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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. August 2017 (Vol. 5, Issue 8)

Case of the month: When to conclude correspondence from reader about errors in a published article

Case #17-03

A reader wrote to the editors explaining a number of concerns she had with some of the figures in a paper published in the journal. The associate editor concurred and the authors were invited to respond. The authors agreed with the editors that an erratum should be published containing the revised figures. Out of courtesy, the erratum was sent to the reader, who replied stating that she did not feel the erratum to be adequate. After further lengthy back and forth discussion with the authors and the reader, the editors decided that the erratum should first be published and that the reader should write a formal letter for publication in the journal expressing her concerns about the paper, with the authors then being given the right of reply to this letter. The editors were unconvinced that this approach would resolve the matter completely but felt it should be formally closed in public by publishing the erratum, and that any subsequent discussion should be handled privately between the reader and authors. The Forum were asked in the editors had handled the situation reasonably and how might the journal prepare for dealing with similar situations in the future?
Discussion and advice from the Forum

Letters from the COPE co-Chairs

As an organization and charity, we are completely reliant on our volunteer Council members and Trustees to undertake the work of COPE. As such, it is always heartening to receive such a great response to a call for nominations to Council when vacancies arise.  After our recent round of elections, we are delighted to offer a warm welcome to our newly elected Council members, Howard Browman and Frits Rosendaal.  All candidates up for election were highly qualified and we thank everyone who applied or stood for election. We are always keen to work closely with our members – not only Council members – so if anyone wishes to become more involved in any of COPE’s activities, please do contact us with your thoughts.

At our last Forum we discussed the issue of preprints (Preprints: what are the issues?), and a summary of that conversation can be found in Digest. COPE intends to build on this initial conversation and produce a more formal discussion document for wider dissemination and comment. In the meantime, preprints remains a hot topic in the news, as highlighted by a piece in The Scientist this month ”Do preprints require more rigorous screening?”.

With Peer Review Week looming, COPE is planning a series of special activities, one of which has been a thorough revision of our Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers. These have received detailed review and input from our institutional pilot members which, we feel, have enriched the guidance offered to peer reviewers. These are due to be launched during Peer Review Week. We have other activities for Peer Review Week planned and will announce these in due course. We will also have representation at the Peer Review Congress, in terms of presentations and attendance of some of our COPE council members, and look forward to seeing you there.

COPE co-chairs Geri Pearson and Chris Graf

In the news

What do learners know about publication ethics?

Almost half of trainees at institutions within the Gynecologic Oncology Research Network reported low compliance with ICMJE authorship criteria
compliance with research standards: GOFRN study

What should undergraduate students know and practice about plagiarism?
students don’t understand plagiarism

News from China

Investigation of the monetary reward system of science in China. Chinese scientists who publish in top Western journals such as Science and Nature can earn, on average, US$44,000, almost five times the average salary of a university professor
publish or impoverish

China cracks down after investigation finds massive peer-review fraud
peer-review fraud

Low and middle income countries

The challenges of publishing a journal in the LMICs. Five issues identified include quality of content, language, editorial processes, publishing processes, visibility and recognition
publishing in LMICs

Reputable journals

Review of Cabell’s new predatory journal blacklist. Proprietary ‘replacement’ for Beall’s list—an as yet imperfect replacement—is a potentially valuable work in progress
Cabell’s new list

Two days later, a blogger argues that Cabell’s new predatory journal list should be short lived
Cabell’s list short lived?

How to tell reputable journals from shady ones
identifying predatory publishers

Studying peer review

Peere project: European network of about 160 academics and professionals will undertake a systematic analysis of peer review
peer review—reviewed

New research project on the role of peer review in the research cycle using the peer review database at PLOS ONE
role of peer review

Promote scientific integrity via journal peer review data
make peer review data available

How much do you really understand about the peer-review process? Scholars are ignorant of many aspects of peer review
do we understand the peer-review process


Do preprints require more rigorous screening?
preprint screening

Education: Revised guidelines for peer reviewers

Report from the COPE Education Committee

It is COPE’s policy to periodically review and update its guidance documents to remain current with new trends in publishing. That task falls within the remit of the Education subcommittee to organize and collaborate on the revision process. COPE’s guidance has traditionally been targeted to editors and publishers, but it is increasingly apparent that many issues in publication ethics are relevant to researchers in their roles as authors and reviewers. This observation led to the initiation of a pilot project to support institutional members to better promote integrity in research and its publication at the location where research is conducted (see announcement in this month’s digest). We are currently working with pilot institutional members to determine what guidance would be useful to researchers in the dissemination of their work. The forthcoming revision of COPE’s Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers is the first of our products to benefit from formal institutional input in the revision process.

