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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. November 2017 (Vol. 5, Issue 11)

Case of the month: Institutional investigation of authorship dispute #16-15

The editor received a claim that several authors were removed from an article published in their journal before the article was submitted. None of those said to have been removed were acknowledged. The claimant requested retraction stating the article was previously submitted to other journals, listing them as an author. The claimant was reluctant to be named and expressed concern about repercussions but agreed the journal could contact the authors and institution. The submitting author said the claimant should not have been an author and that the claimant agreed to this, and provided signed statements from the other removed authors agreeing to being removed. The journal asked the institution to investigate. After several months, the institutional committee informed the journal of their decision: the claimant provided an email statement agreeing not to be listed as an author; the published author list was correct; the claimant would be penalised professionally for harming the institution’s reputation. The editor requested advice from the COPE Forum on several issues, including how to deal with uncooperative or potentially biased institutional review committees.

Discussion and advice from the Forum


Letter from the COPE co-Chairs

“Don’t cross the streams” advises Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters





Picture credit: CC BY 2.0 Phillip Ritz from New York, NY, USA - NYFD Hook and Ladder #8 (Ghostbusters Firehouse)

Crossing the streams: Research institutions and research publishers

“Don’t cross the streams” advises Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters. A week or so ago we did just that. We had an hour-long discussion about publishing ethics and research integrity with experienced people from universities and research institutions around the world, crossing streams with research publishers and journal editors at a COPE meeting just outside London. Here are three thoughts from that discussion.

Thought #1. Unsurprisingly institutions, editors, and publishers voiced a shared commitment to the same kinds of “quality” in the research they support, peer review, and publish. That shared commitment, in the publishing ethics space at least, is to the quality standards described by COPE’s core practices. Assuming that those core practices are addressed appropriately, then our shared goal is to publish all research (AllResearch, like AllTrials, anyone?). But we remain challenged by the perception — and perhaps the reality — that negative results are hard to publish or are hard for researchers to want to publish.

Thought #2. Publishing all research will mean an explosion of research outputs, alongside journal articles and sometimes instead of them. The first and possibly most important of these research outputs is data. But the infrastructure, skills, management, and culture to match this ideal are certainly patchy around the world, and in some cases non-existent. 

Thought #3. Whatever research objects get published, let’s remind ourselves: research and research publishing is a human activity. By its very nature it is imperfect and problems arise through simple human error, naivety, and infrequently corruption. What we share at ethical research institutions and ethical research publishers is a commitment to preventing problems where we can and correcting them where we have to – with proper due process. Simple, right? Not so simple, it seems. Institutional investigations can conclude with requests from institutions to editors and publishers for retractions. The same can be true in reverse, when publishers find conclusive evidence of a problem and request action from institutions. Sometimes those requests across the institution–publisher divide seem not to be heard. Perhaps the messages in either direction sometimes fail to reach the right people. In which case this should be an easy problem to solve. We’re attempting to bridge that gap as part of our work with institutions on COPE’s pilot initiative.

Thanks to all who took part. And we look forward to crossing those streams more often, despite Egon's well-meaning and usually sensible (if you're a Ghostbuster) advice. 

COPE co-chairs Geri Pearson and Chris Graf


Ethics surrounding citation: upcoming discussion document

Report from the COPE Education Subcommittee

Citation manipulation is not a new concern, but it has become increasingly problematic over recent years as the citation “economy” has grown. This economy is both literal, in terms of bonuses and other monetary incentives based on article publication and citation, as well as figurative in terms of the weight that citations garner relative to other publication metrics. In the COPE Forum, we discussed the issue of self-citation, which for the purposes of the Forum focused on authors citing their own previous work. While some amount of self-citation is appropriate or even necessary, there seems to be a gray area in between “necessary” and “excessive” self-citation.

Another form of citation manipulation occurs when journals or publishers request or require citations to their own (or related) journal(s). This practice has been discussed previously by COPE in an earlier Forum, and the community has already started to see sanctions for journals or publishers undertaking these practices, such as dismissal from indexing or metrics services.

