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In the news: February 2021

Publication ethics news February 2021

Each month, COPE Council members find and share publication ethics news. This month the news includes articles on diversity and inclusion, peer review, paper mills, and more.

Data sharing

This evaluation of data sharing after implementation of the ICMJE data sharing requirement, shows there is a gap between declared data sharing by journals and actual data sharing. To improve transparency and data reuse, journals should promote the use of unique pointers to data set location and standardised choices for embargo periods and access requirements of the ICMJE data sharing statement requirement.

Ethical oversight

BMJ have new guidance for authors about obtaining consent for publication for research and articles involving human participants.

Diversity and inclusion

The Life Science Editors Foundation has announced Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Awards. The award provides free scientific or language edits of a scientific manuscript or grant proposal from one of the volunteers; experienced current and former journal editors. 5 JEDI awards will be given monthly to early career principle investigators who face disproportionately high and unfair obstacles to career progression in academic science, including but not limited to women, people from historically underrepresented races or ethnic groups, people from low socioeconomic backgrounds, people with disabilities, primary caregivers, people who identify as LGBTQ+, and people in a low or lower middle income country. The next deadline is March 10.

Research integrity

The John Maddox Prize is a joint initiative of the charity Sense about Science and the scientific journal Nature, and is awarded to one or two people a year for standing up for sound science in public. The Maddox Prize 2020 received over 100 nominations from 34 different countries. The importance of the prize is stated well by one of the judges, Professor Terrence Forrester, Chief Scientist & Managing Director, UWI Solutions for Developing Countries at the University of the West Indies who said, “How much do we value those who risk a great deal in an effort to assure the availability of science for the value it brings to our world? Science is a source of evidence for myriad decisions in local and global life. When it is endangered, we greatly increase the chances of poor outcomes in those decisions.” This years awardees are Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Dr. Salim S Abdool Karim, director of the South African Centre for AIDS Programme of Research. The early career prize was awarded to Dr. Anne Abbott of the Central Clinical School at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Each of the awardees was cited for their consistent efforts to communicate difficult scientific information, at significant personal cost.

Elsevier signed the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), an international initiative to improve the ways in which researchers and the outputs of scholarly research are evaluated. By doing so, Elsevier is a publishing company and a supplier of assessment tools and services. These efforts will include making reference lists for all articles published in Elsevier journals openly available via Crossref, use of CRediT, and new bibliometric calculation methods.

Trust in science

US President Biden has nominated Eric Lander as his science advisor and for the first time has elevated the role to a cabinet-level position. "Elevating this role to membership in the President's Cabinet clearly signals the administration's intent to involve scientific expertise in every policy discussion,” AAAS said in a statement.

Peer review

The Journal of Nanoparticle Research accepted a thorough proposal for a themed issue and commissioned the proposers to handle the papers and assign referees. The problem is that the proposal came from a sophisticated group of fraudsters and the 19 accepted papers would otherwise have been rejected by the Journal for being either out of scope or below publication standards. In their announcement of the scam, the Journal described the process and their attempts to reverse the damage done by this fraud.

A review of over 75,000 funding proposals to the European Union "Marie Curie Actions" from 2007- 2018 concluded that organisational changes, such as the number of evaluation criteria used or the use of virtual rather than in-person consensus meetings do not significantly influence the funding decision outcomes evaluated. The authors conclude that the level of disagreement by the reviewers is less dependent on the way peer review is organised than on the type of action or make up of the panel.

Open access

The Science family of journals, published by AAAS, will offer authors with funding cOAlition S signatories, the option of depositing "near-final, peer-reviewed" versions of papers into publicly accessible online repositories (Green Open Access) in order to comply with Plan S requirements. This applies to about 31% of research papers in this group of journals. AAAS will evaluate the results in one year, particularly with respect to revenue.

Paper mills

The Royal Society of Chemistry conducted extensive investigations in 2020, collaborating with an image integrity analyst and scientific experts, resulting in retraction of 70 scientific studies thought to have come from paper mills, based on duplicated and manipulate images and a common writing template. 


2020 saw a sharp increase in articles on all subjects being submitted to scientific journals. The changes in science publishing were seen in the speed of review, the number of preprints and the topics of research.

COPE Council Member Nancy Chescheir

Related resource

Read February 2021 Digest: data sharing resources, upcoming authorship cases workshop, a strategic report from COPE on 2020 activities, and our regular news and events roundup.