COPE has always provided guidance that reflects the collective wisdom of other editors and publishers who have managed difficult ethical issues as stewards of scholarly publication. Institutions have an important role to play in supporting the ethical conduct of their researchers, so our collaboration is a way to enhance the discussions around publication ethics and reach a broader audience – those who conduct the research and write or review the manuscripts. This collaboration has resulted in a new interpretation of our original ethical guidelines for peer reviewers that we think will be more useful for inexperienced reviewers and early career researchers. We anticipate the revised guidelines will be released for Peer Review Week 2017 (11-17 September 2017).

Standards in authorship webinar: watch again

A pdf of the presentations is also available on the COPE website.

Twitter moment 

COPE Forum and preprints discussion

Advice on new cases

The cases presented at the COPE Forum on Monday 24 July 2017, along with the advice given and updates on previous cases, are now on the COPE website to view.

New cases
17-11 Authorship dispute unsatisfactorily resolved by institution
17-12 Potential figure manipulation with corresponding author uncontactable
17-13 Unhelpful institution report
17-14 Withdrawal request by an author

17-09 Lead author of a research paper disagrees with content of a linked editorial


Forum discussion - Preprints: what are the issues?

Preprints and working papers have been posted and shared for many years. They report research results that have not undergone peer review, although in many cases the authors also submit to a journal (before, after or at the same time as making a preprint available). In the past 5 years, the number of preprint servers and preprints has expanded and new disciplines, notably biology and life sciences, have seen rapid growth in the number of preprints. To date there have been few public discussions around the ethics of making unverified research available in this way and there are a number of issues that arise. A summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum on 24 July 2017 is now available on the COPE website.

COPE pilot initiative: institutional membership

COPE has invited four institutions to take part in a COPE pilot that will help form a membership package of support and advice for research institutions: Caltech, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and University of Ottawa, and Queensland University of Technology. This follows requests from our current membership and from researchers, authors and reviewers to work together in improving integrity in the publication of research. The intention is that COPE in the future can offer consistent support and advice to institutions in handling publication ethics issues.

Anecdotal evidence from our members has been confirmed by a quantitative survey COPE undertook among its membership that “lack of training and education in publication ethics among authors/reviewers is seen as the most important issue in publication ethics, followed by that in research ethics”. Current members are keen for COPE to pursue improved collaboration with research institutions, to help tackle together the publication ethics issues that they can’t address alone. We have also found that researchers, authors and reviewers, as well as integrity and accountability officers at institutions, regularly use COPE materials.

The institutional pilot is likely to provide help to prospective authors and their institutions. COPE is testing this idea with a pilot and we will report back on how this is developing in future issues of Digest.

Welcome new Council members

The results of our recent Council elections have been confirmed and I am pleased to welcome two new members to Council: Howard Browman and Frits Rosendaal.

Frits is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis and chairman of the Leiden University Medical Center Committee on Scientific Integrity since 2012. Frits also co-founded the Netherlands Research Integrity Network (NRIN).  Frits is based in The Netherlands.


Howard is editor-in-Chief of ICES Journal of Marine Science and an active researcher in fisheries oceanography and marine ecology. Howard is based in Norway.

Wiley workshop: Japan

Dr Trevor Lane, COPE Council Member, led an interactive COPE case study workshop as part of a Wiley Executive Seminar in Tokyo, Japan, on 30 July 2017. The 30 journal editors and publishing professionals discussed three cases related to peer review ethics that had been drawn from the COPE Forum Cases archive. The participants were divided into groups and asked to report back how they would solve each case and prevent future problems if they were the journal editor. They were introduced to COPE’s website resources during the final whole-group discussion about COPE Forum’s replies and actual journal follow-up. Topics that were covered during the workshop included attempted redundant and salami publication, issues related to allowing authors to suggest or exclude reviewers, peer review confidentiality and who owns peer review reports.