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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. March 2017 (Vol. 5, Issue 3)

Case of the month: Publishing content anonymously

The editors and publisher of a US climate journal asked COPE about publishing content anonymously following the recent “gag orders” placed on the US Environmental Protection Agency. The editors wanted to promote actively a new policy, while the publisher was encouraging evaluation of each situation if/when anonymity was requested. How should the journal proceed?

COPE council provided the following advice.

This is a difficult issue as transparency is important in publishing but the approach probably has to be done on a case-by-case basis. COPE would support this idea in principle. A key issue is that the editors must know who is publishing. While transparency is a key value, an even greater one is minimizing harm.  On that basis, the work around we have used in the past is that the editor, or publisher, should be aware of the authors' identities to ensure a proper process.

This is really an editorial issue that the journal editors have to make and declare. It may not be for the publisher to decide. The publisher should respect the editorial freedom of the editorial boards and the editor-in-chief. A suggestion would be for the editors to convene their editorial board and get everyone on board if they are to actively promote the anonymous communication of results that go against the gag order. The editors should have a very clear, and defendable, reason to grant anonymity to the author. Some explanatory text from the editor/publisher should be included to frame the situation and the editor/publisher should be willing to act as an intermediary if pertinent queries come from the readership.

If we believe that in countries with no freedoms we should protect authors who want to publish when going contrary to the prevailing order, in effect, protect them from being persecuted for their ideas/research, then we should apply this same principle to other countries that have democratic regimes, such as the US, the principle being freedom of speech and academic/professorial freedom.

A suggestion for anyone wishing to publish something that their government disapproves of is to choose a journal that is published in a different country. Assuming the usual quality controls are in place (nothing libelous, etc), it is very hard to enforce restrictions across jurisdictions.

The following COPE cases have dealt with similar issues:
Inability to contact an author to obtain permission to publish 
Anonymity versus author transparency

Letter from the COPE co-Vice-Chairs

Chris GrafResearch integrity: What happens next, when COPE responds to public consultations and inquiries?

The new draft research integrity code for Australia was open earlier this year for consultation by Australia’s research funders (NHMRC, ARC) and Universities Australia. The draft code emphasizes the responsibilities of institutions to foster the right culture and to investigate properly possible cases of compromised research integrity, and is enforceable by the research funders. COPE submitted a written response.

Geri PearsonSimilarly, the Research Integrity Inquiry, opened in January by the UK Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee, sought comments on last year’s POSTNote on Integrity in Research. The inquiry asked for written evidence on the extent and causes of problems in research integrity, the effectiveness of controls and on self-regulation versus regulation for research. COPE’s submission, submitted early in March, argues for system-wide action, and suggests that funders should require institutions to report compromised research integrity. It makes the case that we must recognize this as a problem shared by institutions and journals, and by governments, funders, corporations, researchers, journalists and the public. In fact, by all of us who think research will provide solutions for the world’s challenges, and demand evidence as the foundation for public policy.

How’s COPE getting things done that enable system-wide action and help recognize that research integrity problems are problems shared?

COPE thinks effective collaboration is the only way to address the system-wide issues at the heart of the problem. We published guidance for collaborations between journals and institutions, and guidance for collaboration and sharing information between editors. Collaboration is also the driver for COPE’s new pilot membership category for research institutions (currently in pilot with four institutions globally). Institutional membership of COPE will bring representatives from research institutions together with journal editors for the first time in a place where they can solve issues together. Pilot institutional members (thank you to those brave, far sighted volunteers), like all members, are welcome to attend our online COPE Forums. Discussions at Forums feed the open COPE case database and inform our guidelines and flowcharts. So, the solutions we arrive at together source global opinion (from COPE's global representation), are recorded and shared, and others from our community can use what’s there to manage the similar issues they face themselves.

With all that in mind, we’ll close with two questions for you:

  • What more might COPE do to build collaborations that “get things done”, particularly where they move upstream and address problems at the source?
  • What should happen to COPE’s written submissions from these two public consultations now (and for future consultations)?

