COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. June 2017 (Vol. 5, Issue 6)

Case #17-04

A paper was accepted in 2012 but there was a lengthy disagreement between the four authors regarding the order of authorship. An agreement was received in 2015 that specified the order of authorship and named one of the authors as “the final corresponding author to see the paper through the rest of the process for the paper’s publication”. During the production process, the proofs were sent to the corresponding author. Changes were made during the proofing stage which author B disputed. The paper was published on early view and author B requested retraction of the paper immediately, alleging that the agreement was voided by the changes made during proofing. The journal has corresponded with all four authors and advised them that they need to agree on the final version of the article or the journal will be forced to retract the paper because of irreconcilable differences among the authors. The editor asked if the the Forum agree that an ethical choice in this difficult situation would be a decision to retract with an option to resubmit with a new author byline?
Discussion and advice from the Forum

Reproducibility and cultural change: three messy jobs for journals, editors and publishers

What editors, journals and publishers aim to publish is the best version of what we know right now. Not everything that's peer reviewed and published is 'right' [1], but even the word 'right' seems not quite subtle enough. Yet, while it’s unlikely to be as extreme as some of the headlines suggest, there’s some evidence that reproducing published academic work and scientific research isn’t always as straightforward as it should be [2]. Why is that a surprise? It shouldn’t be. Research is a human endeavor. Scientific research and academic work is a messy business. It’s important we recognize that what we publish contains uncertainty (and that’s to be celebrated) and sometimes errors (and they need correcting).

Integrity in research and its publication, and COPE’s mission, is to a large extent about how we manage that uncertainty. This means addressing mistakes and honest errors, through careful peer review [3], corrections and retractions [4]. These corrections and retractions can be for many reasons, and can actually be an indication of 'good' research standards [5]. We need a culture that can handle that messiness, and that recognizes it as OK.

What isn’t OK, though, is misconduct and fraud. The recent case of 107 retractions of cancer papers is the result of just that [6]. It has been reported that these papers were retracted after the publisher discovered that their peer review had been compromised by fake peer reviewers. Similar to cases a little over a year ago, where a publisher retracted 64 papers from 10 journals for the same reason [7], it may have been a third party employed by the research authors to help with language editing and publishing who then gave fake emails when asked for peer reviewers, directed the peer review request back to themselves and then waved the papers through. COPE responded at the time with guidance and a clear statement [8]. Spotting fake peer reviewers can be hard, and the fakers get more sophisticated in their deception [9].

This type of fraud is, of course, completely unacceptable. So the big question is how we create the culture we want, and who is best placed to act with the most impact. The culture we want is one that encourages integrity in research and its publication, that welcomes a positive post-publication process for corrections and even retractions, and that benefits from incentives carefully designed to encourage the responsible conduct of research. Research assessment and rewards are central [10], and arguably research funders are best placed to address this part of the process.

Mistakes and honest errors, plus bias and misconduct, may have their origin in lack of experience and distant and weak collaborations, suggest Daniele Fanelli and colleagues, and not just pressure to publish and incentives [11]. It is arguably institutions that are best placed to address expertise among researchers, for example through training and mentorship, and by creating an environment where research collaborations are healthy. Institutions may also be able to help manage data throughout the research lifecycle in a way that maximizes its integrity.

But it isn’t just funders and institutions who need to act. Editors, journals and publishers have a leading role. For editors, journals and publishers, three of the key (messy) jobs in the cultural change we need are:

1. Expressing requirements that reflect responsible research practice in what journals ask of their authors, and then helping researchers and academics to meet those standards.
2. Highlighting examples of what good practice looks like.
3. Collaboration with institutions (and funders) when there’s a problem [12].

COPE’s resources (freely available, and in many languages) promote integrity in research and its publication and are ready for all to use when they’re needed. We publish the standards subscribed to by the communities of practice that we serve [13], and we help to address problems as they arise (most often after research has been published) [14]. Our work is international and cross-disciplinary. Our new initiatives enable collaboration with institutions and move our efforts upstream, much earlier in the research process and in researcher careers, where together we can work on prevention.

It is that collaboration that’s key, because cultural change is hard [15]. This is a road we have to travel together: funders, institutions, researchers, editors, journals and publishers.

