In the news: February Digest


A review of scholarly articles on the prevalence of ghost writing in scientific literature to be between 0.9% and 75%. Resources to address this such as the European Medical Writers Association ICMJE, and WAME are addressed.

The co-founders of Retraction Watch, Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky, put the rise of retractions from 2000 to just a few years ago, when they seemed to plateau into some context. About half of retractions involved misconduct or fraud. Those willing to cheat the scientific system have more tools to manipulate images, statistics but so do those trying to avert printing fraudulent work. They describe work that is still needed to identify, and banish, fradulant or misconducted research.

A “Checklist for Investigating Allegations of Research Misconduct” has been developed by the Japanese organisation The Association for the Promotion of Research Integrity (APRIN). It is described by Iekuni Ichikawa, the chair of the committee that developed the checklist in a posting on retraction watch.

An editorial in the December 2018 issue of the Malawi Medical Journal, explains how breaches of research integrity in the performance and publication of research damage the scientific enterprise.

Portland State University is considering disciplinary action against Peter Boghossian who was part of a group that sent hoax gender studies articles to journals to see if they got published. The University is maintaining that he should have obtained IRB approval before experimenting on the editors and reviewers. Alan Sokal, the author of the op-ed suggests this is beyond common sense and that editors and reviewers are different than human subjects.

In November, He Jiankui reported at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing that he had edited the genomes of twin baby girls to try to prevent HIV disease, which their father but not the mother, has.  The response from the general community has been very negative, given grave concerns about the medical, health and ethical implications.  Now, there are responses from within China.
His University in Shenzhen is rescinding his contract and terminating his research and teaching activities. The investigation by the provincial government were released by the Chinese news agency and confirmed that He has funding, a lab and a research team set up separate from his university.  The news agency went on to site violations of ethical principles, scientific integrity and regulations.

More on the CRISPR babies: National Academy of Medicine in US will host international commission on guidelines for use of CRISPR technology with germline editing. Britain’s Royal Society and Chinese Academy of Sciences have signed on.

Plan S

A review of the current (as of Jan 3,2019) world status on endorsement of Plan S, documents that as of now, <4% of global research articles published in 2017 were payed for by the first 15 funders to back Plan S.  However, as more funders join, the more pressure there will be to flip from paywall subscription model to an open access model. China now, the country that contributes more scientific papers than any other country has supported it. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a signator, and the article suggests another US Private funder is pending. The NIH noted that they are not going to be signing on, nor are the 3 main federal research funders in Canada.

Margot Finn, president of the Royal Historical Society, presented a briefing document for UK Hi storians of Plan S, including the potential impact on learned societies.  Similar concerns are being raised by medical societies.

Peer review

BMC Biology has a policy of allowing authors of rejected papers to have their peer review results to submit to another journal. Sounds good in principle, per Philip Moriarty, but he’s concerned that despite the reduced net work effort, authors may not want editors of their new journal for submission know they had been rejected before.

In a review of 5 Elsevier journals that had a pilot of publishing the peer-review history for published articles, no evidence of a compromise of the peer review process was found. There were no significant negative effects on declines by reviewers, their recommendations or time to complete the reviews. The tone of the reviews were found to be less “negative and subjective, at least when referees were male and younger”. Only 8.1% of reviewers opted to reveal their names and the authors suggest that this supports the view that peer review depends on anonymity.


Papers with involve human subjects or their medical records will not be accepted by 4 major orthopedic journals if they have been posted on a preprint server. The editors of the journals jointly published an editorial about this which describes the policy and their reasons.
The URL below is to the version in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.

Of the 37,648 papers uploaded in its first 5 years to, a biology-focused preprint server, almost 2/3 from inception to 2016 were later published in peer-reviewed journals, the majority within 6 months of posting on the server. Upload rates are increasing (2,1000 per month), as are download rates (1.1 million in October 2018!). Preprints with most downloads are more likely to be downloaded in journal with highest impact factor.

Open science

Changes to the Wellcome Trust’s Open Access policy include that their funded research must be freely available at the time of publication through PubMed Central and Europe PubMed Central and published under CC-BY licensure. Wellcome Trust will not cover the cost of OA publishing in subscription journals (Hybrid OA). If there is a significant public health benefit, articles must be published on a preprint server and Wellcome-funded organization must sign or publicly commit to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment.

A Publish-and-Read (PAR) agreement announced by Wiley and Projekt DEAL will make >30,000 articles open access over the next 3 years. Under this deal, authors will be published open access in a Wiley journal and everyone at their institution, if participating in the PAR agreement, will be able to access all Wiley content at no additional cost. Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, one of Scholarly Kitchen’s contributors discusses this move in the context of a movement to 100% open access.

