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Letter from the COPE Chair: November 2019

Dear Readers,

This month, Digest is focused on the Core Practice of Ethical Oversight. Ethical oversight is a broad category and includes many different issues in research and publication ethics. As noted under this core practice on our website “ethical oversight should include, but is not limited to, policies on consent to publication, publication on vulnerable populations, ethical conduct of research using animals, ethical conduct of research using human subjects, handling confidential data and ethical business/marketing practices”. This makes this core practice an overarching topic for all issues in publication ethics.

The case we discuss in this issue is just one example of ethical oversight. It is case 17-21 and explores the ethics of routine antenatal care in pregnant women with a systematic illness compared to active management of the illness in the intervention group.

November’s forum was on the topic of Artificial intelligence in decision making. A number of the questions and comments were directly and indirectly about the role of human agency and human intervention in AI in decision making. These included what to do about author appeals of decisions where the author may question the decision, making the claim and the argument that the artificial intelligence algorithm “got it wrong”. Other questions involved what is the role of human agency in articulating explanations for authors and how much do editors need to share about the algorithms in discussions with authors. For those on the call, we thank the contributions and questions raised during the discussion. This forum will be followed up with the development of a discussion paper on the topic and as usual, we ask for and welcome any input and feedback that you can provide as we move forward.

This issue also announces updated COPE guidelines for retractions. We hope you find these useful to your publication practices when making decisions on retractions and how to handle them.

You will recall that this past year, we surveyed our members in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. As part of our outreach to share the results, COPE Council member Rachel Safer and Jennifer McMillan from Routledge/Taylor & Francis shared results from the survey at the Charleston Library Conference on November 7. They were joined on the panel by Claire Sewell, a research librarian at the University of Cambridge, who emphasised how librarians can help address issues of publication ethics in their role as mentors to researchers and, in many cases, researchers in their own right.

We hope you enjoy reading this month’s Digest.

COPE Chair Deborah Poff




Read November Digest newsletter with a focus on Ethical Oversight and a discussion exploring the ethics of routine antenatal care in pregnant women with a systematic illness compared to active management of the illness in the intervention group. We also share the new COPE Retraction Guidelines and invite members to join us on COPE Council to help with the work of COPE. Plus the monthly update on publication ethics in the news and upcoming events.