You are here

In the news: July Digest

Allegations of misconduct

Claims about unethical organ harvesting in China is leading to serious concerns within the transplant research community. Several journals and publishers are investigating affected published articles, after a scoping review published in BMJ Open provided reason to believe that almost 450 published research articles may include participants who have undergone organ transplantation sourced from executed prisoners in China.

In a compelling report in The Biologist, Doris Schroeder describes the practice of “ethics dumping” where researchers are exploiting communities in low-middle income countries by knowingly (or unknowingly in some cases) conducting unethical research in those regions.  The TRUST project has been set up to protect vulnerable populations from being exposed to this.

Plagiarism can be ‘disguised’ in form and is especially difficult to detect when it occurs via the translation of articles and republished in another language under a different author name

Authorship and contributorship

Single author papers are declining globally and across all disciplines (21.4% of articles, reviews and conference abstracts in 2001 declined to 10.4% in 2017). However, there are global variations which is correlated with subject areas.


The consensus based Good Practice for Conference Abstracts and Presentations (GPCAP) has been published to provide a consistent set of guidelines for industry professionals, authors and conference organizers to ensure standards for transparency and integrity of publication submitted to conferences. The open peer review reports for the guidelines are also freely accessible.

Authors from University of Health and Allied Science in Ghana, comment on the challenges African authors face with publishing in international journals. The authors outline the importance of understanding the peer review and publication process and urge African researchers to avoid predatory journals and instead consider publishing in local journals where they won’t have to worry about editorial bias. They also propose the development of an "African Committee of Journal Editors" to identify predatory journals and promote African journals to African Scientists and Academics.  

In a large retrospective study on medical university press releases and corresponding news stories, the authors report that key information (eg funding and study limitations), which could help researchers and policy-makers make an informed decision on integrity, is frequently missing. This  risks the spread of misinformation, and can potentially mislead decision-makers in the healthcare setting.

Data and reproducibility

In an effort to improve reproducibility as well as avoid spin or subjective bias, the British Journal of Anaesthesia has introduced an additional step for some submissions, whereby an independent expert is asked to provide their own discussions of the study, based only on the methods and results. The independent expert remains blinded to the conclusions, and if the article is published the two discussion sections are published together. In the first article undergoing this reproducibility trial, the authors and the independent expert arrived at two different conclusions.

Ethical oversight

A comprehensive report by RAND corporation on ethical principles highlights ten main principles common across disciplines : duty to society; beneficence; conflict of interest; informed consent; integrity; nondiscrimination; nonexploitation; privacy and confidentiality; professional competence; and professional discipline.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) in India has announced that going forwards only research published in reputable journals will be considered. Reputable journals are determined by the UGC-CARE list, which has been set up to deter Indian research from publishing in predatory journals.

Peer review

An experiment on peer review conducted by researchers at Harvard Business School, found that almost 50% of reviewers of medical funding applications changed their own ratings when they saw the ratings given by those they believed to be peers. Women were almost 14% more likely to change their ratings, especially when they are based in a male-dominated sub-fields.

Regarding the function and impact of peer review, Flaminio Squazzoni argues that it is not just about quality control, and describes the collaborative efforts of PEERE to explore the  “alternative views on peer review and stimulate a debate on the multiple functions and constituencies of peer review as a complex social institution” .

Diversity and inclusion

The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has released a new research agenda for scholarly communication. Based on input from over 1000 ACRL members, the report identifies priority areas for openness, inclusion and equity, and the research agenda is divided into People, Content and Systems.

The lack of black and minority ethnic (BME) people in leadership roles is a known problem, but is worse in the UK than in USA.  Advance HE is exploring ways in which prospective BME leaders can receive mentoring, support and recognition.

In his position as a leader, the head of the NIH, Francis Collins has rebuked the lack of diversity and inclusion at conferences and has called for an end to “manels” (all-male panels). Going forwards, he will only speak at conferences which include women in prominent roles.

Taking a lead in inclusive conferences, REACH took steps early on in the organisation of a recent international conference to ensure diversity and inclusivity. Given the importance of sharing this process they have also published a best practice guide which should be helpful to other conference organisers.

Open access

Adriano Aguzzi argues that Plan S will not deliver enough solutions and proposes instead a system whereby journals should compete for funds allocated by public research agencies. Aguzzi describes this model as Public Service Open Access (PSOA), which “uncouples the publisher’s revenues from the number of papers published, removing incentives to publish low-quality or bogus science. Crucially, scientists would decide how to allocate resources to journals.”

Also commenting on Plan S, Jasmin Lange discusses how this has ‘shocked’ the Humanities publishing industry into formulating OA strategies which until recently has not been a focus.