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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. December 2017 (Vol. 5, Issue 12)

Case of the month: Potential figure manipulation with corresponding author uncontactable

Case #17-12

A reader contacted the journal to raise concerns about a paper containing a potentially manipulated figure. The editor-in-chief agreed with the assessment that the figure had been manipulated and attempted to contact the corresponding author, without response. Following further contact with the co-authors and institution, it was established that the corresponding author had retired after publication of the paper, and no current contact details could be found.

Update from the Forum

Letter from the COPE co-Chairs

As 2017 comes to a close we are taking stock of the past year and planning for the year ahead. Continuing the conversation on existing and emerging issues, and developing our resources to help in your day-to-day work comprised the bulk of COPE’s work this year. Of considerable importance is the development of our ten Core Practices. This new way of presenting what we expect of our members, along with our many resources, is expected to guide practice by offering the policies and practices that journals and publishers need. Our hope is that this will provide further guidance for publication ethics issues and act as a springboard for future developments and educational resources. It also reflects the core COPE principles that drive our mission of promoting integrity in research and its publication. The development of this revised structure represents the way that COPE wants to introduce new initiatives, with care, and a vetting by all stakeholders. 

In addition to this, many other COPE activities this year include:
• Continued development of the institutional membership pilot initiative, with five institutions from around the world participating in the project. An institutional workshop is planned for 2018.
• The appointment of new Council members which continues our strategy to broaden the diversity and number of COPE Council members.
• A European Seminar celebrating 20 years of COPE, which took place in London, UK in May. Fascinating presentations from speakers from as far afield as the Queensland University of Technology in Australia; Hong Kong University; and, closer to home, the Wellcome Trust, Springer Nature, and, ex-COPE Chair, Liz Wager, paved the way for an animated discussion.

• COPE Council members have been busy talking about COPE at meetings and conferences across the globe. From Amsterdam in The Netherlands to Zagreb in Croatia via Ethiopia, Laos, Tasmania, and many more.

• Participation in Peer Review Week (September 2017).
• Post of LSE Impact Blog “Addressing the issues in peer review–new guidelines available from COPE”.
• New flowcharts: “What to Consider when Asked to Peer Review a Manuscript” and “How to Recognise Potential Manipulation of the Peer Review Process”.
• Ongoing documents and webinars inviting discussion from COPE members throughout the year. Topics have included “Best practice in theses publishing”, “What constitutes authorship?”, “Preprints: what are the Issues?” and a major update to the “Ethical guidelines for peer reviewers” with input from our institutional pilot members.
• COPE’s first webinar on “Standards in Authorship” on 29 June 2017. This was followed by the second webinar on “Current issues in peer review” on 14 September 2017.
• COPE‘s nomination for a Publons Sentinel Award for outstanding advocacy, innovation or contribution to Peer Review. Former Council member of COPE, Irene Hames, was awarded this prestigious honor.
• Changes to COPE’s complaints procedure saw the Complaints subcommittee transition to the Facilitation and Integrity subcommittee. A formal sanctions policy was also developed to clarify the expectations we have of our members while allowing COPE to manage the ethical standards of those members. 

Working in Asia:
• The first COPE China Seminar in Beijing (March 2017). A very successful first foray for COPE in China, we also had many of our resources translated into Chinese – all of which are available on our website.
• A second visit to China in November saw COPE meet with various leaders in publishing to continue the conversation started in March.
• Oral testimony from COPE at the British House of Commons, Science and Technology Committee inquiry on Research integrity (November 21, 2017).

As the year ends, we want to extend an appreciative thanks to the tireless COPE staff that assisted in making this past year so productive. COPE Council members, Trustees and Officers too have given countless hours to the successful functioning and accomplishments of this organization – all while acting as volunteers. We also want to thank all of our members and supporters who participate in forums, discussions documents and implementation of COPE standards in their work. Without you, COPE would not flourish and develop and your support and contributions are very much appreciated. 

We wish you a productive 2018 and Happy New Year to you all!

COPE co-chairs Geri Pearson and Chris Graf



COPE release of Core Practices

Report from the Education Subcommittee

COPE has recently released a new vision for the Code of Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines for Journal Editors and Publishers in the form of the “Core Practices”. There are good reasons for changing from a static code to the interactive core practices, and we shall be reflecting on this further in the coming months.

