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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. December 2016 (Vol. 4, Issue 12)

Case of the month: Handling self-admissions of fraud

Case #15-10

The first author of a decade old paper in one journal and a 15-year-old paper in another journal informed the editor that he had faked the data in two figure panels in one paper and one figure panel in the other paper . The editor asked for the Forum's recommended procedures for handling self-admissions of fraud. What is the journal’s responsibility when one author self proclaims fraud and another author says no fraud occurred? What is the responsibility of the journal if the journal thinks an institutional investigation was not evidence based.

Discussion and advice from the Forum

Letter from the Chair

At the end of 2016, it’s hard not to conclude that the role of COPE and related organisations is as needed as ever. If there has been a theme over the year it has been that, even more than last year; everyone engaged in academic work needs to be involved in thinking about publication and research ethics, and to think about it in smarter ways than before.

Part of this smartness will involve embracing new technology—as is happening across the publishing industry with new models of publishing and new models of recognising, for example, the work of reviewers. Part of this smartness will also be more explicit cooperation between all the parties involved in publication ethics. We already see this trend when large scale issues arise, such as peer review fraud. What’s particularly heartening for me is that the cooperation happens regardless of editorial or publishing business model, be it open access or more traditional models. This cooperation exemplifies what I think we are seeing across publishing, that there is a slow but increasing understanding that as the stakes in publishing get higher, so the expected level of ethical behaviour has to rise too. At the same time, the response to issues has to be robust, but it also must be professional and fair.

We clearly can’t say, however, that the job is done. We know that one of the fundamental problems in publishing ethics is the constant pressure academics are under that can lead to the types of behaviour that may not at first sight seem like outright fraud, but which does lead to sloppy or worse work, and to published findings that are fundamentally unreliable and irreproducible.  This type of behaviour is not something that journals can tackle on their own and so we are very pleased that in 2017 we will be starting a pilot programme with institutions. We believe this will allow us to work with those who are closest to being able to influence researchers in the most robust way towards types of behaviour we all want to have at the core of research and publishing.

At COPE, we increasingly recognise therefore that we are just one part of this complex ecosystem of publishing ethics. As well as planning to work with institutions in 2017 we have also increased the geographical diversity of our council and we are actively working to strengthen areas such as humanities publishing where the issues may be very different from those in science, which can dominate discussions in ethics.

We laid out our priorities and approach this year in our strategy document. COPE continues to do what it has done since its inception—provide a forum for editors, publishers and others to work together to tackle the really knotty problems of publishing ethics and to do it in a way that fosters professional standards and fairness. As we head towards our 20th year, now more than ever we look forward to working with our more than 11,000 members and the many others who have a role in fostering a professional culture of research and publication ethics.
Ginny Barbour, COPE Chair

Conflicts of interest: Round-up

Report from the COPE Education Committee

Conflicts of interests, or competing interests, can influence research work, from development of a question to publication of the work and its ultimate use in changing practice or thought about a topic. As conflicting or competing interests have the potential to influence authors, reviewers, editors and publishers, questions about real or perceived conflicts of interest will be common for those of us who work in publications.

COPE has significant resources available on our website for members to learn about conflicts of interest. The eLearning series presents a specific module on the topic, and it is woven into the entire series as well. This series provides an excellent foundation for learners about publication ethics in general with links to other organisations’ statements about conflicts of interest and other resources for the learner. 

There are 66 cases in the COPE cases database with conflicts of interest as a key word. These include specific cases, most of which are resolved, that may answer your specific question. These cases come from discussions at the COPE Forum where members of COPE are encouraged to attend, as well as submit cases.  

There are also flowcharts for editors to use when a reviewer or reader contacts the editor to raise concerns about undisclosed conflicts.  Additionally, COPE provides sample letters editors can use as templates for addressing authors and reviewers when questions of conflicts arise.  

Several common themes arise among these many resources:

       (1) Conflicts of interests are a problem whether they are real or perceived and they need to be declared.

       (2) A conflict of interest does not negate the validity of submitted work and it is important to allow the reviewer or reader to consider all potential conflicts in his or her evaluation of the work.

       (3) Journal editors and publishers should have clear, written, published guidelines about conflicts of interests to which they adhere.

Consider perusing the COPE website for resources to develop these guidelines and to advise you when specific situations occur.  If the support for your specific question isn’t available, consider submitting a case to the Forum.

