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In the news: January 2021

Publication ethics news January 2021

Each month, COPE Council members find and share publication ethics news. This month the news includes articles on image manipulation, peer review, preprints, and more.

Research integrity

A Dutch National Survey on research integrity, planned since 2016, closed on December 7 but prior to that, had only a 15% response from the 40,000 targeted participants. Some universities declined to participate, citing methodological weaknesses in the survey as well as concerns about negative repercussions about the results. 

Image manipulation

A lab generated fake western blot images using Generative Adversarial Nets (GANS), an artificial intelligence method, and then performed a case study of how accurately researchers could detect the fake images, which was about half the time. The authors argue that new techniques are necessary in the peer review process to identify these fake images.

Open access

Starting in January 2021, Springer Nature is offering German authors the ability to publish their primary research open access in Nature and some of Nature’s research journals. This is in collaboration with the Max Planck Digital Library and has resulted from an agreement to offer Gold OA with an article processing charge of 9500 Euros. This option is intended to facilitate the ability for authors to publish OA in compliance with Plan S requirements.

Data sharing

This fifth edition of the State of Open Data details results of 4,500 people surveyed and it notes that, in general, there is a continued gradual improvement in data sharing. The monograph explores a variety of issues: the effect of COVID-19 on open access publications, the effect of data sharing statements, misuse of open access data, and issues of equity in open science.


eLife, starting in July 2021 will publish only papers that have previously been posted on a preprint server, changing their model to be an organisation "that reviews and certifies papers that have already been published".  Peer review will be changed so that it is prepared for public reviews for all papers under review. 

Impact factor

Clarivate has announced that it will change the method for calculating the Journal Impact Factor to use the date of the online publication, not the print publication date, for all articles. The 2021 release will be the transition year with a full switch with the 2022 release. There will be no planned early access contribution to the 2020 JIF denominator and will likely result in inflated effect because it will include citations in 2020 based on earlier publication dates for those citations. 

Peer review

322 editors of journals in ecology, economics, medicine, physics and psychology were surveyed about various peer review issues. 49% reported checking all manuscripts for plagiarism, 61% allowed authors to recommend for or against specific reviewers, and fewer than 6% used a form of open peer review. 91% identified at least one circumstance in which it was acceptable for editors to alter a report.

A working group of the STM Association led by Joris van Rossum released a draft of a taxonomy for peer review aimed at standardising definitions and terminology with the intention of building an evidence base for strategic investments and policy decisions, as well as to improve journal transparency and evaluation processes. The Scholarly Kitchen published an interview with van Rossum about the proposal.


Over 1,650 retractions have been catalogued to up to December 15, 2020, 39 of them about COVID-19. The Scientist list 10 of the most significant COVID related retractions and 5 non-COVID related papers.

COPE Council Member Nancy Chescheir

Read COPE's January Digest for new and updated cases from the Forum and the discussion on next steps in predatory publishing. In response to an increase in cases and queries about author name changes after article publication, COPE formed a working group to develop guidance and Rachel Safer updates us on the aims of this guidance. We welcome a guest article on 'A vision for a more trans-inclusive publishing world' which describes the high level principles for name changes in publishing, and also gives detail on why this is important and much needed.