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Letter from the COPE Vice-Chair: August 2020

This month we welcome Simon Linacre as our newest Trustee. Simon brings extensive experience in scholarly publishing (predatory publishing, open access, and book publishing), and in business and marketing. With over 20 years’ experience in the industry, we know that Simon will be an outstanding Trustee and we look forward to working with him.

In this issue, we turn our attention to Ethical Oversight. During this time of COVID-19, many institutions are only partially open, with some researchers working remotely. Under these conditions, it is hard to maintain consistent oversight as workflows breakdown and pressures to push research forward mount. Despite these unusual conditions, it is important to preserve the practices and principles necessary to maintain an ethical process in research. A case discussed at a recent Forum raised the question of whether the COVID-19 pandemic could be considered a special circumstance under which an author could appeal a rejection decision. The participating COPE members were uniform and clear in their advice … No. The authors, after missing the appropriate deadlines for institutional review board (IRB) consideration, should not have pushed forward in collecting the data and then tried to get retroactive IRB approval. Instead they should have followed the procedure and waited for the appropriate approval before collecting their data.

We also see more multidisciplinary collaborations and works which push the scope boundaries of journals and introduce ethical concerns that may be new to some editors.  Modelling of interactions between people, like the spreading of disease leading to a pandemic, has drawn researchers (physicists, mathematicians etc) who have not traditionally needed to seek IRB approval to conduct research. It is important that we do not allow circumstances to circumvent the protective measures for human subjects, vulnerable populations, and personal data, so we should keep ourselves informed.

This month we have an updated membership handbook to share. Your membership gives you access to all COPE resources and to the Forums and seminars. The handbook lets you know how to use the online resources – guidelines, discussion documents, flowcharts, and eLearning modules – and how to submit a case to the COPE Forum.

A useful resource for COPE Members is the COPE audit. The audit can be used as a guide to help you align your policies and processes to best practices. Editors should refer to the checklist to ensure that their journal’s guidelines and procedures are robust and well described.

Finally, the next COPE Forum is on Friday, 4 September, and the discussion topic is on paper mills, a timely and complex problem. This is also a great opportunity to submit a case for discussion and get advice on how to handle it. We are also planning a peer review workshops to be held during peer review week in September. 

COPE Vice-Chair Daniel Kulp




Read August Digest: Ethical Oversight