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Data and reproducibility

Journals should include policies on data availability and encourage the use of reporting guidelines and registration of clinical trials and other study designs according to standard practice in their discipline

Our core practices

Core practices are the policies and practices journals and publishers need, to reach the highest standards in publication ethics. We include cases with advice, guidance for day-to-day practice, education modules and events on topical issues, to support journals and publishers fulfil their policies.

Possible plagiarism and fabrication


A group of six authors published a study in a peer reviewed journal, comparing the efficacy of the same class of two drugs (A and B) with a placebo and with each other. One year later the lead author of that study was searching in Medline for new evidence on the efficacy of drug A and found a study that had been published in another peer reviewed journal the year after his by three authors from another country.


Co authors’ unwillingness to support retraction of a review


A review by three authors, with Dr X as the lead author, was published in Journal A. Five months later, the editor of Journal A was informed by Professor W that a figure in the review by Dr X had originally appeared in a research paper, co-authored by Professor W in Journal B in 1990. The professor also said that Dr X had published the same or very similar figures in journals C, D (research papers), and E (review). The Journal C paper was reference 5 in the Journal A review.


Arm twisting an editor


A paper was accepted, pending a revised version, which made use of official government information on reported health reactions in a particular age group over a 20 year period. Two of the authors were academics and two worked for the government’s health department. When the revision arrived, the names of the latter two authors were missing.


Late reinterpretation and a new author


Authors A, B, and C submitted a paper about the behaviour of a group of doctors. All the authors came from one institution, where the doctors’ behaviour had been studied. Author A did the data collection under the supervision of author B, who was obviously responsible for the design of the study and acted as guarantor. Author C was an official at the institution. The journal accepted it after revision, edited it, and sent out proofs. All the correspondence had been with author B.


New commercial cure for a common but incurable problem, role of sponsor


A randomised controlled trial was submitted, showing that a new treatment, which is a combination of familiar compounds, is highly beneficial in a common but largely untreatable problem. The authors came from several different countries and included people from the company that manufactures the treatment. The editors had great difficulty finding reviewers for the paper as many simply returned it, saying that they could not produce an opinion.


Stolen data and omission from the authorship list


An author wrote to the editor of a specialist journal, indicating that a paper had been published without appropriate recognition of himself as an author. In his letter he stated that he had contributed more than 50% of the cases reported. The first author had “not only stolen my data and published it without my consent, but also omitted my name. ” The editor has written to the authors of the paper asking for further information, but should any further action be taken?


Duplicate publication


Sixteen randomly chosen papers were examined from a PubMed search of 370 publications between 1995–2000 by the same author. Two papers were virtually identical, differing only in the form of the introductory paragraph and the list of authors. Neither publication acknowledges the other. Another paper reported a “second ever published case”, and two subsequent papers reported the same “second” case without reference to the earlier published paper. The text was again very similar.


Suspected data fabrication


A manuscript was received from a group of authors who had not submitted to the journal in question before. The review was extremely critical and the paper was rejected. In a covering letter the reviewer said that not only was the experimental design flawed, but he was also convinced that the experiment described had never been done.


The incomplete retraction


A journal published a paper several years ago that subsequently had to be retracted, on the advice of the university where the work had been conducted. The university provided no further details but promised to do so. Two years later they confirmed that the paper should be retracted, but gave no information on exactly what had gone wrong and whether anybody had been punished. Subsequently, one of the authors wrote to the journal expressing concern that no fuller explanation had been offered.


The single authored, unbelievable, randomised controlled trial


A randomised controlled trial submitted to a journal showed that a nutritional supplement could dramatically improve one aspect of the health of the elderly. The study was a follow up to a trial reported in an international journal eight years previously. Why had there been so much delay? Why were the results reported in this study not reported in the previous study? There was only one author and, if true, the results were extremely dramatic. The paper was sent for statistical review.