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In the news: March Digest

Open Science

The United States Office of Science & Technology Policy recently posted a notice of request for information titled “Public Access to Peer-Reviewed Scholarly Publications, Data and Code Resulting from Federally Funded Research.” Comments from stakeholders on approaches for broader access to federally funded research are due by March 16.

Predatory Publishing

David Moher, Director of the Centre for Journalology at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, is seeking feedback from stakeholders on proposed activities aimed at monitoring, measuring, and stopping predatory journals. Email [email protected] if you are interested in participating as soon as possible, and the research team will contact you in March to discuss next steps.

India’s University Grants Commission has new guidelines requiring universities to train PhD students on research and publication ethics. The guidelines follow concerns over the proliferation of predatory journals and high levels of research misconduct in India.


The policies, features, and practices of 44 preprint platforms in the life and biomedical sciences were presented during a recent ASAPbio workshop on preprints. The workshop was attended by Iratxe Puebla, COPE’s Facilitation and Integrity Officer, and approximately 30 other stakeholders with the goal of developing an agreed set of best practices for metadata and processes to support the discoverability, use, and interoperability of preprints.


Workshop action points:

Research Integrity

The journal Research Ethics, a COPE member, recently published an interesting article titled “Should research misconduct be criminalized?” As COPE moves forward with university members following a successful pilot program, the organisation may be well positioned to help address the authors’ conclusions that further clarity is needed in defining research misconduct, handling allegations, and determining sanctions.

Meanwhile, the League of European Research Universities recently published a paper titled “Towards a Research Integrity Culture at Universities: From Recommendations to Implementation.” They propose five key actions that could support research integrity within universities, including educating researchers at all career levels, and provide examples of best practices from their members.

In addition, publisher Brill recently interviewed Professor Michael Dougherty, who spoke at COPE’s 2019 North American Seminar, about publication ethics. Echoing comments made at the seminar, he reiterated some of the research integrity issues unique to Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences scholarship and the need to adapt COPE flowcharts – something that is already in process at COPE.

Conflicts of Interest/Competing Interests

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recently proposed changes to its disclosure form. Feedback about the proposed changes is due by April 30, with submitted comments being posted publicly.

Data and Reproducibility

The Center for Open Science will soon launch a new ranking system for measuring journals’ commitment to research transparency, and it intends to provide scores for approximately 1000 journals later this year.

Peer Review Processes

Multiple journals recently identified suspicious patterns of self-citation requests by a biophysicist/bioinformatician either acting as a peer reviewer or handling manuscripts as an Editorial Board member. The individual, who was previously named as a highly cited researcher by Clarivate Analytics, is accused of systematically manipulating the peer review process to boost his own citations – allegations he denies.

Post-Publication Discussions and Corrections

The journal Learned Publishing, a COPE member, recently published a retrospective article titled “The limitations of retraction notices and the heroic acts of authors who correct the scholarly record: An analysis of retractions of papers published from 1975 to 2019.” The author states that retraction notices need to be more informative, and COPE’s Retraction Guidelines make clear that such notices should specify who initiated the retraction and why the article is unreliable. In addition, he suggests lauding authors who initiate retractions of their own work, as well as adding a section describing study limitations to all published articles.


COPE Council Member Rachel Safer

In our March issue of Digest Deborah Poff, COPE Chair, shares guidance and cases relevant to anyone who is new to publication ethics issues or needs a refresher. Following our recent Forum, we'd love to hear your views relating to editing of peer review comments in our survey. The results of the survey, together with the Forum discussion and comments on our website, will inform a COPE discussion document on the topic bringing together the shared views. 

The case discussion is around the case 'Withdrawal of paper at proof stage'. An original paper was submitted to a journal, peer reviewed, revised by the authors, and accepted by the manuscript editor. It was scheduled for publication 3 months later. After the paper was copyedited and typeset, the corresponding author was informed of the acceptance and was asked to proofread the article. After 2 weeks, however, the corresponding author requested that the paper be withdrawn. The chief editor asked for an explanation and brought the case to COPE Forum.

Read March Digest: Publication ethics