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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. June 2016 (Vol. 4, Issue 6)

Case of the month: Reviewer concerns about transparency of peer review process

Case #16-03

A journal uses an internally transparent process where throughout the editorial or peer review process, authors, editors and reviewers are all aware of the identities of who is involved. Reviewers are also told that they will be named on the final article manuscript as a reviewer. The content of the peer reviews is not published. Concerns were raised by one reviewer who disagreed with the content of the manuscript and its suitability for publication; the second reviewer was enthusiastic about the manuscript, and the editors decided to publish the text. The first reviewer accused the editors of behaving in a non-transparent manner and even of being unethical. The editor asked the Forum what are the benefits of going to fully transparent review, with publication of the content of peer reviews?

Discussion and advice from the Forum

Letter from this month's editor

What would you ask, if you could Ask Me Anything? Might you ask “How do I join COPE Council”? Council members are, of course, elected by COPE membership. Over the last few months we have collected nominations and applications for eight open positions. Voting is open right now, and will remain open for another few days. So please, do cast your vote. And if you would like to stand for a position, watch out for our next round of nominations. There are many ways you might, as a Council member, contribute: in workshops, forums, and more. 

Our Chair, Ginny Barbour, co-Vice-Chair, Geri Pearson, and other Council members participated in our first AMA (Ask Me Anything) session at the Forum a few weeks ago, with questions live and direct from members. Unsurprisingly, members focused on practical ethics questions rather than asking how to join Council (see answer above: please, vote now). This month’s Digest shares a report from that AMA. We were impressed by the reaction from the 50+ members who attended, and will do it again.

Publishing peer review reports, and whether the probable benefits might outweigh the likely risks, is the focus of this issue’s “Case of the month”. You can add your comments below those of the Forum, and continue the debate online.

Also in this issue, Elizabeth Moylan reports from our “Introduction to publication ethics” seminar, held at the Wiley offices in Oxford a month ago. We covered plagiarism, authorship, and the interaction between ethical considerations and legal issues before two workshop sessions, where we discussed case studies in small groups. Thanks to our speakers Maria Kowalczuk, Tamsin Harwood and Zoe Mullan. And especially to the 40+ COPE members who joined us, who shared their insights and who made the day such a resounding success. 

Chris Graf, COPE Co-Vice Chair

NEW: Ask Me Anything

Report from the COPE Education Committee

For the first time, COPE hosted an AMA session (Ask Me Anything) to start the COPE Forum; and by all accounts, it was a great success. The COPE Forum has been a popular benefit of COPE membership, functioning as a safe place for members to raise issues of concern and ask for the advice of other members and the COPE Council. Although COPE has developed an extensive list of resources to help members manage ethical problems in scholarly publishing, new situations arise and some old familiar situations develop a new twist.

One question generating a lot of discussion at this first AMA was “What can authors ethically do with action letters they receive (including reviews, which are sometimes signed)”? Posting of reviews and action letters online is a new development not clearly covered by COPE’s peer review guidelines, although it is closely related to another discussion document titled “Who owns peer reviews?”. A second recent development in peer review is the attempt to reduce the duplication of reviewer time and effort by passing along the peer reviews of rejected manuscripts to another journal as part of a new submission. Although the AMA questions were not specifically related to a case, members were able to share their experiences on these new issues and provide some useful comments on formal guidance for journal editors. Participants were clearly in agreement with the following comments: the issue of sharing reviews, either as part of a new submission or as part of an online post, should be addressed by clear guidelines for authors and reviewers on a journal’s website. The responsibility for a strong peer review process rests with the journal editorial management team and with the reviewers, who should be willing to stand behind the reviews they contribute.

The questions from this first AMA demonstrate a mix of the new and the familiar. COPE does plan to hold more AMA sessions at future Forum webinars, and the responses to this and future AMA sessions will be used to develop FAQs (frequently asked questions) to be posted on the COPE website.