We as a community understand that, just like images or research data to be presented in a research article, citation metrics should not be inappropriately manipulated. However, guidance may be needed for editors or journals (and potentially authors) to indicate best practices, and to recognize and avoid inappropriate behaviors.

To join the discussion on self-citation, you are welcome to add your comments on this topic. Our discussions will inform a future COPE discussion document on Citation Manipulation which we will post on the website and in Digest for comment in due course.


Fake news, fake reviewers, fake journals–help and advice to avoid them

Scholarly Kitchen is hosting a webinar looking at how scholars and the general public can navigate the current media landscape to validate what they think they know
fake news webinar

Clarivate Analytics is launching a new tool in ScholarOne to help identify fake reviewers
fake reviewer tool

The Council for Science Editors has released new policy guidance on how to spot fake journals
fake journal guidance

Does the order of authors matter?

Yes, says Professor Bruce Macfarlane, author of a new survey 'Co-authorship in the humanities and social sciences', reviewed in the Times Higher Educational Supplement
global study

co-authorship study

Is research complacent?

Some experts think so, according to evidence given at the UK Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into research integrity, held on 24 October

lacks transparency

research integrity examined

Some challenges and opportunities in peer review

Angela Cochran argues that it is time to start reviewing references

reference lists

And Roger Giner-Sorolla argues that it is important to maintain civility when offering and receiving criticism
civil criticism

For a description of what transparency means in peer review
increasing transparency

A scientific society defines sexual harassment as scientific misconduct

new policy



Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers: Chinese

COPE's Chinese verison of the Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers have now been updated. The update reflects invited input from the publication ethics community and institutions in the COPE membership pilot, and replaces the previous translation.

Chinese version

English version



COPE pilot initiative: Hong Kong University

We are delighted to announce that Hong Kong University is now part of COPE's pilot that will help form a membership package of support and advice for research institutions. Other institutions already part of the pilot are: Caltech, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and University of Ottawa, and Queensland University of Technology.

The pilot 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.

Our pilot partners have helped revise the COPE Guidelines for Peer Reviewers and we are undertaking research to further understand the needs of institutions. 



Reports from US and Japan

COPE at International Association of Veterinary Editors, Chicago

Vivienne Bachelet, COPE Council Member, was asked to speak on behalf of COPE at the satellite meeting of the International Association of Veterinary Editors (IAVE), 9 September, Chicago, the day before the 8th International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication (10-12 September). IAVE is a group of editors of journals related to veterinary medicine and meets annually. This year's meeting focused on peer review, including models for peer review and the editor’s role in the peer review process, recognition of the work of peer reviewers, and ethical aspects of peer review.

Vivienne's talk was entitled "Publication ethics and reporting guidelines – alter egos to making science sounder". In her talk, she referred to the big issues involved in publication ethics, and explained what is COPE, and COPE resources and services. She also addressed the topic of reporting guidelines specific to the discipline of veterinary medicine, as well as the ethics of waste and research involving animals. The presentation ended with a lively discussion, crowning a very interesting meeting.

COPE at International Society for Medical Publication Professionals, Tokyo

Dr Trevor Lane, COPE Council Member, was invited to be a round-table discussion moderator at the 2017 Asia Pacific meeting of the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) in Tokyo, Japan, 5 September 2017. Groups of attendees discussed case studies and voted on responses in two interactive sessions: one on peer review and one on medical publication planning. The case studies touched on a variety of topics, including how to advise authors to revise a manuscript based on conflicting peer review reports, authorship decisions during manuscript preparation and challenges when working with both global and local client representatives.


COPE Annual General Meeting

At COPE's Annual General Meeting (AGM) in November, Zoë Mullan, Ginny Barbour, Sally Weatherill and Adrian Ziderman stepped down as Trustees of COPE, at the end of their terms. It is only possible to do the work of COPE with our truly committed volunteer Trustees, and we thank them for all their hard work and commitment to COPE.

Mirjam Curno was re-elected to a seond term as a Trustee and Director, Council Member Michael Wise was elected to his first term as Trustee and Director and Daniel Kulp joins the officers of COPE as the newly elected Treasurer.




COPE Digest editors

Editors: Deborah Kahn, Publishing Director, Taylor & Francis

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