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Letter from the COPE Chair: June 2022

Travel is once again becoming a part of my life. I recently returned from a wonderful trip to Cape Town, South Africa to participate in the 7th World Conference on Research Integrity (WCRI). The 30-hour trip from New York to South Africa was well worth it. I loved reconnecting with professional colleagues that I had not seen in years and making new connections. The meeting was very active, exciting, and enlightening, with so many engaging sessions - it was hard to decide between the concurrent sessions.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Fostering research integrity in an unequal world”, and some participants took time to help formulate and draft the Cape Town statement on diversity, equity, and fairness in global collaborations, which will be released soon. It was wonderful that the meeting took place in Africa for the first time, and we were able to hear from those directly impacted by historic inequities in financial and scientific resources.

As COPE Chair, I moderated a symposium panel on “When and how to report misconduct to institutions, journals, publishers, or elsewhere". This panel was organised by Matt Hodgkinson (COPE Council Member), who spoke on behalf of journals and publishers. Joining him on the panel were Paul Saner from the University of Cape Town and scientific integrity consultant Elisabeth Bik. All three panelists gave engaging presentations on their perspectives of what works and what doesn’t when reporting issues to different stakeholders, with the audience then invited to ask questions. The audience was highly engaged and debated issues of confidentiality and how to better share information. Elisabeth even tested the audience on their ability to find the duplications and manipulations in some figures. Other issues that arose were whether peer review is broken, institutional actions against authors (overreactions), confidentiality and fear of lawsuits. Luckily, lunch forced us to stop, or we might have been there for another hour.

Two other symposia especially held my interest.  The first, “Recent advances in research integrity” highlighted recent advances as well as fostering reproducibility and the detection of flawed manuscripts. For the last topic, Joris van Rossum introduced the STM Integrity Hub. This is a collaboration space that fosters cross publisher solutions to expansive integrity issues, such as duplicate submissions, image alterations, and paper mills. These areas are growing concerns for many COPE members, as reflected in the interviews held with publishers for the COPE and STM paper mills research report. COPE, and COPE members, have been working with STM to support applications of the Hub to find solutions to these problems.

The second symposium was on paper mills. COPE has a special interest in this topic and is developing cross publisher guidelines to support early detection and raise awareness of the problem. Hearing from an early career academic about the pressures which drive young researchers to paper mills as an easy solution was especially eye-opening. There was also an informative presentation of the problems faced by publishers by Suzanne Farley, Editorial Director at PLOS. Her presentation on the large number of potential paper mill submissions clearly articulated the fact that we have little idea of the scale of the problem. STM and COPE have collaborated on a joint project to better understand paper mills. In this issue, you can read the research report on paper mills and the recommended actions for all stakeholders; the problem of paper mills needs to be addressed jointly by funders, research institutions, and publishers. 

I talked to many delegates about COPE’s new initiative, opening membership for universities and research institutes. Facilitating communications between institutions and journals was a consistent theme throughout the conference. I’m looking forward to introducing our inaugural university and research institute members soon.

In other news, COPE has produced a draft discussion document Dealing with complaints about the integrity of published research. We invite comments on the website from anyone with an interest in this topic. We would particularly like to hear from  journal editors, publishers, researchers, and academic institutions. COPE members can register for the Forum to join the live discussion.

Have a wonderful month.

Dan Kulp, COPE Chair




Read COPE Digest newsletter, June 2022, in which we launch the paper mills research report with STM and invite you to join the discussion on Dealing with complaints about the integrity of published research.