1. What's wrong with science?
2. 1,500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility
3. COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers
4. COPE Retraction Guidelines
5. Retractions: A clean slate
6. A new record: Major publisher retracting more than 100 studies from cancer journal over fake peer reviews
7. Inappropriate manipulation of peer review
8. COPE statement on inappropriate manipulation of peer review processes
9. Pay to play? Three new ways companies are subverting academic publishing
10. Research Excellence Framework review
11. Meta-assessment of bias in science
12. Cooperation between research institutions and journals on research integrity cases: guidance from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)
13. Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing
14. COPE Resources 
15. ‘Publish or perish’ – The wicked problem threatening academic research 

Increasing transparency in research, reviewing and publishing

Who did what? Journals should have process to confirm roles of authors and use best practices
Authorship transparency recommendations

Nine funders of international research and international NGOs adopt WHO standards requiring registration of clinical trials and public reporting of results
WHO standards

Supporting statements from supporters of AllTrials
All trials reported, all trials registered

ICMJE issued new data sharing statement "Ethical obligation to responsibly share data generated by interventional clinical trials". As of July 2018, manuscripts submitted to ICMJE journals that report results of clinical trials must contain a data sharing statement
ICMJE data sharing statement for clinical trials

Attitudes seem to be changing about open peer review...
OpenAIRE survey

Peer review

Publons set to expand its activities under new ownership.
Peer review recognition

Monument to an anonymous peer reviewer unveilied in Moscow Higher School of Economics.
Tribute to peer review


Supervisors are morally obliged to publish with their PhD students
Co-authorship expectation

China misconduct

"China will resolutely contain the breeding and spreading of academic fraud and deal with such misconducts seriously", China Association for Science and Technology (CAST).
Zero tolerance to academic fraud

40% of biomedical papers originating in China tainted by misconduct based on new survey published in Science and Engineering Ethics
Chinese biomedical research misconduct

Good practice, not here

Professor Mike Dauby, annoyed about the many requests to submit papers to journals he's never hear of, developed a CV for his pet dog, Ollie, and sent it to a number of journals requesting a position on their editorial board
Dog on editorial boards

'Scientific' and 'objective' watchlist of untrustworthy journals set to launch 15 June 2017, but only for paying subscribers
Cabell's blacklist

Sloppy science

Statistical analysis of 90 published anaesthesia articles suggest non-random patterns in the data, raising concerns about suspect data

Inaccurate data

Sloppy record keeping over 25 years of research by researcher funded by US National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders results in ban on its use

NIH ban use of data

In other news

ACCORD: creating digital records of heritage places with outputs deposited with the Archaeology Data Service for free re-use, using both expert and community method
Archaeology Community Co-production of Research Data

Pilot project in Canada shows that dedicated institutional publications officer associated with improved knowledge and attitudes about publishing among faculty
Pilot assessment

Retracting 'retraction': is there a way to de-stigmatize retractions?
Retractions stigma

Members can join our first COPE webinar on Thursday 29 June 2-3pm (BST), for information, shared discussion and practical advice on common authorship issues faced by COPE members.

We will be discussing the main issues that are brought to COPE for advice, ranging from what constitutes authorship to guidelines for authorship and questionable authorship practices. 

Three guest speakers: Deborah Poff, editor-in-chief Journal of Academic Ethics; Kelly Cobey, senior clinical research associate Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Canada; and Liz Allen, director of strategic initiatives F1000, will present their views given their backgrounds as editors and researchers and their experience in developing best practices.

What guidance could journals consider? What issues are critical for researchers? Can developments such as ORCID and CRediT assist with ethical considerations that need to be taken into account with authorship? These are just some of the questions we intend to cover during the webinar. 

There will be an open discussion with questions from attendees. You can email your question in advance or ask questions during the webinar.

Webinar is free and open to COPE members only.

More information & register

Geri Pearson and Chris Graf, co-Vice-chairs and co-Chairs-elect for the past two years, have now become co-Chairs of COPE after Ginny Barbour's second term as Chair came to an end. Ginny now becomes the Immediate Past Chair for one year to help ensure a smooth transition. Deborah Poff was appointed the new Vice-Chair and Chair Elect. Charon Pierson was appointed Secretary of COPE for a second term. Charon has also agreed to act as Interim Treasurer until a new Treasurer can be appointed. 

   Geri Pearson        Chris Graf         Ginny Barbour     Deborah Poff     Charon Pierson

Geri Pearson






COPE Officers

COPE is delighted to announce the appointment of 4 new members to COPE Council: Tracey Bretag, David Ofuri-Adjei, Michael Magoulias and Seth Leopold. They were co-opted by the Nominations committee and approved by the Trustee Board.

Tracey is the Founding Editor, International Journal for Educational Integrity; Associate Professor for Higher Education; and Director for the Office for Academic Integrity at the University of South Australia. Tracey is based in Adelaide, Australia.

David is editor-in-chief of the Ghana Medical Journal and Professor of Clinical Pharmacology in the University of Ghana School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Ghana Medical School. David is based in Ghana, Africa.

