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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. October 2015 (Vol. 3, Issue 10)

Letter from the chair

Peer review has been in the minds of many editors lately and was the subject of a lively debate at our recent London forum. Publishing is changing rapidly and the “traditional” ways of blinded pre publication review are now just one type of peer review, which includes open peer review as well as peer review post publication. One of the innovations in peer review is aimed at enabling reviewers to get credit for peer review – two such organisations trying this are Publons and Academic Karma. Among post publication peer review, one of the most hotly debated topics is whether it should be signed or unsigned and what degree of moderation is needed. Sites such as PubPeer are generally unsigned, whereas PubMed Commons reviews are signed and moderated.

Both these latter sites are biomedical and its interesting to contrast the practice here with for example practices in the creative disciplines such as music, where fully open peer review may be essential for constructive review to occur.
Whatever the model of peer review, it is essential that reviewers do abide by the guideline of the journal or other site they are reviewing for. General COPE guidelines on peer review are here.

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 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.

Reviewer requests to be added as an author after publication (case #15-05)

A paper was assigned to a reviewer who the editor knew was well qualified to give a good review. The editor did think it odd that the reviewer was not an author on this particular paper. The reviewer did not flag up any conflict of interest or request that they should be an author on the paper. It later became clear that the reviewer was involved in the publication from the beginning. The editor sought advice on how to proceed from the COPE Forum. Read the full case details, along with the discussion and advice here:


Who “owns” peer reviews

Report from the COPE Education Committee

At the last COPE Forum, hosted in London on 9 September, the topic of discussion was “Who ‘owns’ peer reviews”? It was a lively discussion, and although there was disagreement, the group did manage to achieve consensus on a few points. First, it was widely agreed that peer review was significant work that largely goes unrecognized by employers and institutions. Therefore, it is only natural that reviewers who devote substantial time and energy to crafting constructive reviews should receive some credit for their work. The need for recognition of this work has fostered a new industry in publishing: companies devoted to recording, verifying, and/or posting peer reviews in a way that showcases the quantity and quality of reviews done by individuals. How to accomplish this recognition is not completely clear at this point and the emergence of this new industry is not without controversy.

It was also agreed that journals and publishers must take responsibility for this issue and make their policies and expectations clear. As in other matters related to expectations of journal editors and publishers, transparency is essential to avoid or resolve controversy. If editors expect the copyright on a review to remain with the journal, there must be a process of copyright transfer to accomplish this because by law, the copyright to the review belongs to the reviewer. Copyright, however, should not be confused with confidentiality. If editors have expectations that the content of a review is confidential material, then the reviewer guidelines should make that very explicit. Journal editors could also provide recognition of their reviewers in other ways that might satisfy the need for recognition in most cases by providing a report of individual reviewer activity or by listing reviewers’ names on the journal website or in the journal.

Finally, there was also agreement that publicly posting reviews is acceptable as long as the journal, the authors and the reviewers all provide consent. The process for open review should be clearly articulated in journal policy, and clearly visible on the website and relevant instruction forms so that authors and reviewers can make informed decisions about submitting manuscripts or performing reviews. Consideration should also be given to providing a context for the review. For example, a manuscript might be rejected by one journal and reviewed again after revisions by another journal. Authors may not want to have reviews of their rejected article posted if they plan to revise and submit to another journal. A summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum and of the comments on the COPE blog can be found on the COPE website

This issue is far from being resolved, but COPE has agreed to convene a group from Council and any interested members to draft a formal discussion document on the topic. Anyone interested in participating in this task can contact the COPE Administrator to volunteer.

In the news

Confluence, not conflict of Interest

Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics at the University of Pennsylvania  International Meeting on Conflict of Interest suggests that the process should be simple and flexible capturing the complexity of the relationships while being sufficiently flexible at the individual level not to intrude on the process of innovation.

Never too late to retract a retraction

Fifty years later new findings show that the original paper authored by a Nobel laureate in chemistry was right.

