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In the news: October-November 2021

Each month, COPE Council members find and share publication ethics news. This month the news includes articles on authorship and contributorship, data and reproducibility, peer review, and diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Authorship and contributorship

In order to understand gender differences in authorship practices, the authors of a recent study published in Science Advances surveyed more than 5500 scientists internationally to understand experiences with authorship naming and ordering. They found that more than half of the respondents had experienced authorship disagreements, with women more likely to voice their disappointment in their colleagues’ failure to acknowledge their contributions, especially in the Natural Sciences and Engineering. A useful summary of the study results can be found here.

The issue of papermills, where researchers can buy authorship on a paper, has been receiving attention recently. A recent article in Retraction Watch drew our attention to two sites, one in Iran and one in Latvia, that appeared to sell authorship slots on finished papers, whilst another site in Russia which sells co-authorship has also been recently identified. In China, funders are penalising researchers who buy fake papers, but there is more to be done to identify and sanction the researchers and the outfits that supply the papers.

Data and reproducibility

The FORCE11 Research Data Publishing Ethics Working Group, in collaboration with COPE, has developed recommendations toward best practices for handling ethical cases related to the sharing and publication of research data. The recommendations are available as Recommendations for the handling of ethical concerns relating to the publication of  research data. Each category of consideration includes background information, examples, and recommended workflows for cases that may arise during the review and publication processes, or post-publication. 

A letter published in Nature, and prompted by the demand for treatments for COVID-19, draws attention to the issues with meta-analyses based on high volumes of recent, often unpublished trial data of variable quality. The authors propose a change to the current practice for producing meta-analyses, namely that they should be performed on individual patient data. 

Peer review

As usual, peer review week generated a lot of discussions about the state of peer review.

On Scholarly Kitchen, a post by Tim Vines, discusses duplicate peer review in the age of preprint servers, and whether we need to rethink our position on it. 

A discussion between a number of chefs discusses how identity influences peer review, and an article on Elsevier’s reviewer channel discusses how diversity affects peer review.

The 9th International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publication, to be held in September 2022, has issued a call for research and abstracts. The Congress invites papers discussing new research into the quality and credibility of peer review and scientific publication. 

In an analysis of data of 12 years from Functional Ecology during which the reviewer identity was anonymous unless the reviewer voluntarily included their identity in their review, <6% of reviewers did so, marginally increasing in rate from early to late in the series. Almost a half as many women reviewers revealed their names as men and more positive reviews and those from presumably more senior reviewers did so. Extant research suggests that the scientific community in general believes that peer review in which the reviewer (unblinded review) is identified is likely to have many benefits, including increasing accountability of reviewers, with resulting greater quality, fairness, constructiveness and courteousness of reviews. The author conlcudes that unblinded review may reduce the critical nature of reviews and may differentially affect acceptance of review requests by male versus female reviewers, perhaps decreasing the diversity of the reviewer pool. 

Diversity, equity, and inclusion

JAMA has updated their guidance on the reporting of race and ethnicity in medical and science journals based on a thorough review of feedback invited and received on a previous version of the guidance. Commonly used terms associated with race and ethnicity are defined and it is acknowledged that guidance will need to continue to evolve as terminology continues to change. The guidance also addresses topics including social determinants of health, reporting of race and ethnicity in research articles, and guidance for journals that collect demographic data on editors, authors and peer reviewers. 

A recent post in the Scholarly Kitchen discusses AGU’s work on maximising participation from diverse contributors. Based on detailed analysis of baseline data, they have concentrated on increasing the representation of women, early career, and international scientists in their invited reviewer pool and editorial boards.

The American Psychological Association has modified their electronic manuscript management system (Aries "Editorial Manager") to include expanded demographic meta-data variables related to self-identified race, ethnicity, ability status, gender, sexual orientation and highest earned degree. The goal is for the APA journals to understand more about their key users, including editorial board members, authors and reviewers and to assess the associations of these factors on the outcomes of submitted manuscripts. 

Global South

The number of times the term "Global South" appeared in the title, abstract or keywords in Scopus went from near zero in 2003, to more than 1600 in 2020. But what is "the Global South"? These authors argue that the "Global South" should be approached as a meta-category with a variety of meanings, but generally referring to "decolonised nations roughly south of the old colonial centers of power". 


The Scholarly Kitchen reposted a 2017 article as "Revisiting: When is a preprint server not a preprint server" in response to recent posts on the site about the evolving thinking about preprint servers. The repost, and the following comments, are fascinating reading, particularly in light of the uptick of use of postings to preprint servers that occurred during COVID pandemic, and helped at least this reader to rethink the concepts. 


Blockchain and artificial intelligence are available but underutilised in scholarly publication. In this interview, Darrel Gunter, the editor of a book on the topic, provides a high-level overview of these potentially transformative technologies.


The project "Reducing the Inadvertent Spread of Retracted Science: Shaping a Research and Implementation Agenda (RISRS)" has reported its recommendations after a year-long process. The recommendations include development of a cross-industry approach to insure public dissemination of appropriare information about retractions;a taxonomy of retraction categories and classifications and metadata; best practices for coordinating retraction processes; and education of stakeholders. Specific actions for organisations, publishers research integrity organisations and researchers are provided. 

Paper mills

The English Department of Education will introduce an amendment to exisiting legislation that would make it a criminal offense to "provide, arrange or advertise cheating services for financial gain to students taking a qualifcation at any institution in England providing post-16-education, including universities" in a direct attempt to combat essay mills

Predatory journals

Think. Check.Submit. a checklist to guide authors and researchers through the process of deciding where to publish their work is available in 40 languages.

Research misconduct

Including investigators on grant applications who intend to offer little or no effort on subsequent work if the grant is awarded is labled "false investigator" and was admitted to by > 20% of respondents in anonomyous survey of > 10,000 researchers at 200 leading universities in the US. Furthering this work, researchers who listed false investigators attracted 70% more funding than those who did not. There are some who consider this a form a research misconduct, perhaps similar to guest authorship. 

Open science

Provocative description of the tension between scientific communication with peers and public communication about science and the downstream consequences of poor communication, scientific misconduct, and the publication industry's "responsibility to provide the basis for trust in science." A call to action. 

The news is edited by COPE Trustees Deborah Kahn and Nancy Chescheir