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

Case of the month: Satire in scholarly publishing

Case #17-06

An intentional satire of a randomised controlled trial was published in a journal. Investigators conducting a systematic review on the topic inadvertently included the satire article in their review as a legitimate manuscript. The authors of the satirical article saw the published systematic review and immediately contacted the editor of the journal in which it appeared to explain the situation. The editor of the other journal blamed the authors of the satirical article for the situation and demanded that they apologise to the authors of the systematic review and retract the original satirical article. The editor asked the Forum, does the publication of satire in a scholarly journal usurp space that should be reserved for legitimate investigations? Is it reasonable for the other journal editor to request the retraction of the satirical article?
Discussion and advice from the Forum

Letter from the COPE Chair

From the outgoing chair

This May marks the end of my term as COPE chair, an organisation I’ve been part of for over a decade now, with the past six years as Chair.

It’s been a time of momentous and dizzying changes in academic publishing, driven by both technology and idealism. Notable changes include the increasing move to open access publishing, (my competing interest is that working in open access is my day job: COPE council members, trustees and officers are all unpaid volunteers); the rise of online commenting on sites such as PubMed Commons and PubPeer; recognition for reviews with Publons; the rapid rise of preprints; the increasing importance of post publication repositories such as PubMed Central; and the launch of many new models of journals across different disciplines, including by funders, such as the Wellcome Trust. Many of these changes are challenging what it even means to be published and they are expanding dramatically the number of people who participate in publishing.

Both in new models and in journals that publish in a more traditional way—still the bulk of journals today—we at COPE have seen an increasing awareness overall of the need to ensure that what is published can be trusted. That’s not say that everything published is perfect, or that everyone has to agree with every article published, but that the publishing system, whatever the model, has to function adequately as a quality control system, pre, post and during publication. Having robust processes in place to handle publication ethics is one part of this quality control function. COPE works to help editors, journals and publishers fulfil this critical function in such a way that it is not just lip service or as an add-on to other business but that is a core part of practice. That we now have more than 11,000 journals and publishers as members, with more wanting to join every month, thousands of visitors to our site, and enthusiastic attendance at virtual and in person meetings, suggests that we are providing a function that is valued and needed.

The importance of good processes is only underpinned by the fact that the types of problems that editors face are increasing in complexity. I’ve written in the past of using the lens of “wicked problems” as a useful way to approach this increasing complexity in publishing and research ethics. Given how intertwined publishing is with academic promotion and incentives, I’m hopeful that as more and more organisations, such as institutions, collaborate with journals and others who already work on publications ethics, we will have more success in unpicking these ethical wicked problems.

Looking forward, however, I see two very specific challenges facing COPE, its members and related organisations that as yet we neither fully understand nor have the mechanisms to handle. The first challenge is what appear to be almost industrial attempts by groups outside of normal publishing practices to subvert processes such as peer review. These actions seem on face value to be driven by perverse incentives but both a more thorough understanding of their origins and cooperation between all related parties is needed to address them head on. This latter practice is something we are beginning to facilitate.

The second challenge is more subtle: how to promote an academic online culture that allows for robust debate and criticism, not just of ethics but of papers and individuals, in a way that is consistently constructive and professional. Toxic online commenting is not just an issue for publication ethics of course, but this behaviour seems to be becoming more prevalent in this arena. In my role at COPE I’ve seen the worst excesses of behaviour that goes far beyond what the academic community should accept. We cannot allow this behaviour to become the norm.

I’ll end on a positive note. Innovation and diversity in publishing look set to accelerate. At the same time, I see increasing consensus among the serious actors in publishing of the need to cement ethical practice at the heart of publishing, whatever the model. I’m proud to have been part of COPE over the past few years as we helped facilitate this consensus.

Marie-Andree Jacobs, who has observed COPE, says the following about our principles and practice in the book Knowledge, Technology and Law: “COPE emphasises that it is precisely because there are many views expressed, and many testimonies, and experiences shared, that it can offer the right advice”.

I’ll sign off my time as Chair by saying how privileged I have been to work with the wonderful staff at COPE, all the council members who give up their time, and the diverse group of editors and publishing professionals from across the world who combine to make these “many views”.
Virginia Barbour, COPE Chair

COPE in the news

What's wrong with science?

Chris Graf, COPE co-Vice-chair, contributes to the discussion on BBC World Service Newshour Extra Podcast. The question asked by the presenter, Owen Bennett Jones: are there fundamental problems with the way science is done today?

The podcast is a thoughtful discussion from the researcher, journal and publisher perspectives on how science can live up to its promise.

What's wrong with science?

In the news

Whither peer review?