Plagiarism not restricted to publishing: Tokyo Olympics logo plagiarism suit dropped

A theatre in Belgium has dropped a plagiarism legal case over the design of a logo for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But the Belgian graphic artist who designed the emblem for the theatre is vowing to fight on

Cambridge academic jailed for stealing £238K

A University of Cambridge academic has been sentenced to 6 years in prison after being convicted of stealing £238,000 by applying for bogus archaeological projects

New research ethics guidelines planned for US

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed an overhaul of existing human research ethics guidelines

Harvard Medical School puts strict ethics rules under the microscope

Re-evaluation of conflict of interest rules that aim to shield scientific research from corporate influence amid complaints by some professors that the restrictions slow the process of turning discoveries into research tools and treatments

Measuring the impact of research

Trisha Greenhalgh argues we are failing with current metrics to assess the full story

Think, check, submit

Raising  awareness  for authors to think carefully about where they publish

Advice on predatory journals and publishers

From the University of Manchester, UK

Journal editors needed for research on core competencies

A project is currently underway, led by Dr David Moher from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in Canada, to outline a minimum set of core competencies for scientific editors of biomedical journals. They are seeking the involvement of current or former scientific editors. If you are interested in participating, please click on the following link for more information and to complete a short survey:

COPE in the news

COPE is often asked to comment on issues in the news.

COPE Council member, Tara Hoke, commented in the Boston Globe article "FDA official took name off papers"


What's been happening at COPE

September Forum cases

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

New cases        

15-10 Handling self-admissions of fraud

15-11 Inability to contact an author to obtain permission to publish

15-12 Author impersonating corresponding author without knowledge of coauthors

15-13  Suspected image manipulation involving four journals

15-14  Duplicate publication and removal of article



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

15-06 Authorship dispute

15-07 Ethics committee approval

15-08 Author disagreement regarding article corrections

15-09 Revoked parental consent


Forum discussion topic: Who “owns” peer reviews?

The Forum discussion topic on 9 September was "Who “owns” peer reviews?" which discussed the two new trends which have recently come together within scholarly publication: open review, and the desire to give credit to reviewers. A summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum and of the comments on the COPE blog can be found on the COPE website. COPE will convene a group to draft an initial discussion document on this issue.

COPE-WAME workshop, New Delhi, India: Detecting and responding to research (and publication) misconduct

COPE, in collaboration with the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME), conducted a full day pre-conference workshop ahead of WAME's 20th anniversary meeting on 1 October 2015 at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India. Former COPE Vice-chair Charlotte Haug and council member Muhammad Irfan represented COPE in the workshop. More than 30 people participated, the majority of whom were medical editors from India and neighboring countries (Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh).

Christine Laine, Editor-in-Chief of Annals of Internal Medicine, her deputy editor Darren Taichmann, and WAME President Lorraine Ferris helped run the workshop.

The workshop started with three introductory talks on publication ethics and misconduct (Charlotte Haug), conflicts of interest (Christine Laine) and authorship issues (Darren Taichmann), followed by a very lively plenary discussion.

Charlotte Haug then introduced the COPE Code of Conduct for editors and publisher, and Muhammad Irfan went through COPE's resources for editors (flowcharts, guidelines, eLearning, Forum meetings, etc).

After a break, participants worked in groups of two or three on the COPE eLearning modules. As a special feature for this workshop, COPE created a unique log-in so that participants could access the members only eLearning modules. This was very well received, and about a third of participants asked for certificates as proof that they had completed one or more modules.

The workshop ended with a 90 minute breakout session discussing COPE cases. As always, this created a lot of discussion, both of the cases and the relevant experiences of the participants.

Former COPE Vice-chair Charlotte Haug and COPE council member Muhammad Irfan at the COPE-WAME workshop

COPE council member Muhammad Irfan speaking at the COPE-WAME workshop

Workshop session at the COPE-WAME workshop

COPE Seminar: An Introduction to Publication Ethics

The COPE Seminar "An introduction to publication ethics" was attended by nearly 50 people on Monday 12 October 2015 at the Park Inn Hotel, London Heathrow. The seminar was in collaboration with ISMTE (International Society of Managing and Technical Editors) and was aimed at new or less experienced editors and editorial and publishing staff, who wanted to learn more about COPE and publication ethics. The seminar focused on the themes of plagiarism and peer review, with two invited speakers, Adrian Slater and Irene Hames, covering these topics. In addition, there were breakout sessions in the afternoon with cases workshops.

The presentations from the speakers can be downloaded from the COPE website:

Irene Hames speaking at the COPE Seminar.

Plagiarism talk by Adrian Slater at the COPE Seminar.