May Forum: new cases

In the news

COPE in the news

COPE Council member, J Patrick Baron, co-wrote a paper for the Japanese Journal of Gastroenterological Surgery “Potentially dangerous mistakes in publication ethics: unethical authorship”
Unethical authorship

COPE Council member, Vivienne Bachelet, wrote an editorial on “Publication ethics and COPE” for her journal Medwave
Publication ethics and COPE

Organised crime against the academic peer review system

Fake peer reviews: obvious clues missed
Fake peer reviews

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) fined 7500 Euros to compensate for “immaterial damage” to an economist accused of plagiarism

Researcher at VU had been at the receiving end of anonymous complaints to her institution accusing her of plagiarism. Material damages to follow
Compensation for false accusations of plagiarism

The power of community—why much of scholarly publishing is unlikely to change quickly

The role of scientific communities
Role of scientific communities

Data fabrication in journalism

13 stories removed, and quotes and information that could not be verified removed
Data fabrication

Office of Research Integrity investigation leads to retraction of JBC paper

Falsified and/or fabricated western blots in Journal of Biological Chemistry paper
ORI investigation 
JBC retration

Publish research promptly, not when it suits you, UK ministers told

Sense about Science campaign group found widespread examples of publication of government funded research being delayed for political reasons
Publish research promptly

Misconduct: training researchers to help regain their research privileges

Training programme in St Louis, Missouri, with funding from the US National Institutes of Health, for researchers where failure of oversight that resulted in the publication of false data or faulty consent
Training programme for researchers

Vote for Council members - last chance Members!

Voting is open for 8 vacancies on COPE council.

Voting is open until Friday 17 June 2016. All Full and Associate Members are entitled to vote for a maximum of eight candidates.

The candidates receiving the highest numbers of votes shall be deemed elected to council. In the event of a tied vote, the Chair of COPE shall have the casting vote. The results of the election shall be declared on the website.

Vote now

COPE Forum at INANE Conference, 3 August

The next COPE Forum meeting, where we discuss cases submitted by members, is Wednesday 3 August 2016  We are delighted that this will be a face to face meeting at the International Academy of Nursing Editors (INANE) Nurses Conference, at the Royal College of Nursing, 20 Cavendish Square, London. 

The deadline for submission of cases is 20 July. 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 do like those presenting a case to join the meeting (in person or by phone). Submit a case

All members are welcome to attend in person, whether or not they are presenting a case. So that we have an idea of numbers, please can you email the COPE Administrator if you are planning on attending in person. Unfortunately, there are no facilites to join the meeting by webinar for this Forum.

Report from Introduction to Publication Ethics, Oxford, UK

Report from COPE council member Elizabeth Moylan

A COPE seminar providing an introduction into publication ethics was held at the Wiley Offices in Oxford on 13 May. There were more than 40 attendees.

Chris Graf, Co-Vice-Chair for COPE, introduced the day with a lively talk on topical issues within publication ethics and the support COPE can provide. The rest of the day was spent discussing two overarching themes which account for a high proportion of cases brought to COPE: plagiarism and authorship.

The topic of plagiarism was introduced by Maria Kowalczuk, Biology Editor within the Research Integrity Group at BioMed Central. She cautioned against over reliance on percentage similarity provided by plagiarism detection software and recommended that editors look at degree of overlap and where in the manuscript it occurred.

Issues regarding authorship were discussed by Zoë Mullan, COPE Council Member and Founding Editor of The Lancet Global Health. She talked about the meaning of authorship for different research fields, the common problems that arise and how editors can avoid them. For more on this topic see COPE’s discussion document.

We also heard the legal perspective on publication ethics from Tamsin Harwood, Associate Legal Counsel for John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

The debate around plagiarism and authorship continued in workshop discussions of particular cases and provided an opportunity to share stories and insights.

To sum up in the words of one of the participants: “The day provided a great opportunity to discuss cases, change views, and appreciate that trust and transparency is key—in communications, in relations, in publications”.

COPE Vice-Chair, Chris Graf, opening the 'Introduction to Publication Ethics' seminar

Maria Kowalczuk, Biology Editor, Research Integrity Group, BioMed Central, gave a talk on 'How to deal with plagiarism'

Tamsin Harwood, Associate Legal Counsel, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, presented a legal perspective on publication ethics


Register now! COPE North American Seminar, 'Ethics in peer review', 10 August

Registration is now open for COPE's 7th North American Seminar, which will be held in collaboration with ISMTE (International Society of Managing and Technical Editors), on Wednesday August 10, 2016, at the Hilton Philadelphia City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA USA.
The theme of this year's seminar is “Ethics in peer review”. Editors, publishers, authors and all those interested in publication ethics are welcome to attend.
The seminar will include invited talks, in addition to workshop sessions in the afternoon.
Register now