Chair Ginny Barbour elicited differing opinions on the merits or otherwise of the UK’s Research Excellence Framework, and the degree to which editors could influence such assessments. Should we be removing all mention of impact factors from our websites and generating support for the other contributions researchers make to journals such as peer review and commentaries? No doubt the discussion will continue…

Delegates at the COPE European Seminar 2015, in Brussels. Photo courtesy of Representation of the State of Hessen to the European Union, Brussels, Belgium. Copyright: Vertretung des Landes Hessen bei der EU.

COPE Chair, Ginny Barbour, opening the COPE European Seminar in Brussels.

Panel discussion at the COPE European Seminar in Brussels, chaired by COPE Treasurer Chris Graf. On the panel, left to right, COPE Chair Ginny Barbour, Jonathan Montgomery, Chair, Health Research Authority and Nuffield Council on Bioethics and Mike Thelwall, University of Wolverhampton, UK.

Registration open for COPE North American Seminar 19 August 2015

Registration is now open for COPE's 6th North American Seminar, which will be held in collaboration with ISMTE (International Society of Managing and Technical Editors), on Wednesday 19 August 2015, at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

The theme of this year's European seminar is “Understanding metrics in publishing: use and abuse”. Editors, publishers, authors and all those interested in publication ethics are welcome to attend.

The seminar will include invited talks, in addition to breakout sessions in the afternoon with discussion of cases, and an interactive workshop on "Designing a flowchart"..

The Seminar is free for COPE members, US$300 for non-members and US$150 for ISMTE members who are not members of COPE (and attending only the COPE seminar).

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