EXPRESSIONS OF CONCERN
Expressions of concern are “used to raise awareness to a possible problem in an article” (Council of Science Editors, 2012). They are a relatively new, rare, and non-standardized type of editorial notice compared to corrections or retractions and “considerable differences in policy and practice remain between journals” (Vaught et al., 2017).
The COPE Retraction Guidelines describe when journals could use expressions of concern. For example, editors should consider an expression of concern if:
• they receive inconclusive evidence of research or publication misconduct by the authors
• there is evidence that the findings are unreliable but the authors’ institution will not investigate the case
• they believe that an investigation into alleged misconduct related to the publication either has not been, or would not be, fair and impartial or conclusive
• an investigation is underway but a judgement will not be available for a considerable time
COPE advises that expressions of concern should be linked to the article and state the reasons for the concern. If more evidence becomes available the expression of concern could be replaced by a retraction notice or an exonerating statement, depending on the outcome.
However, journals are grappling with when expressions of concern are appropriate and what happens if the concerns are later found not to be valid. Publishing an expression of concern prematurely when evidence is inconclusive might not be fair to the authors and some investigations are confidential. In addition, while expressions of concerns are usually about errors or potential misconduct, some notices are about the reception or interpretation of an article (for example, the note on Porter and Jick, 1980) or authorship disputes when the accuracy of the accounts of the different parties cannot be resolved.
COPE invites discussion on this topic, including the following questions:
1. What are the barriers to using them?
2. Are the situations described in the Retraction Guidelines the only ones in which an expression of concern can be used? In particular, may the reception of the article or disagreement about authorship justify an expression of concern?
3. If an expression of concern is removed because the concerns were not valid, should the original text remain available and how should the removal be indicated? Using the term “retraction” might cause confusion.
4. If the article is later retracted, should the expression of concern remain or be removed?
5. What affects the decision to publish an expression of concern when there is inconclusive evidence?
6. Should interim expressions of concern be distinguished from those intended to be final?
7. Should journals wait for an institutional investigation to become delayed or inconclusive, or could expressions of concern be published earlier?
8. When might a journal retract the article instead of publishing an expression of concern if there is evidence that findings are unreliable but no investigation will be conducted?
9. What is the best name for this type of notice? Publisher’s note and editorial note are among the alternatives.
Correcting the Literature, CSE’s White Paper on Promoting Integrity in Scientific Journal Publications, 2012 Update https://www.councilscienceeditors.org/resource-library/editorial-policies/white-paper-on-publication-ethics/3-5-correcting-the-literature/#351
Vaught M, Jordan DC, Bastian H. (2017). Concern noted: a descriptive study of editorial expressions of concern in PubMed and PubMed Central. Research Integrity and Peer Review 2:10 DOI:10.1186/s41073-017-0030-2
Porter J, Jick H. (1980). Addiction Rare in Patients Treated with Narcotics. New England Journal of Medicine 302 (2): 123–123 DOI:10.1056/NEJM198001103020221
This will be discussed at the start of the next COPE Forum on Monday 26 February 2018. Please do leave any comments below, whether or not you are planning on joining the meeting
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