This month’s highlighted case is about following up duplicate submission. In COPE Forum case number 17-20, journal A was informed by journal B that an author had withdrawn an accepted manuscript because it had already been accepted elsewhere. In fact, the manuscript had been published in journal A in the previous week. Records of the two journals revealed dual submission on the same day. However, the author repeatedly gave unsatisfactory responses when questioned by journal B, which then banned the author from future submissions. Journal A brought the case to COPE Forum after journal B’s editorial board suggested that it was journal A’s duty to inform the author’s institution about the misconduct.
This case is archived in the COPE Forum Cases section of the COPE website under the key terms of “Allegations of misconduct” and “Post-publication discussions and corrections”, which are two of the 10 COPE Core Practices:
Allegations of misconduct
Journals should have a clearly described process for handling allegations, however they are brought to the journal's or publisher’s attention. Journals must take seriously allegations of misconduct pre-publication and post-publication. Policies should include how to handle allegations from whistleblowers.
Post-publication discussions and corrections
Journals must allow debate post publication either on their site, through letters to the editor, or on an external moderated site, such as PubPeer. They must have mechanisms for correcting, revising or retracting articles after publication.
These two key terms are shown as clickable buttons at the end of the case under discussion. Clicking on the key-term buttons takes you to the resource webpage for the corresponding COPE Core Practice, where there are links to related Forum cases, flowcharts, guidelines, discussion documents, and (for members) eLearning modules.
Following each key term at the end of the case are sub-terms. Clicking on each sub-term takes you to cases classified under that term. The sub-terms shown at the most granular level reflect the two issues at the centre of this case: namely, “Multiple submissions” and “Misconduct/questionable behaviour (author)”. When clicked, these sub-terms respectively lead to lists of 57 and 79 directly relevant cases. Cases in those lists can be further filtered by clickable sub-terms in the menu on the right, labelled “Filter by Core Practice”.
It is worth pointing out that Forum cases usually deal with unique and complex situations arising at COPE member-journals that required advice beyond that provided by available COPE website resources. Still, before COPE members bring a case to Forum, they can search for similar cases first to identify any common features and possible recommendations.
The whole archive of 600 or so cases can be searched using the “Search cases” function of the COPE Forum Cases database. The search term “multiple submission” retrieves the above-mentioned 57 cases. As expected, the specific keywords “dual submission”, “duplicate submission”, “double submission”, “simultaneous submission”, or “simultaneously submitted” return fewer cases. Performing a Boolean search for ["multiple submission" + "questionable behaviour (author)"] returns 12 cases: the case under discussion and 11 others.
In COPE Forum case number 17-20, the Forum recommended contacting the author’s institution for educational and preventive, rather than for punitive, reasons. It also warned against journals banning authors, for legal reasons, and suggested that an editorial on dual submission be published. Ultimately, the editor of journal A considered the case closed, presumably without further action.
If the simultaneously submitted papers had both been published, the appropriate COPE flowchart and retraction guidelines would have been suitable. In this case, however, the COPE flowchart on suspected redundant publication during manuscript submission is appropriate. According to that flowchart, journal B would have rejected the submitted manuscript after finding out that it had already been published, and journal B would have informed the author’s institution about the misconduct. However, the flowchart does not quite fit the scenario in the present case, because the author had withdrawn the manuscript after admitting prior submission/acceptance.
Therefore, after checking COPE guidance/flowcharts and considering that another journal was involved, Journal B was right in contacting journal A, in accordance with the guidelines on Sharing Information among Editors-in-Chief Regarding Possible Misconduct. It is important that editors realise they can contact each other and share information if suspected misconduct involves more than one journal. This consultation could take place at any stage from submission to after publication. Consultation could also occur during peer review as an allowed exception to the policy of peer review confidentiality. Furthermore, publishers may share information if there is suspected systematic manipulation of the publication process. Journals should thus ensure that their author guidelines state potential situations in which confidential information may be shared.
Other situations that would require information sharing are when journals request institutions to investigate alleged misconduct and when they inform institutions about proven misconduct. Relevant COPE guidance can be found in the document Cooperation between Research Institutions and Journals on Research Integrity Cases: Guidance from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). An option that was not explored in this case is that both editors could have jointly written to the author’s institution in neutral terms as a preventive measure.
As an additional preventive measure, both journals could have used the opportunity to check and update their journal guidelines, policies, and procedures. In this respect, another relevant COPE Core Practice is that of “Intellectual Property”, which includes the advice “Policies should be clear on what counts as prepublication that will preclude consideration. What constitutes plagiarism and redundant/overlapping publication should be specified.” Journals should explicitly state that they do not allow simultaneous submission of the same paper, duplicate publication (sometimes treated as self-plagiarism), or redundant publication, with clear definitions. They should also require authors to verify manuscript originality. A policy practised by some journals is requiring that any overlapping or similar submitted papers be included at the time of manuscript submission. Other policies are requiring authors to state if a manuscript has been previously submitted to and rejected by the same or another journal, and screening for plagiarism at both submission and acceptance stages.
Trevor Lane on behalf of the COPE Education Subcommittee
Read February 2019 Digest newsletter on the topic of Allegations of Misconduct with a case discussion, news roundup including articles on retractions, ghost writing and breaches of research integrity, and announcement of our Allegations of Misconduct webinar. Get dates in the diary for COPE events in 2019, particularly our North American Seminar and European Seminar, and keep abreast of news & events in #PublicationEthics