COPE Education Subcommittee focus: Post-Publication Discussions and Corrections

COPE’s Core Practice #10 – Post-publication discussions & corrections

To round out our year-in-review of COPE’s 10 Core Practices, we take a look at Core Practice #10 about Post-publication discussions & 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.”

When potential issues are brought to a journal and are determined to be legitimate through processes described under COPE’s other Core Practices, journals must have in place methods to correct the literature after content publication.

COPE’s Retraction Guidelines, posted in 2009, have been adopted by journals and publishers across many disciplines as the industry standard for Retraction guidance, whether Retractions occur for ethical violations or for honest error. These guidelines issue some questions and topics that journals and editors may consider when deciding whether a Retraction is appropriate, and also offer practical guidance about the substance and form that a Retraction should take.

Journals should have alternate means to correct papers that are not so seriously flawed as to warrant retraction, and may consider Expressions of Concern when conclusive evidence is not available but the editors believe readers should be aware of potential concerns. Expressions of Concern are often used if a decision will not be reached for a considerable amount of time. More thoughts on Expressions of Concern can be found in the COPE Forum Discussion from 26 Feb 2018.

Furthermore, journals should allow some form of post-publication commentary or discussion when alternative interpretations of published data are brought to light. These discussions may take the form of Letters to the Editor, or Comment/Reply type manuscripts published within the journal itself, or they may be hosted by external sites that moderate post-publication commentary.

COPE’s guidance about retractions and other means of post-publication correction reminds us that “The main purpose of retractions [and other forms of amendments] is to correct the literature and ensure its integrity rather than to punish authors who misbehave.” This underlying principle can be difficult to remember when tensions run high in handling ethics cases and their ultimate retractions or corrections, but reminds us that our ultimate purpose as shepherds of the literature is to uphold its integrity.

Heather Tierney on behalf of the COPE Education Subcommittee

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Read November Digest: Post-Publication Discussions and Corrections.
This issue of Digest announces new resources What to do if you Suspect Image Manipulation in a Published ArticleWhat to do if you Suspect Systematic Manipulation of the Publication Process, and an update on How to Recognise Potential Authorship Problems. Guest articles from Research Integrity Officers Research data: Institutions are key to management and post-publication concerns and A research integrity issue: Who are you going to call? Plus the monthly events and news roundup.