The first Code of Conduct was published in 2004 when COPE was still a relatively small and somewhat specialized (largely biomedical) group. Our structure has changed greatly with expansion to include more than 12,000 members from around the world and participation of more journals outside the biomedical disciplines. However, solicited feedback on COPE’s organization and resources, uncovered in our externally conducted membership survey, specifically highlighted the lack of guidance for journals outside of the biomedical area and the difficulty in navigating our website to find relevant resources.

Most of our resources were developed from real problems and cases brought to the COPE Forum over the years, those resources - flowcharts, discussion documents, guidelines, or case advice - were organized by category and chronology rather than by applicability to a specific problem. Updating and versioning of our educational products was also challenging, making the current best practices difficult to identify. Our answer to those issues resulted in a radical re-thinking of the way our resources could be found and used by anyone on our website.

Now, the new Core Practices section of our website aligns all of our resources, regardless of type, with relevant best practice guidelines. In addition, the move away from a prescriptive “Code of Conduct” document to a more holistic view of best practices in managing specific issues related to integrity and transparency in publishing will be more applicable to our broader membership in all disciplines. COPE is also registered with Crossref and DOIs will begin to be assigned to our resources in 2018, aiding discoverability and citability. COPE’s resources are constantly evolving and updating, and maintaining the website with future updates will be more easily accomplished in the current format.  


Image manipulation

Need to know more about image forgery and its detection? This paper might help
An Evaluation of Digital Image Forgery Detection Approaches

The Rockefeller University Press established 4 basic guidelines on image maniupulation - what’s OK and what’s not
Image manipulation guidelines

Online tool to identify human gene sequence errors could be used by editors to spot errors
Spotting genetic errors in cancer papers

Incentivizing good behaviour

The European Commission’s Open Science Policy Platform has published recommendations to address researchers’ recognition and reward structures to uses metrics and indicators that incentivise the types of behaviours that are good for research and researchers
Incentivizing good scientific behaviour

Court of law or court of peer review?

Author of US climate science paper which was critized by another author sues PNAS for $10 million for damages
Science of law?

Marcus and Oransky suggest that criticism is part of the scientific process and ALL stakeholders should accept it and use that process to correct the scientific record
Critique lawsuit retraction

Chilling effect on scientific inquiry due to legal climate; examples include lead, dietary supplements, public health effects of guns, back pain treatments
Important research not being done

Reproducibility. Reproducibility. Reproducibility.

Nuances of reporting about reproducibility have been blurred by social media
Reproducibility in science

How many ethical issues are possible for one publication?

A petition with more than 10,000 signatures asked for retraction over an essay which argued a “case for colonialism”. (Colleen Flaherty, Sept 19, 2017) Half of the Third World Quarterly editorial board resigned in protest about not only the content of the paper but also the process by which it was accepted. The author then asked for a retraction (Matthew Reisz, September 22, 2017) . This has prompted a discussion of whether retraction had become the new "normal” rather than academic discourse. Further, the concerns about the articles peer review process were addressed by Leon Heward-Mills, the global publishing director for journals in the Taylor & Francis group, after which the author revoked his request for retraction of the article, noting that the publisher had “reaffirmed the COPE principles of academic publishing that are designed to protect scientific research from censorship, including self-censorship”. (Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz)

And a last minute update on October 9, 2017 by Colleen Flaherty in Inside Higher, reports the latest twist: the paper has been scrubbed from the record by the publisher at the request of the Editor in Chief,  Shahid Qadir. The editor is said to have received credible death threats. Some have called to have the paper reinstated, and urging Taylor & Francis to not give in to these sort of violent threats. 

This chain of events raises ethical questions at each step of the way, and all of it has resulted in more people reading the original article than would have happened without it. Note the Altmetric Score from 12/6/2017! 

Call for retraction

Author requests retraction

Publisher stands by peer review process

Paper revoked following threats

Publication errors should not result in reputation damage to authors

Two journals issue retraction notices for papers that were published by mistake due to human errors with the submission process and publication prior to peer review. Should there be a new category for correcting the record called “publication error” so that authors are not dealing with the ramifications of a ‘retraction”?
Publication error

Publish where you cite

NIH Deputy director encourages scientist to “publish where you cite” and to consult resources like “Think.Check.Submit” to help maintain credibility.
Credible practices

Retraction education for researchers and students

Scholars who do research and students of information science should be taught about retractions and other ways of correcting the published record.
Retraction education

COPE Delegation, Beijing, 2017

A COPE delegation comprising the COPE co-Chair and Vice-Chair, Chris Graf and Deborah Poff, along with China based COPE Council members, Helena Wang and Jason Hu, and Japan based Council member Trevor Lane, met with some of China’s leading science and research organisations in Beijing last month.