Geri Pearson and Chris Graf, COPE co-Vice-Chairs

In the news

Evidence based science and its discontents

Mark Allin, President and CEO of Wiley, discusses Wiley’s core values, including evidence based science as the bedrock of public policy solutions
Global diversity

However, this article, published in PLOS One shows that biomedical studies covered in the media are often initial results and contradicted by later analyses, and the public are rarely informed when the results are disconfirmed
Replication validity of biomedical studies

One remedy: a new Cochrane committee has been appointed to strengthen the scientific integrity and oversight of methodological practice within Cochrane
Evidence synthesis for health care

This focus on evidence based research leads to a focus on data. Sabina Leonelli and Louise Bezuidenhout argue that it also leads to the rising prominence of a data centric approach to scientific research, where concerns over data sharing and use in the long term take precedence over immediate attempts to analyse data
Data centric research

And a focus on replication needs clear definitions
Standardize meaning

Credit where credit is due: research parasites and tackling misconceptions about academic data sharing
Data massage

Quality publishing (and the opposite)

John Antonakis, the newly appointed editor of The Leadership Quarterly, considers some of the 'diseases' in academic publishing which lead to problems with the body of knowledge published in the academic literature
Five problems in academic publishing

In the wake of the demise of Beall’s list, there have been a number of blogs looking at the best way to distinguish quality journals from pseudo or predatory journals

Blacklists unreliable and unethical

Identifying quality in scholarly publishing

Identifying predatory or pseudo journals

EASE editorial discussing predatory journals

Meanwhile, David Crotty (in Scholarly Kitchen) and Liz Wager (in Journal of Epidemiology) both raise the question of whether the rise of predatory journals is in fact a response to deeper problems within the academic research establishment
Poorly governed academic incentives
Quality of research and training at institutions

And this Retraction Watch blog notes the worrying new ways in which companies are trying to subvert academic publishing

Companies subverting academic publishing

Misconduct vs bad behaviour vs making mistakes

Accusations of misconduct continue to be made at all levels of academia, from the head of a prestigious research lab through to tens of thousands of students buying essays online and submitting them to university tutors

Academic conduct of US nutrition and behaviour lab

Crackdown on websites selling essays

Buying essays: student stories

But there is also discussion about whether doing away with the term misconduct, and embracing a broader definition of ethical lapses in research, would encourage more reporting of all types of bad behaviour. A poll on Retraction Watch found that the majority of respondents disagree

Encouraging reporting of misbehaviour

Timothy D Clark posits that journals requesting video evidence could help reduce dishonesty and reduce the number of irreproducible and poorly conducted studies
Videos to reduce data fraud

More robots are now being employed to identify problems with research
Identifying fake data

And, in a response to a challenge from Ulrich Schimmack et al, the Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman, has accepted that he placed too much faith in underpowered studies
Selective reporting in social psychology

Advice on new cases

New: Chinese resources

We've added more Chinese resources to our existing translated material. The new material includes a full set of COPE flowcharts, the discussion document 'What constitutes authorship?, 'Ethical guidelines for peer reviewers' and a translation of our free eLearning module: Introduction to Publication Ethics.

Chinese resources


Conference reports from US and Ethiopia

National Academy of Sciences colloquium, Washington 

Report from Ginny Barbour, COPE Chair  

In early March, the Arthur M Sackler foundation convened a colloquium in Washington DC on the issue of reproducibility: Reproducibility of Research: Issues and Proposed Remedies.

Organised by David B Allison, Richard Shiffrin and Victoria Stodden, it pulled together participants who were approaching the issue from a number of perspectives, including from universities, journals and newer initiatives, such as the Centre for Open Science. There was uniform agreement that reproducibility was a critical issue, with many underlying contributing factors, including the incentive structure in academia and a lack of knowledge on how to handle big data. It was clear that multiple approaches were needed, including, crucially, the need to have a better dialogue with wider society about how science is done and what the expectations should be of published research. I spoke on a panel at the meeting on the role of organisations such as COPE. The talks from the meeting will be online in due course.


