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In the news: August 2021

Each month, COPE Council members find and share publication ethics news. This month the news includes articles on allegations of misconduct, authorship, ethical oversight and more. 

Allegations of misconduct

A new study, the Dutch National Survey on Research Integrity, has found that more than half of Dutch scientists admit to engaging in questionable research practices, whilst 8% admit to committing more serious fabricating or falsifying research results during the last three years. The research has been published on MetaArxiv in two preprints, one looking at the prevalence of misconduct, and the other at the prevalence of responsible research practices.

In 2018, FEBS Press started to observe manuscripts that displayed possibly systematically fabricated data and which followed a recurring template. These manuscripts pointed at the existence of paper mills. Based on analysis of the data provided with submissions which have been found to originate from paper mills, this paper identifies characteristics to look out for that could indicate that the data is manipulated, and that the paper originates from a paper mill.

On a similar note, a recent study looks at how strange phrases, for example 'counterfeit consciousness' instead of 'artificial intelligence' probably generated by automatic translation software can give away fraudulent articles. The researchers have been investigating specific phrases used and say that “Preliminary probes show that several thousands of papers with tortured phrases are indexed in major databases”.

Richard Smith, one of the founders of COPE and past editor of the BMJ, discusses the level of fraudulent research being published in the medical literature and asks whether we should assume all research is fraudulent, unless there is some evidence to prove that the research happened and was accurately reported. In the light of the articles above, this is a very timely and relevant question to ask.

The Centre for Journalology at the Ottawa Hospital has a produced a useful webpage with useful information to help researchers avoid predatory journals.

Authorship and Contributorship

The Council of Science Editors (CSE) gives an annual award each year for Meritorious Achievement, to a person or institution that embraces the purposes of CSE, that is, “the improvement of scientific communication through the pursuit of high standards in all activities connected with editing”. This year the award has gone to CRediT, a high-level taxonomy that includes 14 roles that can be used to represent the roles typically played by contributors to scholarly output.

A name change policy has been launched by the17 US national laboratories and 17 publishing organisations and services. "The partnership between the national laboratories, major scientific publishers, journals, and other organisations represents a commitment to creating a more inclusive culture in STEM fields and STEM publishing in particular. The participating national laboratories will facilitate requests for name changes for any reason, including religious, marital, or other purposes, where supported by the policies in place at our publishing partners."

Should scholars be allowed to remain anonymous to protect them from recrimination? The Journal of Controversial Ideas has been set up to provide a place where ideas which are difficult to discuss in public, due to “cancel culture”, can be aired. The fact that the journal allows authors to publish anonymously has caused more debate than the topics of the articles published in the first issue of the journal.

Ethical oversight

A new body, the UK Committee on Research Integrity (UK CORI) has been established by UKRI. They will partner with the U.K. Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) and the Concordat to Support Research Integrity Signatories Group, amongst others. They aim to promote research integrity across the UK and internationally, develop co-ownership of integrity issues across the sector, build the evidence base around UK research integrity, identify how systemic pressures affect research integrity, and work with partners to enhance progress. 

Peer review processes

In the run up to September’s peer review week, Scholarly Kitchen have reprised this useful article describing the behaviours which make a good peer reviewer (and some to avoid). 

COPE Council Member Deborah Kahn