Michael is the Director of Journals at the University of Chicago Press and is based in Chicago.

Seth is editor-in-chief, Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research; and Professor in the Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Seth is based in Seattle, USA. 

COPE also welcomes Behrooz Astaneh back to COPE Council.  Behrooz was a longstanding member of Council and was re-elected for a second term. Unfortunately, Behrooz had to take a brief hiatus from Council and has now returned to Council to complete his second term.

David is our first Council member from Africa and we look forward to understanding more about the publication ethics issues facing the African community and how COPE can do more to provide support and advice.

COPE Council members

The changing face and future of publication ethics

The COPE 2017 European Seminar was held on 25 May in London. We covered a wide range of topics, including during our ‘Ask Me Anything’ COPE panel. We focused on journals and researchers in the arts, humanities and social sciences and how they have different approaches and needs from researchers in scientific, technical, and medical fields. COPE will continue to work on supporting those needs. We talked about minimum publishable units (also referred to as “salami slicing”) and text recycling. We also discussed metadata, ways to correct the literature, preprints, data management and data sharing, as well as institutions and their approaches to publication and research integrity.

As is expected and celebrated at COPE, there were differences of opinion. This is only fitting: the seminar was a celebration of COPE’s 20th anniversary. Discussion (and collegial, constructive disagreement) has always been and remains central to COPE’s values.

Delegates expressed a particular interest in publishers and journals that do not follow good practices, and the potential this causes for confusion amongst researchers when choosing journals to review and, hopefully, to publish their work. Discussion was lengthy and opinion in the room remained divided specifically on the role of blacklists/watchlists (or whitelists/safelists). However, it was clear that delegates did want to know COPE’s position on blacklists. Here it is.

COPE encourages journals to address 16 principles in their editorial practices (the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing). Researchers and others can also use these 16 principles to make decisions when choosing journals in which to publish (and to read and review for). COPE uses these 16 principles as part of its process to assess membership applications. Some delegates suggested, rightly, that COPE could do a better job of putting the 16 principles into a format that would make them easier to apply, for researchers in particular. To address that, COPE will continue to support Think.Check.Submit and campaigns like it, which reflect the values we share. Think.Check.Submit is not a COPE resource, although we are a contributing organization and will assist to further develop and promote its checklist. This is a good example of how the values shared by the communities we serve can be translated into a checklist that researchers can use to choose journals without using a blacklist or whitelist.

COPE’s aim is to support all those who have a genuine ambition to promote integrity in research and its publication. We do this by working with our members and communities to write, publish, and then update guidelines like our 16 principles and our flowcharts (18 of them, in 10 languages), records like our database of 550+ cases, our eLearning course of 10 modules on ethical issues such as authorship, fabrication and plagiarism, and the many other resources freely available on our website. We do this so that COPE members and others in the communities we serve have what they need to meet good standards. This applies whether the journals concerned are long-established, or newer and perhaps less experienced. COPE is equally interested in supporting both old and new journals.

These are all, we think, positive ways to promote integrity in research and its publication. COPE’s role is not to create a blacklist. Instead, COPE will continue its mission by supporting editors, journals, and – in the future we hope – by working with institutions to better support researchers.

A good question to ask, though, might be why some researchers are choosing to publish in journals that do not share their values and the values of their communities. Answering that question would be useful. And it is important to note that institutions have a primary role to support researchers so they are able to make informed decisions about where to publish.

Two presentations from an institutional perspective generated questions focused on authorship, peer review, and publishing practices, and how responsibility is split and shared between institutions and journals. Helping researchers understand ethical publishing practice, and helping them to decide where to publish, is an institution’s responsibility (although journals can help), whereas managing peer review is a journal’s responsibility. The recent RePAIR and CLUE guidelines address more of the questions that arise when thinking about the practical implications of this balance in responsibilities.

On other topics delegates expressed differing opinions, for example on preprints, and whether or not journals would (or should) publish articles that have been previously posted to preprint servers. Opinions varied by discipline and topic. It seems clear that some journals will continue to want to publish “new news” (and are therefore unlikely to be enthusiastic about considering articles previously posted to preprint servers), whereas others will be comfortable allowing researchers to use preprint servers to test and refine their work before submitting it for peer review to a journal. Questions were also asked about citing preprints, versioning, and retractions of preprints. It was agreed by all that, as for other types of publication, proper tagging of preprints with the right metadata is crucial.

Diversity was an important theme throughout the day. Diversity of viewpoints was expressed by our delegates, our speakers, and COPE Council members. Diversity of discipline and COPE’s need to not only reframe its guidelines so they are more specific and applicable to the arts, humanities, and social sciences, but also to provide resources written specifically for and with that audience. Diversity of geographies and cultures was also apparent, as was how cultural issues do influence some areas (such as authorship practices and persistent focus on impact factor).

