When and how to involve multiple journals and publishers in dealing with complaints from whistleblowers
Complaints received from whistleblowers can develop into large investigations with multiple journals, editors, and publishers involved. Such complaints may involve many articles from a single author group or multiple author groups whose articles are linked by certain traits. Some journals or publishers may only have one or two papers involved but others may have tens of articles in question. Following best practice for investigating the allegations, the editor would approach the authors for an explanation for each article and review the authors’ responses to the issue in that article. Appropriate editorial action is then taken on that article, usually without reference to the broader concerns.
As such complaints become more frequent, should editors continue the previous best practice to treat each case individually or in isolation? Taken in the context of just one or two papers, it could be an acceptable resolution to issue an erratum or correction for an error, but how much consideration should be given to the wider context of the concerns when looking at errors in individual papers?
Current guidance on information sharing between editors states that sharing may be appropriate if more than one journal is thought to be involved. However, it is not clear how this information sharing could, or should, lead to coordinated action between editors.
Questions for discussion
How much consideration should an editor give to the wider context of the complaint, outside of their own journal and/or publisher?
At what point, if ever, in a large multi-publisher investigation should Editors co-ordinate their actions? How could Editors efficiently coordinate actions without slowing the correction of the scientific record unnecessarily?
When issuing a post-publication notice, in what circumstances would it be appropriate to acknowledge broader concerns beyond the linked article?
Journals, or publishers, with many affected articles can internally co-ordinate post-publication editorial action and could draw attention to broader concerns by self-reference. For journals with few affected articles, how can broader concerns or context be pointed to or acknowledged?
Publishers are reporting that after an error is identified and corrected, another seemingly explainable error is then identified elsewhere in the same paper and the author requests that to be corrected as well. At what point should editors consider that the findings are unreliable and a retraction may be appropriate?