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In the news: November 2020

Publication ethics news November 2020

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


Retracting a paper may not have the desired effect of preventing it's influence on research. In this case study of a single paper retracted in 2008, 3 years after it's publication, the authors used network analysis, citation context analysis and retraction status visibility analysis  and found 148 direct citations from 2006-2019 and 2542 second-generation citations. The retraction was not mentioned in 96% of citations.

A deep dive into the story of Surgisphere Corporation and the publication and withdrawal of two papers in the Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine about hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID-19 disease explores the many ways science, peer review, personal and professional integrity, and politics overlap. It’s a sobering story-and one all of us involved in publications should take to heart. 

In a related paper, the steps taken by the Lancet to try to prevent similar problems in the future are discussed, with frankly tepid reviews. Here is a link to the Lancet’s commentary on this topic, outlining their plans.  

The database of over 18,000 retracted papers and conference abstracts from Retraction Watch was analysed. Notable findings include: the rate of increase of retractions has slowed; the continued increase seems to reflect improved oversight at a growing number of journals; more editors should take this seriously; about 1/4 of 10,500 retractions analysed were authored by a small number of individuals, usually the result of deliberate misconduct; retraction rates differ by country; many retractions are due to honest error; and, the stigma of retractions can be hard to clean up.

Research integrity

The authors of this paper analysed 250 citations from five leading scientific journals. They found 25% of quotation references are incorrect or misleading or fail to provide evidence for the claims made by authors.

The author of this editorial describes how paper mills exploit content from predatory journals and predatory preprint servers which don't allow for platforms such as iThenticate or Google to access their content. 

Diversity, equity, inclusion

As part of the Open Access week, Scholastica asked DEI advocates across the scholarly communication landscape to comment on actionable ways to increase DEI in OA publishing. The suggestions range from addressing salary inequities, changes in peer review processes, hiring practices and education of staff regarding the role of privilege and bias in publishing practices.

The October 19 CSE symposium on Publishing Industry Climate Change was live-tweeted on journal initiatives. This included a session on journal initiatives to promote Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

In a study of data on submission, acceptances and peer review activity across Elsevier journals exploring gender of authors and reviewers during the early phases of the global pandemic, these authors report that the proportion of women authors declined during the pandemic and they conclude that "the exceptional lock-down and social distancing measures imposed by the pandemic have penalised women academics and benefited men", especially in health and medicine.

How do we know that our research is ‘inclusive’?  COVID-19 has led to new ways of working which have transformed research practices. This has created opportunities for research cultures to be more inclusive and accessible- especially to those for whom the university is a barrier. However, post-pandemic, research cultures also need to change. In this post, Stuart Read, Anne Parfitt and Tanvir Bush outline three provocations that researchers can ask as part of an inclusive research practice. 

Peer review

322 editors of high-impact journals across ecology, economics, medicine, physics, and psychology were surveyed about editing peer review reports. Ninety-one percent identified at least one situation in which they would edit a report, predominantly related to offensive language. However, 8% said they would change the overall recommendation even without the reviewer's permission.


The Embassy of Good Science is a platform for those interested in fostering understanding and awareness around Good Science. It is based on a Wikipedia platform and focuses on researchers' daily practice, with the ambition of mapping laws, policies and guidelines, developing relevant cases, experiences, educational materials and good practice examples.

Open access

Scholastica surveyed 63 individuals working with scholarly society and university publishers about journal production and access approaches and priorities. The results suggest that publishers are "interested in working directly with funders and academic institutions to develop OA publishing models".

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute will require scientists it funds to make research papers in which the first, last or corresponding authors receive their funds to make their research immediately open access, as of January 2022. The new policies are similar to those of cOAlition S and are anticipated to put pressure on some very elite journals, such as Cell, Nature and Science. 

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has changed their open access policy effective January 1, 2021 to align with Plan S principles. 

The Templeton World Charity Foundation joined cOAlition S. This organisation funds work in the areas of the intersection of science, philosophy and society. 


ALPSP joins organisations across the publishing industry by signing up to the new Sustainable Development Goals Publishers Compact initiative. The Association has confirmed its commitment in supporting and implementing the ten principles of the United Nations Global Compact on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. Publishers and publishing associations can find out more and sign up to the SDG Publishers Compact.

COPE Council Member Nancy Chescheir