In the news

Misconduct, institutions and the scientific process

We don’t need a definition of research misconduct

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)
Research misconduct definition

Macchiarini scandal is a valuable lesson for the Karolinska Institute

Many of their procedures now fine tuned, including those for recruitment and handling of whistleblowers
Karolinska Institute tightens procedures

How questionable research practices are blurring the boundary between science and misconduct

A long spectrum of research misconduct including ‘HARKing’ or ‘hypothesising after the results are known’
Research misconduct spectrum

Data sharing

Sharing clinical trial data—a proposal from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors

Laudable to use to best effect the gift of data made by study participants
Data sharing obligation

How researchers access data

Need for robust, trustworthy system in place to protect the data and ensure it is used in the right way
Research using patient data

A painful (but true to life) look at data availability and reuse

Brilliant article and video

Data sharing and management


Fakes and fabrications

Fake news and Facebook

Scrutiny of how fake news is spread on the platform has intensified
Restricting fake news sites advertising

Detecting fake science

Systematic approach using statistical techniques to assess randomisation outcomes can evaluate data integrity.
Investigating data integrity in RCTs

Spotting fake news

Quiz from the BBC
Fake news quiz

Retractions 2016

Why articles are retracted: a retrospective cross-sectional study of retraction notices at BioMed Central

Most common reason is compromised peer review
Retraction reason, frequency and process

Retractions from Springer and BioMed Central journals

Fifty-eight papers retracted
Springer and BiomMed Central retract papers

Kowsar Publishing Company retracts 13 papers and stops the publication process of other 52 articles

Because of authorship manipulation and illegal access to manuscript files. Legal case filed in Tehran and cyber police involved
Kowsar retract papers

What should you do if a paper you’ve cited is later retracted?

Determine whether the retraction has any impact on the conclusions of your own paper or systematic review and affects clinical guidelines
Cited paper then retracted

And last but not least

New metrics

Biomedical funders worldwide are adopting the US agency’s free Relative Citation Ratio to analyse grant outcomes
New metric measuring influence

80% of data in Chinese clinical trials have been fabricated 

Await the retractions
Chinese Government investigate fabricated data

Federal Trade Commission lawsuit against OMICS Group        

Academics and scientists: Beware of predatory journal publishers
Lawsuit against predatory publisher

Government should reduce Brexit uncertainty for science sector

MPs on the Science and UK Parliament Technology Committee have demanded
Commitment from UK Government needed for EU science collaboration


Major publishers require ORCID IDs for submitting authors
Wiley require ORCID IDs from authors
ACS collect ORCID IDs from authors

Advice on new cases

COPE Forum: dates for 2017

The quarterly COPE Forum meetings, where we discuss cases submitted by members, will take place in February, April, July and November in 2017. The Forums will be by webinar. COPE will host two Forums on each day so that the Forum is available at a convenient time for as many as our members as possible. The deadline for submission of cases for the next Forum is 20 January - submit a case here.

8AM/4PM (GMT) Friday 3 February 2017
8AM/4PM (BST) Monday 24 April 2017
8AM/4PM (BST) Monday 24 July 2017
8AM/4PM (GMT) Monday 13 November 2017

WPA Congress publication ethics workshop: Meeting report

Report from COPE Council member Muhammad Irfan

Publication ethics at WPAOne of the pre-congress workshops at the International Congress of World Psychiatric Association (WPA), Cape Town International Convention Centre, Cape Town, South Africa, was ‘Publication ethics: issues and challenges to authors, editors and educators’, on 18 November 2016. This was the very first of its kind at an International Congress of World Psychiatric Association.

Although the conference was largely attended by professionals from all over the world with a background in mental health, it was heartening to see people registering, with additional payment, for the publication ethics workshop. It was scheduled as a full day workshop with 10 CME credit points.

COPE Council member Muhammad Irfan facilitated the workshop, and gave a presentation on ‘Publication ethics: issues and challenges’ in the morning session. The afternoon included an ‘Introduction to COPE and its resources’ as well as a session on ‘Experience sharing by the participants’. The day ended with a discussion of COPE cases involving all participants.

Participants actively participated in the workshop and kept the facilitator on his toes with their questions on various areas of publication ethics. They also greatly enjoyed the case discussion in the afternoon. It was encouraging to see genuine interest of mental health professionals, mostly from Africa, in publication ethics.

COPE Council member Muhammad Irfan facilitating at the WPA workshop 

COPE China Seminar 2017: Register now

Free for COPE members

COPE is delighted to announce its 1st China Seminar, held in collaboration with ISMTE (International Society of Managing and Technical Editors), on Sunday 26 March 2017 in Beijing, China.

The theme of this year's seminar is “The pillars of publication ethics”, with plenary talks covering the topics authorship, peer review and plagiarism. Editors, publishers, authors and all those interested in publication ethics are welcome to attend.

The seminar will include invited talks from local and international speakers, as well as an interactive cases workshop, and will be conducted primarily in English. Chinese translations of associated guidelines/materials will be available.

The full programme will be available shortly.

More information and to register

COPE Digest editors

Editor-in-Chief: Dr Virginia Barbour

Editor: Professor Margaret Rees, MA, DPhil, FRCOG, Reader Emeritus in Reproductive Medicine, University of Oxford; Visiting Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Glasgow; Adjunct Associate Professor, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Rutgers University; Editor-in-Chief of Maturitas