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In the news: May 2021

Publication ethics news May 2021

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


This paper published in the Indian Journal of Gastroenterology and aimed at educating postgraduate scientists provides a useful summary of publication ethics including the responsibilities of authorship.

ORCID have launched their support of the CRediT taxonomy, which means that authors’ roles within a research paper will be filtered to other systems that read ORCID data creating greater transparency and recognition.  This piece describes CRediT in more detail including details of the new ORCID implementation.


The demand for rapid circulation of information during the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way research, especially medical research, is being shared, with a massive increase in the use of preprint servers, with their associated advantages and disadvantages.  This has highlighted the need for new guidance around the use of these not yet peer-reviewed findings.

Three organisations for medical writing professionals (American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) and International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP)) have issued a Joint Position Statement on medical publications, preprints and peer review.  They make a number of recommendations with the aim of providing “practical and implementable suggestions to uphold data integrity and quality, and the transparency of medical publications”.  A key recommendation concerns the citation of preprints, which they suggest should not be used as references in any medical publication unless they are cited as personal communications rather than as bibliographic references, and it is clearly disclosed that the source is a preprint.

At the same time, ASAPbio has released new guidance for preprint servers on labeling preprints and for institutions and researchers on communicating about research, including with the media.  A full description about the project is published in The Scientist.

Some researchers have reservations about the use of preprints. ASAPbio invited Seth Leopold and Howard Browman to discuss this in their March Community Call.  A detailed write up of this interesting discussion can be found here.

Peer review

CUP has recently published an open access book “Reading Peer Review”, in which the authors analyse the database of peer review reports at PLOS One to gain insight into how peer review has evolved in the 21st century.  The authors discuss what the data can teach us about how the research culture is changing, in this blog.

A new peer-review organisation, called Peer Community In Registered Reports, has launched to provide peer review on behalf of publishers for Registered Reports.  15 journals including BMJ Open and Royal Society Open Science have signed up to use the service.  A description of the new service is here.

Allegations of misconduct

The editors of a journal published a case history describing why they decided not to retract a paper, despite evidence of misconduct by one of the authors.  Their conclusion was that to retract a paper where the outcome is still valid would be unethical and that, in such cases, scientific misconduct is better handled through other professional channels. More details of the actual complaint can be found on this blog.

A team of media forensics researchers from seven universities, led by Purdue, has developed an “end-to-end” system for the military to help them to ascertain whether the images and videos they collect are real or faked.  In related research, funded by DARPA, the lab is developing a system that automatically screens scientific papers to determine whether they contain faked data. Image Processing and AI (

Ethical oversight

Guidelines on Cooperation & Liaison between Universities & journal Editors on research integrity cases (CLUE) are now published.  Chris Graf, former co-chair of COPE, represented COPE in the development of the guidelines.

Open access

Google Scholar is now tracking if the research papers listed on a scientist’s Google Scholar profile, where the funder has a public access mandate, are free to read.  This interview with Anurag Acharya, the co-founder of Google Scholar explains the thinking behind this.

Journal management

In this useful article, Jason Roberts analyses the characteristics of solicitation emails, and suggests some lessons journals can learn to avoid being confused with predatory journals.

This case report details the experience of two authors who were targeted to join a predatory journal’s editorial board or to contribute or review for it, after writing winning  essays on how to identify predatory journals.

Other news

Growing numbers of Chinese universities are dropping the requirement for PhD students to publish papers in journals in order to graduate.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy have formed a task force to identify past tampering in scientific decisions, to review the effectiveness of policies aimed at protecting the science that informs policy decisions from inappropriate political influence and develop to policies for the future.

COPE Council Member Deborah Kahn