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In the news: December 2021

Each month, COPE Council members find and share publication ethics news. This month the news includes articles on diversity, equity and inclusion, authorship, journal management and more.

Diversity, equity and inclusion

An article published in the Journal of eScience Librarianship explores gender diversity in research data collection. It includes recommendations that, during research design, consideration should be given to whether gender questions need to be included and, if they do, nonbinary genders should be explicitly included.

In this blog, the authors describe their recently published findings that whereas papers with female authors seem to be cited less often, they attract more engagement from readers. The authors argue that this is because these papers describe research which is more often aimed at societal progress, rather than research aimed at scientific progress. 

This research looked to understand the profile of research integrity and ethical awareness, globally. The results highlights a serious imbalance in the awareness of research integrity and publishing ethics across the world, especially in developing areas with the highest population density. The authors propose a new index, the “Academic Integrity Awareness Index” to assist future discussions on this issue. The lead author, Helen Zhang, discusses the results in an interview with Scholarly Kitchen.

Authorship and contributorship

A light-hearted article entitled “Why scientific journal authorship practices make no sense et all.” describes some of the issues with current authorship practices. 

Addressing some of these issues, the authors of this article describe authorship guidelines developed for an interdisciplinary centre which take a new approach to preparing author lists, aiming to minimise the potential for authorship conflicts and avoid imbalances between contributions and credits in published papers. The article describes how the guidelines were developed, and presents an authorship form, how to solve common authorship problems, and lessons learned.

A numeric index to improve the documentation of authorship claims, with the aim of reducing authorship abuse, has been developed and is described in this article

Journal management

Researchers explored the efficacy of two tools (the Percentage of Papers by the Most Prolific author (PPMP) and the Gini index (level of inequality in the distribution of authorship among authors)) in identifying journals which showed editorial bias in accepting papers from specific authors. The authors used the tools on all articles in a sample of 5468 NLM indexed biomedical journals. They found that in most journals, publications are distributed across a large number of authors. However,  in the journals with the highest PPMP or Gini index values, they found that the most prolific authors were members of the editorial board in 61% of the cases, and these papers were likely to be accepted for publication within 3 weeks of their submission. 

Peer review

Is the peer review system in need of repair? The authors of this article argue that it is, and that various cultural issues have “eroded the willingness of individuals to engage in the collective enterprise of reviewing each others’ work on a quid quo pro basis”. They describe the repercussions if authors publish more than they review and propose pathways toward greater reviewer engagement. 

The work done by reviewers is estimated to be worth more than US$1.5 billion. The authors discuss ways in which the cost of peer review could be reduced, including reducing redundancy, and making better use of less-trained reviewers. 

Some of these issues are already being addressed by publishers, according to an article by Rachel Burley in Research Information. She discusses how AI can be used to make the sharing of research results faster and more efficient.


The difficulty in finding peer reviewers and the increase in numbers of scientific papers and the resultant increase in times from submission to publication has led to more papers being published on preprint servers prior to peer review. Discussion of some of the resultant issues, especially in the medical fields, are presented by former COPE Council member Seth Leopold, here and here, and separately by Michael Mullins, editor of an OA toxicology journal. 

Meanwhile, the Dutch consortium of university libraries and the National library of the Netherlands (UKB) together with the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and the Dutch Research Council (NWO), has published a practical guide to preprints, which aims to support both researchers and members of the general public through answering frequently asked questions concerning preprints.

The news is edited by COPE Trustees Deborah Kahn and Nancy Chescheir