25th Anniverary Ethiopian Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Addis Ababa

Report from Nancy Cheschair, COPE Council

Under the auspices of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and as editor in chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology, I took part in a workshop, along with Rebecca Benner, managing editor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Dr Herbert Peterson, UNC School of Medicine and ACOG, collaboratoring with the Ethiopian Journal of Reproductive Health to discuss journal functions, development, organization and the research pipeline. 

ACOG and the Ethiopian Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ESOG) are working together with a grant through the University of Michigan to provide support to ESOG to reinforce and expand their Ob-Gyn training programs, CME, research program and the Ethiopian Journal of Reproductive Health. These goals, among others, were defined by ESOG.

A delegation from obstetrics and gynecology and ACOG delivered a 2 day programme to 22 academics and researchers in the academic medical education programme, from 31 January 31 to 1 February 2017. The conference was held at an ESOG building. The programme was divided between information related to the organization and management of a journal and the conduct of clinical research. Publication ethics’ topics such as authorship, conflicts of interests (competing interests), patient consent, ethical issues in peer review and other topics were also presented and discussed. The conference immediately preceded the 25th Anniversary of ESOG

Your examples please: subverting academic publishing

Following an article in Retraction Watch—compiled by Chris Graf, COPE Co-Vice Chair, Richard Holt, Editor of Diabetic Medicine, Tamara Welschot, Director of Research Integrity at Springer Nature and Matt Hodgkinson, Head of Research Integrity, Hindawi Limited—which warned of companies subverting academic publishing, we have had feedback of similar communication using different methods.

We'd like to understand more about this issue and the different approaches companies are using. To help us, please send examples of companies offering unethical manuscript editing and other publishing services, to ed services feedback by 1 May 2017. We won't be investigating these cases individually at this point, but would like to understand the extent of the problem.

Call for comments: RePAIR Consensus Guidelines

The RePAIR Consensus Guidelines emerged from the collaborative effort of a working group from the conference entitled Keeping the Pool Clean: Prevention and Management of Misconduct Related Retractions, held on July 20-22, 2016, in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA. The COPE Secretary, Charon Pierson, attended the conference and was one of the 20 member working group who participated in the development of these guidelines. The working group has expertise spanning multiple scientific and professional disciplines with representatives from 15 institutions, two US government agencies and five countries.

Researchers, institutions, agencies, and publishers have complementary roles and responsibilities in maintaining the integrity of the research record. The guidelines define the respective responsibilities of key stakeholders when questions arise regarding possible research or publication misconduct and identify barriers to communication as well as potential solutions. We welcome your comments on this document. Please send all comments to Responsible Conduct of Research Coordinator

Feedback needed: arts, humanities and social sciences

New: Discussion document, guidance on best practice for issues around theses publishing

We're seeking feedback on this discussion document, particularly from those in the arts, humanities and social sciences fields, where practices might be different to those described in the document.

Traditionally, theses for higher degrees were published by universities in hard copy only. Now increasingly, these are also archived and may be made freely available via university repositories. They may or may not have associated licenses such as those from Creative Commons which also allow reuse. Questions have arisen at COPE forums and other venues as to whether publication of theses, especially freely available ones, should be considered as “prior publications” when work from a thesis is submitted for publication to a journal. This document sets out some of the issues and suggests principles to consider. We welcome feedback on this discussion document, after which it will be published as a guidance document. We particularly welcome comments from individuals and groups working in the Arts and Humanities, where we recognize there may be different practices and expectations from what is described.

Discussion document: best practice for issues around theses publishing

COPE Digest editors

Editor-in-Chief: Dr Virginia Barbour

Editors: Deborah Kahn, Publishing Director, Taylor & Francis

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