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Opinions on opinions

Two of COPE’s core principles from its mission statement are to “provide leadership in thinking on publication ethics” and to “offer a neutral, professional voice in current debates.” We think it is important in an intellectual climate that is challenged by many polarizing views to comment explicitly on COPE’s role in addressing contentious issues within publication based on our principles of neutrality and professionalism.

COPE Council is composed of members with a broad spectrum of experience and different academic disciplines. What all of these members hold in common is an individual and collective history which includes cumulative experience as professional editors and/or authors and academic editors representing numerous scholarly fields. As individuals, it is fair to say that, many of us hold strong beliefs about many ethical issues. Collectively and consciously, as the entity we call COPE Council, we are committed to bringing an extensive examination of all aspects of any particular ethical dilemma and following, as transparently as possible, various different, possible solutions to the problem. However, we do not always state a particular preference in the resolution of the matter. In so doing, we deliberately, reflectively and consciously align ourselves with particular ethical orientations which bear a strong family resemblance to transformational leadership and servant leadership. Both schools of thought emphasize transparency, individual consideration, integrity, trust, and authenticity. Leaders, according to these leadership theories, set goals that are ideally both inspirational and aspirational. The goals are larger than any transactional bottom-line and are aimed at lifting up rather than punishing or imposing censure. This clearly does not mean that wrong-doing doesn’t receive punishment or that censure doesn’t happen. Rather, it means a different orientation to management and leadership.

As COPE elects and recruits new members of Council, we seek to exemplify values that mirror our organizational goals. These include a respect for the responsible conduct of research, trust, value-based leadership and an appreciation of the importance of truth and integrity in the creation and publication of the findings of research and of creative production. Above all, we want our work to reflect our commitment to operationalizing these values in an open and transparent manner. While the specific individuals involved with COPE will evolve to include different people over time, the core values defining COPE will likely remain the same. While COPE will seek to identify all of the aspects of an ethical problem or dilemma, our primary purpose is not to position hard in assessing the issues in complex ethical debates.

In spite of the continual pressure to become a tribunal of sorts with an imprimatur for adjudicating and judging publishers and journals, COPE remains an organization with the primary purpose of providing education about publication ethics. The importance of education is not to be trivialized in a global context where strong voices claim false equivalency for all opinion as equal contenders with the truth. In such a context, COPE reaffirms the importance of sharing knowledge and advice regarding the complex nature of navigating ethics in publications as a knowledgeable honest broker in an ethically contested environment.

Deborah Poff, COPE Vice-chair

1. For those who are not familiar with transformational leadership you may be interested in reading the works of its founder, James MacGregor Burns or Robert K. Greenleaf who initially coined the term “servant leadership’.
2. Thank you to the following for their input: Chris Graf, COPE co-Chair; Geri Pearson, COPE co-Chair; Charon Pierson, COPE Secretary; Natalie Ridgeway, COPE Executive Officer; Michael Wise, COPE Trustee

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