January focus from Education Committee: Allegations of Misconduct

COPE’s Core Practice #1: Allegations of misconduct

Following on from our introductory overview of COPE’s Core Practices in the December issue of COPE Digest, this month we focus on the first core practice: Allegations of misconduct. The general statement describing this core practice is that:

“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.”

COPE does not specifically describe what those policies should say but rather we provide a range of resources from which journal editors and publishers could develop their own guidance. These resources include flowcharts (e.g. on how to handle suspected ethical problems and responding to whistleblowers), guidelines (e.g. on sharing information among Editors-in-Chief regarding possible misconduct), discussion documents (e.g. on handling persistent complainers as well as complaints) and individual cases.

The resources cover an array of issues falling under the general category of allegations of misconduct. Some issues, such as problems with image manipulation, are more applicable to journals in the science and biomedical arenas (e.g. case 11-10); others, such as duplicate publication (e.g. case 07-09) and citing significant amounts of retracted literature in a review paper (e.g. case 11-07), could occur in any discipline. The core practice only states that journals should have clear policies and processes for handling allegations of misconduct, not that all journals must have policies for dealing with a specific problem such as figure manipulation (for example). It is the responsibility of the journal editor to decide what types of misconduct are most common in their journals and to outline their policies and procedures for handling such issues when they arise. Journal editors should look to COPE’s resources to develop their policies and to describe their policies so readers, authors, and reviewers can find and read them. One additional resource for COPE members, should a situation of misconduct arise that is unique and not well-covered in existing resources, is that the member can bring the case to the quarterly COPE Forum for discussion and further advice.

Transparency is key to avoiding conflicts in all the core practices. To be compliant with COPE’s core practices, the essential elements of the core practices relevant to each journal must be clearly described, posted in an accessible location on the journal website, and adhered to when allegations or problems arise. 

COPE Education subcommittee