International research topics

The US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has published the proceedings of a workshop (March, 2018) which explored the “opportunities and risk of data management and use across disciplinary domains”.

Authors Marcu Munafò and Neil Jacobs review various international efforts emphasizing the importance of open science and reproducibility of research. While focusing on the UK and challenges post-Brexit, the review is useful for others as well. They emphasize the important of science and technology to spur economic growth and social benefit.

The German Centre for Protection of Laboratory Animals launched the Animal Study Registry for the pre-registration of animal experiments to support thorough, target-oriented experimental planning with the aim to increase reproducibility of research and raise scientific standards. All studies will be publicly accessible with the result that there will be a decreased need for animal experiments.

A South African academic decries his country’s research-output bonus system that pays for publication in “accredited” journals. This list inevitably includes some predatory journals-he cits a 140-fold increase in South Africans publishing in such journals since the beginning of the program. Since funds are dispersed to all of the authors, he posits that this decreases collaborative science and increases salami slicing.

In 2017, the Indonesian government instituted the Science and Technology Index (SINTA) which reflects the number of journal and non-journal articles in Scopus, their citation history and the researchers h-index. This has been gamed (as can almost any such index [NCC]) but in July, researchers with the highest SINTA scores were given awards by the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher education, sparking outrage by many who claimed that those who abused the system were awarded.

For more information about SINTA, see the following:

Indonesian scientists embrace preprint server

Proposal of the S-score for measuring the performance of researchers, institutions, and journals in Indonesia

How to shine in Indonesian science? Game the system 
(needs subscription)

Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international program that exists in 39 countries. These programs are designed to  help scholars whose work is threatened by political, social and economic instability, such as occurs in authoritarian states (although not exclusively). These programs allow scholars to relocate and receive short-term appointments at host institutions to continue their work. The editorialist of this article is exhorting Canada to fully commit to SAR, perhaps by building on models in some countries that include centralized infrastructure and government support.

An FBI report to the Dr. Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health warns  that “some foreign governments have initiated systematic programs to unduly influence and capitalize on US-conducted research”. In particular, concerns were raised about “data thieves” from China using methods such as shared intellectual property, “shadow labs” in China and pilfered biomedical secrets contained in presumably confidential NIH grant applications.


CRediT—the Contributor Role Taxonomy was developed in 2012 and defines 14 potential roles of people who contribute to research (described here). ScholarOne is now allowing submitting authors to easily recognize the role of each author by integrating the submission process with the CRediT taxonomy.

The hard sciences and medicine are in a “reproducibility crisis” and some are calling for reproducibility in humanities research. These authors think otherwise.

The Scholarly Kitchen’s chef used the idea of disorienting dilemmas to frame problem solving initiatives for librarians, publishers and end users. She articulates the dilemmas and then calls to action for each of them.  Pertinent to COPE Digest readers:
#3: See seem to be helpless targets for pirates, such as Sci-Hub.
#4. Predatory publishers are taking advantage of a shifting open access landscape.
#5: It’s a challenge to conduct rigorous and reproducible research in the biomedical sciences.

In order to increase inclusion and diversity, we have to call attention to the problem and then have resources to correct it. The Scholarly Kitchen describes a few:
1. Women Also Know Stuff: to promote the work and expertise of political science scholars who identify as women. (
2. Woman Also Know History (
3. Sourcelist: list of women experts in Technology policy (
4. Cite Black Women (

A survey of academic researchers in Amsterdam in multiple fields, humanities and sciences was designed to assess whether the research integrity climate is seen differently by academics with different ranks and fields. The authors conclude that leaders in the humanities and social sciences should set fairer expectations and that senior scientist should socialize junior researchers into research integrity practices and that a climate that does not tolerate suspicion among colleagues should be developed.

Altmetric, one of the article-level alternative-metric organizations, released the list of the top 100 Altmetric scores.  The highest score at 10724 went to a New England Journal of Medicine article from July 2018 entitled “Mortality in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria”.
Other topics in the top 10 include Fake News, Global Burden of Disease 2016 report on the problems in 195 countries and territories of alcohol use, climate change (2),  physical and mental health associations, carbohydrate intake, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, complementary medicine and cancer patients, and the biomass distribution on earth. (Fun to glance through the whole list: #19 predicts a global beer supply shortage due to climate change!)

COPE Council member Nancy Chescheir

Read February 2019 Digest newsletter on the topic of Allegations of Misconduct with a case discussion, news roundup including articles on retractions, ghost writing and breaches of research integrity, and announcement of our Allegations of Misconduct webinar. Get dates in the diary for COPE events in 2019, particularly our North American Seminar and European Seminar, and keep abreast of news & events in #PublicationEthics