Peer review week 2017 will be 11-17 September
Peer review week

To coincide with its launch, Digital Science and BioMed Central have published “What might peer review look like in 2030?”
Peer review in 2030 report

An excellent summary of the report by Alice Meadows
Peer review in 2030 summary

In the report, Frank Norman concludes that “we may be moving to a world where some research is just published ‘as is’, and subject to post-publication peer review”

Post-publication peer review, however, has not had as much traction as it might have. Jon Tennant examines potential reasons for this
Barriers to post publication peer review

Meanwhile, peer review still has its problems, an example being a history journal having to apologise for its choice of peer reviewer
Reviewer choice mistake

The changing ethics landscape

The TRUST project is an interdisciplinary collaboration aiming to produce three sets of tools: (1) a global code of conduct for funders, (2) a fair research contracting online tool and (3) a compliance and ethics follow-up tool. Two recent reports are reviews of the Chinese and Russian ethics systems
Chinese ethics system
Russian ethics system

A recent article published in Journal of Academic Ethics examines the concept of plagiarism in a changing ethical landscape
Plagiarism in changing landscape

Related to which, as plagiarism detection software evolves, worrying new ways to evade them also appear
Evading plagiarism detection software

The changing landscape also means that new technology, in this case crowdsourcing techniques used in social science research, raises new ethical questions
Ethical issues of crowdsourcing

Many ways with data

Understanding Patient Data has been set up with the belief that responsible use of patient data has the potential to deliver better care
Understanding patient data

This article looks at how data has been used to help improve retention of students
Student retention

Dorothy Bishop makes an impassioned argument for requiring psychology students to share data and register reports
Reproducible practices

In other news

It is a year since an open letter was launched by eight organisations to encourage publishers to commit to requiring ORCID iDs for their authors. ORCID has now analysed the impact of this initiative
ORCID impact

Peter Suber summarises the ways in which researchers can evaluate journals before joining editorial boards or submitting an article
Evaluating journals

Ask the panel: COPE European Seminar

Celebrating 20 years of COPE at our 2017 European Seminar, we have a special programme reflecting on changing times in publication ethics.
Registration is closed, and if you haven't secured your place or are unable to attend, you can still submit a question to the COPE panel:

COPE Panel discussion: This is your chance to ask the COPE panel questions for discussion. Send your questions to us by 20 May and the panel will answer on the day.

Or follow news from the event on Twitter: #COPE2017

COPE at WCRI 2017

COPE will be represented at the forthcoming World Conference on Research Integrity (28-31 May, Amsterdam, The Netherlands).

COPE Chair, Ginny Barbour, and Chris Graf, incoming co-Chair, will be running a symposium on behalf of COPE entitled “Publishing and research ethics as wicked problems”. The session will discuss how research and publication ethics issues can be thought of as intertwined wicked problems – that is, problems which are "difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize”. There will be various perspectives from the panel debating the issues to explore whether we can rethink how we can address such problems by adopting less conventional approaches. Speakers include: Jane Jacobs (Queensland University of Technology), Phil Hurst (Royal Society) and Bianca Kramer or Jeroen Bosman (Utrect University).

Somewhat related to the discussion of ‘wicked problems’ in publication ethics, COPE Council Member, Elizabeth Moylan, will be chairing a symposium on behalf of BioMed Central entitled “Rethinking retractions: the pros and cons of self-retraction”. This session will be exploring Daniele Fanelli’s (Stanford University, USA) proposal for a system of self-retraction for honest error and the issues involved. Various view points from different stakeholders will be discussed. Speakers are: Richard Mann (University of Leeds, UK), Ivan Oransky (Retraction Watch) and Ginny Barbour (Chair, COPE).

If you are attending the WCRI, these sessions are open to all delegates.

Advice on new cases

American Chemical Society: Authorship session

On April 3, COPE Council member Heather Tierney spoke at the Spring American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting in a session entitled "The Write Thing to Do: Ethical Considerations in Authorship and the Assignment of Credit". In this talk, norms in authorship were explored across the disciplines, as laid out in the COPE Discussion Document on “What constitutes authorship”.

While many medical journals follow strict guidelines for authorship based on guidance from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), the field of chemistry and other related physical sciences tend to be more vague about authorship.

ACEID Japan: Ethical issues workshop

Ethical issues and dilemmas in academic publishing: An interactive workshop at the
Asian Conference on Education and Development, Kobe, Japan, March 2017

Ethical issues and dilemmas as encountered by authors, external reviewers, collaborators and journal editors were outlined, both from a normative viewpoint and current practice. Attention was given to cross cultural differences and to differing disciplinary norms.

Breakout groups were presented with two cases previously submitted for advice and discussed at COPE's regular Forum. For each case, the groups considered questions such as: What is the ethical problem inherent in the
case? What action should be taken to deal with the issue? What measures could be taken to avoid similar problems over the longer term?

Adrian Ziderman, COPE Council member, gave a featured presentation on the topic and acted as workshop leader. The workshop breakout groups were facilitated by COPE council members Muhammad Irfan, Trevor Lane and Adrian.

The workshop was valuable not only in its own right but also in introducing COPE to an academic discipline that is not very familiar with the work of COPE.

New: Arabic flowcharts

Arabic flowcharts COPENow translated into Arabic, the COPE flowcharts help editors implement advice in suspected misconduct cases. Our thanks to Ahmad Abu-Aysheh, Laila Khaled and Shalimar Shadeed for their translation work. The Arabic flowcharts can be downloaded from the COPE flowcharts page

Survey: Research misconduct

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

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