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Letter from the COPE Chair: March 2020

COPE, like many organisations, is grappling with the impact of the coronavirus and we are sorry to inform you that our Trustee Board made the difficult decision to postpone our North American seminar planned for June 2020. Clearly, the health of our members and staff is our first priority, and we hope to announce a new date in 2021 in the coming months.

This month’s focus is on new editors or editors who have recently been introduced to particular issues related to publication ethics. Over the years, a number of editors have shared their experience with me of getting to know COPE, first through the need to address a vexatious problem in publication ethics. If this is you, or if you’d like a refresher on some of these issues, we can recommend the following:

  • A Short Guide to Ethical Editing for New Editors

  • The eLearning Module ‘Introduction to Publication Ethics’. This one module is also available in Spanish and Chinese

  • Core Practices on the COPE website is a one stop shopping guide to COPE resources, including discussion documents, flowcharts, guidelines, and case studies under 10 distinct types of publications ethics issues. It allows you to find all the relevant material on an issue (eg, authorship and contributorship).

Our case discussion this month is case 19-11: Withdrawal of a paper at the proof stage. Thanks to Council Member, Trevor Lane, for his presentation and analysis of the case.

As many of you know, COPE has been considering the issue of editing of reviewer comments. Opinions certainly vary among editors on the role of editing, and when or whether it is good practice to edit peer review comments. This was the topic of the COPE Forum on 6 March. There will be a summary of the discussion on our website shortly but it was interesting to hear participants expressing opinions that they would consider editing comments that they found unethical, inappropriate, or hostile. We would like to hear your views on an editor's ability to alter the contents of a submitted peer review in our survey, which will provide a more general understanding of how editors approach the issue of editing reviewer comments. The Forum and survey will form the basis of a COPE discussion document on this important topic. The Forum also discussed a number of cases. Many of the issues raised focused on communication and the relationship between editors and universities in addressing allegations of violations of publication ethics by faculty researchers. This is a common concern expressed by editors and university administrators responsible for investigation into these types of allegations. Issues such as these were partially the catalyst for COPE’s decision to broaden our membership to include universities.

Thanks to all members who voted in our recent Council elections. We will announce our new Council members in the next issue of Digest.

Finally, we are in the process of developing deliverables under our new strategic plan. Our university resources task force is looking at developing new online modules for research integrity officers on publication ethics designed to be rolled out in face-to-face train the trainer sessions. Stay tuned on this one and we will provide updates as we develop these tools as part of our initiative to facilitate membership of COPE for universities.

Best regards,

COPE Chair Deborah Poff




Read COPE's March Digest for more on 'Editing of peer review comments' survey, the case discussion and publication ethics news and events as gathered by COPE Council.

Read March Digest: Publication ethics