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In the news: September 2021

Each month, COPE Council members find and share publication ethics news. This month the news includes articles on diversity, equity and inclusion, peer review, and predatory publishing. 

Diversity, equity and inclusion 

C4DISC, The Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communication, published the Antiracism Toolkit for Organizations which was written by a multiracial group of industry professionals to "help individuals at all levels within scholarly publishing organizations implement inclusive policies, procedures and norms".

Research integrity

STM Working Group on image alterations and duplications has developed draft recommendations for handling image integrity issues and would like feedback. The recommendations are open for comments until 31 October 2021.

In April 2021, a group of computer scientists became curious about the use of what they termed "tortured phrases" in several journal articles. Examples include "Colossal information" instead of "Big data" or "Haze figuring" for "cloud computing". Their curiousity led them to find 860 publications with at least one of these "tortured phrase" and the conclusion that they may be the result of automated translation or software than attempts to disguise plagiarism. Others interviewed about this are concerned that this may be just the tip of the iceberg of a new type of fabricated paper. 

SNOPES, a fact-checking internet resource, has retracted 60 articles written by co-founder and chief executive, David Mikkelson after a BuzzFeed investigation reported that the articles were plagiarised. The intent was to drive up internet traffic.

UK Committee on Research Integrity (UK CORI) is being launched as a new addition to the sector with responsibility for promoting research integrity. They are searching for an individual with research experience, a genuine interest in the integrity of research and a track record of championing change to lead the formation of UK CORI. They are also looking for individuals to join the committed and become national champions for research integrity.  Applicants are welcome from all research disciplines and roles, types of organisation, career stage and background.   


The blog author, David Worlock, describes the arc of change of STM publications from reader-pays, to author-pays, to funder-pays using the now-21 year old F1000 as a prime example for the latter.

Peer review

Surveys of authors and reviewers commonly find that authors highly value a rapid submission-to-publication timeline while reviewers commonly bemoan the short time allotted to complete reviews. There is commonly an overlap between a journal's author and reviewer pools. In this Scholarly Kitchen post, some solutions to improve these conflicting values are offered. 

Contributing to publications by acting as a peer reviewer helps the process, but also rewards the reviewer by offering opportunities to hone one's writing skills through repetitive (think the "10,000 hour rule"), highly structured writing that demands precision. Reviewers can grow their own expertise and reputation and make important contributions. 

Predatory publishing

The Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) is a mega-publishing group that is described in this case study as operating in the "gray area" somewhere between publishing predatory and legitimate journals. The authors analysed 53 of the MDPI journals that were ranking in the 2018 Journal Citation Reports for criteria commonly described as typical of predatory journals, as well as studying their rates of self-citation or citation of other journals in the MDPI family. There is a correlation between such citation patterns and characteristics of predatory journals. 

Global south

Three consecutive teleconferences were held to engage African scholars in community peer review events to "enable equitable practices of research evaluation and review" by 4 community driven organisations (AfricArXiv, Eider Africa, TCC Africa and PREreview). Participants joined by Zoom or live-streamed on Facebook.  

The standard ways of thinking about and measuring research originate from the Global North. In order to better understand the value of research it is critical to understand the contexts in which the knowledge is needed, produced and used. The need to publish in "top journals" to achieve academic success undermines the need to do research that benefits the local community if it is unlikely to be published in a high impact journal. Efforts to judge research based on scientific rigor and relevance to local knowledge needs have illustrated that Southern research outperforms research from the North. Research systems in the South should be able to define frameworks for assessing the value of research. 


The reported rates of burnout in the academic workforce in the US and Europe has increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as documented by surveys. This is affecting people at all stages of their careers and is disproportionately affects marginalised groups. Digitial learning, work-from-home, research hiatuses, managing children from home and increasing demands all contribute to the rising rates of burnout. The authors recommend several strategies to mitigate burn out: Don't internalise burnout as a personal failure; create ways to detach from stress' priortise and normalise conversations about mental health; and fight isolation.  

COPE Council Member Nancy Chesheir