In summary, the 20th anniversary COPE seminar represented the spirit of the organization:  an intellectually stimulating but practically focused gathering of individuals, who are committed to publication ethics and research integrity, and who – by the end of the day – generated more questions than answers. We discussed a myriad of issues, each of which will continue to be debated as COPE continues to change during the next 20 years.

Speakers, panelists and chairs of COPE European Seminar 2017

Written 27 May 2017 by COPE 

All presentations made during COPE European Seminar 2017 are now available on our website. 
European Seminar presentations.

The overarching theme of this year’s WCRI was transparency and that came over in a number of ways—especially in regard to the need for more transparency as a route to reproducibility. Of the other themes, one was the increasing complexity of issues that surround research and publishing ethics. COPE was involved in a couple of these sessions-one on the issue of “wicked” problems and another on whether we need a different approach to retractions and corrections. The wicked problems session was organised by Ginny Barbour, who had just finished as COPE Chair, with the panel session chaired by Chris Graf, one of the new co-Chairs. Wicked problems are a fascinating concept: they are not inherently evil but are complex issues that can’t be solved by taking a single approach, but which have to be tackled from a number of angles, understanding all the interdependencies. COPE has long discussed the need for overarching approaches to be taken to the issue of publication ethics—ie,that it is not just an issue for editors to solve.

The talks in this session were introduced by Ginny Barbour, who described the idea of wicked problems. On the panel were Bianca Kramer, University of Utrecht, who with Jeroen Bosman has developed the project on 101 Innovations in Scholarly Communication and who talked on the many tools now available in research; Phil Hurst from the Royal Society, who talked on the need for new incentives in research; and Jane Jacobs, Director of the Office of Research Ethics and Integrity at Queensland University of Technology, who discussed the approach institutions are taking to research and publication ethics. There was a lively Q&A from the floor afterwards.

The theme of “wicked” problems, this time applied to “rethinking retractions”, was also apparent in a session organised by Elizabeth Moylan on behalf of BioMed Central. Daniele Fanelli (METRICS, Stanford University) introduced his thinking for a system of self-retraction for honest error, and proposed a detailed taxonomy for ways to correct the literature. Richard Mann (University of Leeds) shared his experience when faced with a retraction because of a mathematical coding error. He found the experience far too stigmatising, with many sleepless nights induced by the fear and worry over having to retract his best work. Ivan Oransky (Retraction Watch) asked if we can decouple correcting the literature from punishing authors, acknowledging that transparency can help reduce stigma. Ginny Barbour (immediate past Chair, COPE) proposed a more efficient approach using neutral terminology and version control. Clearly, the discussion and debate in this space is set to continue.

Hong Kong Spring seminar

Dr Trevor Lane, COPE Council Member, gave a seminar on peer review ethics at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology on 27 April 2017. Entitled “Conducting peer review: Ethical considerations”, the seminar was part of the course “How to critically read research papers and conduct peer review for international journals” and was attended by 60 research staff and postgraduates. The audience was given an introduction to COPE, best practices when conducting peer review, and ethical concerns such as peer review fraud, unethical journals, and compromised confidentiality.

Materials Research Society Spring meeting, Arizona

The Spring meeting included a 'how to' session for researchers, with MRS journal editors, including David Ginley, COPE Council member. The session covered the fundamentals of successful scientific publishing, featuring COPE guidelines and advice. 

COPE is updating its discussion document What constitutes authorship?

This document aims to stimulate discussion about the issue to help inform the debate and provide guidance where needed. We encourage journal editors, reviewers, researchers, institutions, funders and third party services to comment (whether or not they are COPE members).

Email your comments

This year's Peer Review Week,11-17 September, begins with panel discussion "Under the Microscope: Transparency in Peer Review" as a satellite session following the Peer Review Congress.

The panel will consist of a moderator and four panelists representing researchers, publishers, funders, peer review innovators and science commentators. Panelists will be asked to respond to questions gathered in advance of the event and from the audience. The discussion is expected to last 90 minutes, and will lay the groundwork for Peer Review Week.

Read more

As part of the project DEFORM: Determine the financial and global impact of research misconduct the Department of Sociology, University of Crete is conducting a survey investigating issues of research misconduct and research integrity. 

The aim is to reach a wide audience of researchers at various stages of their career in academia, research institutions and industry. For more information about the project please email DEFORM Project Partner, Vasiliki Petousi.  

Take part in the survey

Editors: Deborah Kahn, Publishing Director, Taylor & Francis

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


COPE Co-Chairs: Chris Graf and Geri Pearson