If you were Jo, how would your story continue?
We’d like to invite you to play a game with us. Imagine you’re Jo, a fictional new research integrity officer (RIO) at a large and also fictional public university (that might be a stretch for you if you’re an editor or a publisher, but please… have some fun and give it a shot!). As a new RIO, Jo is immediately challenged with a dispute between authors.
And our question for Jo is: How would the story continue?
Please, share your ideas with us below. We’d love to know what you think Jo will get up to. And, if you share something and are up for it, we’ll publish the most inspiring and insightful replies. (The newest update on COPE’s pilot with universities is in December Digest).
As a new RIO, Jo is faced with a dispute between authors. A senior member in the office, who is aware of COPE and the institution’s COPE membership, directs Jo to the COPE website to find out how this type of issue would be handled by journals. Jo reads the COPE guidelines How to Handle Authorship Disputes, A Guide for New Researchers and the flowchart How to Spot Authorship Problems. Jo now has some background and can help others at the university, such as the Dean who might be the person to resolve an authorship dispute, work out their part in resolving the issue with the authors and the journal.
The university is revising its Data Management Policy and Jo’s boss is aware of a COPE webinar on data research policies that they are keen for Jo to attend to gather information on the latest developments and issues around data management.
Jo signs up for and attends the webinar, free as the university is a COPE member (60 minutes on ‘Creating and Implementing Data Research Policies’). This is a new area of interest for Jo, and she appreciates that data management and data sharing are areas of increasing importance for research integrity and publishing. The COPE members presenting on the webinar wrap up by sharing information about the COPE North American Seminar in Philadelphia in May, a few months ahead.
In a meeting with a Responsible Conduct of Research trainer, Sam, at the university, Jo realises that research integrity issues for the humanities and social science are often different than those issues in biomedical research. Jo tells the Sam about the COPE Seminar in Philadelphia.
Sam registers for the Seminar which is free as the university is a member of COPE. The theme of the seminar is ‘Challenges and Solutions: Issues of Inclusivity and Diversity in the Humanities and Social Sciences’ and Sam looks forward to gaining appreciation for ethical aspects of research communication in the humanities disciplines (for which the research integrity office are receiving a steady number of queries).
Sam also anticipates connecting with peers within the research integrity and ethical research publishing community at the seminar and expects that the network of journal editors and publishers as well as other research integrity officers, will be useful when it comes to dealing with difficult cases.
Jo’s team receives an anonymous complaint about duplicated Western Blots published in a single paper by a researcher from her university in a peer reviewed journal. The whistleblower’s email is polite and links to what looks like extensive forensic examination posted by the whistleblower and other researchers on the PubPeer website. Jo follows the universities policies and starts to work out what to do with her colleagues.
After a reasonably rapid process at the university (albeit things were at times quite tense, particularly when they considered retraction), Jo and the researchers, who had managed their data carefully, realise that there has been a mix up in the figure panels, and that correction is the right approach. COPE Retraction Guidelines confirm their diagnosis. The corresponding author, a researcher called Harry, emails the journal, and waits for a reply. Jo spots below the roundup of research publication ethics news in the COPE Digest newsletter, that the next COPE Forum is in August, and that COPE is calling for cases like those shared in the COPE Cases database to be discussed, anonymously. She registers to attend the 90 minute webinar.
Sam heads to the 1-day COPE Seminar. She learns more about what makes humanities scholarship different from the natural sciences, and gains better appreciation that different research communities approach authorship and attribution significantly differently. She meets journal publishers, including Nick from a large research publisher and shares Jo’s details with Nick and vice versa.
Jo notices an email from the whistleblower in her inbox. It is still polite, and points out it has been 2 months. It’s the last week of May. Jo asks Harry for an update, Harry says the journal didn’t reply.
In the first week of June, Jo looks up the journal that hasn’t replied to Harry. She notes that it is published by the large research publisher that Nick works at, and so she drops Nick a line. Nick replies quickly, and volunteers to notify the journal and ask the journal to get in touch. Harry gets an email from the journal the next day, and they begin the process to correct the article. Later that month, Jo’s university concludes a long investigation. The recommended outcomes include retraction of three journal articles published in three different journals. COPE Retraction Guidelines again confirm the diagnosis. The researchers involved are not responding, and so it falls to Jo to sort things out.
And that’s where we’ll leave Jo… but what happens next?
Please, share your ideas for how the first year for Jo in her new job pans out. What happens with Jo and the whistleblower? What does Jo do to sort out the outcomes from the long investigation? What does Jo think about the COPE Forum she attends in August? How does Jo wrap up her first year, in December?
If you like that idea, then add your comments below.
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