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In the news: June 2021

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

Data and reproducibility

The Food and Drug Administration in the USA informed Accleron Pharma that it had broken the law which requires that clinical trial results are posted to within one year. The FDA gave the company 30 days to post the results or face financial penalties. This article in Science gives more details.

Also on the subject of clinical trials data availability, this letter to the Lancet expresses concerns on the availability of data from the Sputnik V phase 3 trial.

Ethical oversight

A number of articles have been published which address the  identification, management and reporting of research ethics and integrity breaches in research.

This study explores what virtues mean in scientific practice, and the role they can take in Ethics and Research Integrity Training.

Another study analysed the Research Integrity guidance documents at research performing organisations and research funding organisations and found that more guidance is needed for natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

This scoping review aimed to analyse the main characteristics of Research Integrity and Ethics cases and discuss how they are represented in the literature. The authors found that the majority of cases discussed are prominent cases, predominantly in biomedical fields, and they appear mainly within the news sections of journals. Cases mainly involve fabrication, falsification, and patient safety issues, which could divert attention from other less visible or recently emerging forms of misbehaviours.

This article describes the work being carried out by the Centre for Journalology, which researches, teaches and performs outreach on metascience, the use of scientific techniques to study the research process itself.

Intellectual Property

A recently published book addresses the issue of Plagiarism in Higher Education covering topics including self-plagiarism, plagiarism among international students, essay mills, and contract cheating, with the goal of engaging campus communities in informed conversations about proactive approaches to plagiarism.

Peer review

Two recent studies look at ways to deal with the growing volume of submissions to scientific journals which is putting strain on the peer review process.

One response has been to look at the inclusion of AI in the screening processes. Tools to identify plagiarism or formatting problems are already in common use, but the use of AI to identify reviewers or flag problematic papers may create ethical concerns, especially around the extent to which AI systems may replicate bias. This study discusses the potential, pitfalls, and uncertainties of the use of AI to approximate or assist human decisions in the quality assurance and peer-review process associated with research outputs.

A recent exploratory project currently published as a preprint investigates the behaviours and characteristics of peer reviewers who complete many reviews each year. The aim of the research was to identify the factors associated with highly active peer reviewers.

Post publication

Much discussion this month on retractions, especially the time lag between a journal being alerted to an issue and it taking action, and the issue of retracted articles continuing to be cited after retraction.

After the publication of the Guidelines on Cooperation & Liaison between Universities & journal Editors on research integrity cases (CLUE), which were mentioned in last month’s news, Sabine Kleinert and Liz Wager responded to questions from Retraction Watch about the recommendations.

A group of researchers assessed the timeliness and quality of retraction notices for a group of papers, and found that responses to concerns were delayed and incomplete, and that the content of retraction notices did not adhere to recommendations very well. They concluded that strategies are needed to improve the efficiency, accuracy and transparency of processes for resolving concerns about publication integrity.  Retraction Watch interviewed the authors about their findings.

Version 3 of the recommendations for Reducing the Inadvertent Spread of Retracted Science (RISRS) have been published, and feedback is invited. The goal of the project is to develop an agenda for reducing the inadvertent spread of retracted science.

Sage has published two articles on their blog about their post publication name change policy. The articles explain the updated policy and why it is not enough to change the names only in the authors’ own papers.


The co-founders of MedRxiv discuss the challenges around the increased interest in preprints during the pandemic, and where the balance lies between open sharing of research and minimising the risk

Other news

This blog discusses the new Journal Citation Indicator being launched by Clarivate with the forthcoming release of the 2021 Journal Citation Reports (JCR)™.

The Scholarly Kitchen has republished a guest blog  which describes the differences between diversity, equity and inclusion, and discusses the cultural changes needed within organisations to address these.

COPE Council Member Deborah Kahn