Deborah and Chris presented an introduction to COPE at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Seminar at the National Science Library (NSL). With Trevor and Helena, they also contributed to a case based workshop. The meeting was largely educational, half of attendees being local journal editors. CAS NSL holds several such seminars a year, often in partnership with publishers.

The delegation had a wide ranging and productive meeting with CAST (Chinese Association of Science and Technology). CAST has made a comprehensive effort to tackle the misconduct problems in China, having tailored their response specifically to China, which has had a wide and deep impact on society and enhanced international collaboration. There was a suggestion for a collaboration with COPE on a seminar in 2018 on academic freedom and accountability, self-regulation of research and research publishing and what this means for responsibilities, global standards and local regulations.

The COPE team met with NSFC (National Natural Science Foundation of China). NSFC aim to cultivate a healthy research climate and environment. Integrity is the best way to ensure quality. NSFC are interested in publishing translations of the COPE Forum cases.

ISTIC (Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China) aids the research integrity office of MOST (Ministry of Science and Technology). Their work is on research integrity and journal oversight. In their meeting with COPE they explored how COPE might get involved with their research projects. Translations of COPE materials were discussed so that ISTIC can support more materials in Chinese and help distribute these.

In a media interview with The Intellectual about retractions, Trevor, Deborah and Chris debated punishment versus education/prevention and improving the culture for good practices and educating the next generation. Retractions are not for punishment but for correcting the record. The COPE team also attended ‘The Sunday Salon’ and gave an informal introduction to COPE to editors and publishing managers from both international publishers and local publishers based in Beijing. KeAi kindly provided the venue for this meeting.

In summary, this was an excellent set of meetings for COPE and as our second official meeting in China was considered to be highly successful and promising for future events and collaborative actitivities.

Supporting COPE's Asia strategy

Helping supervisors in Hong Kong

Dr Trevor Lane, COPE Council Member, was a guest speaker at a one-day research integrity workshop, themed “Good Practices for Research Data Management”, in Hong Kong, 8 November 2017. The event was held for new staff and research supervisors at the medical and dental faculties at the University of Hong Kong. The afternoon COPE talk was on "Best Practices in Peer Review" and emphasized the confidentiality of peer review and peer review training. It also introduced COPE’s revised peer review guidelines and flowchart on how to respond to a peer review invitation. Earlier in the day, three relevant COPE Forum cases were discussed in groups to illustrate the relationship between research supervision and good publishing practices. The University of Hong Kong is the fifth research institution to join COPE as a trial institutional member.

Ethics in Clinical Research Pubishing, Singapore

A COPE seminar was held at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Singapore, 13 November 2017. The seminar on “Ethics in Clinical Research Publishing” promoted COPE’s website resources, now organized under its 10 core practices, and attracted more than 60 clinicians and researchers. The event was held jointly by the Department of Diagnostic Radiology and the Clinical Research Unit of the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. It was organized by Professir Wilfred Peh, senior consultant at the hospital and president of the Asia-Pacific Association of Medical Journal Editors (APAME) after meeting Trevor Lane as the COPE representative at the 2017 APAME conference in Laos in August.

Introduction to COPE & Research Integrity, Singapore

On 15 November 2017, Trevor Lane attended Crossref LIVE17 in Singapore as an invited speaker on behalf of COPE. Trevor's talk was part of the “context” thread of the annual international event, which this year was themed “Metadata + Relations + Infrastructure = Context”. The talk covered COPE’s aims, website resources, 10 core practices, revised peer review guidelines, and new infographic on how to recognise potential manipulation of the peer review process. Afterwards, Trevor led a drop-in clinic session called “Bring your ethics issues to discuss with COPE”.

Journal Processes and Ethics, Beijing

Between 22 and 24 November, Trevor Lane visited the Research Institute of Forestry of the Chinese Academy of Forestry, the Peking Union Medical College Hospital, the Capital Institute of Pediatrics, and Tsinghua University to deliver four seminars for COPE. Aimed at postgraduate students, Trevor's talk focused on ethical manuscript submission and peer review. About 30 students attended each session and all received a copy of COPE’s revised peer review guidelines in Chinese.

Advice on new cases

2018 highlights from Twitter

COPE Digest editors

Editors: Deborah Kahn, Publishing Director, Taylor & Francis

             Nancy C Chescheir, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Obstetrics and Gynecology