Discussion documents

When aspects of publication ethics are particularly fast-moving or controversial COPE cannot always provide detailed guidance. The COPE discussion documents aim to stimulate discussion rather than tell editors what to do. We hope that, by raising the issues, we can contribute to the debate within the scholarly publishing community and work towards agreement or definition of difficult problems.

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COPE Discussion Documents

If you have any comments, please email the Executive Officer, Natalie Ridgeway.

Preprints. March 2018

    Who 'owns' peer reviews? September 2017

      Best practice in theses publishing. March 2017

        Handling competing interests. January 2016

          Addressing ethics complaints from complainants who submit multiple issues. March 2015

            What constitutes authorship? June 2014

              What constitutes authorship? (Chinese) June 2014

                Responding to anonymous whistleblowers, January 2013

                  How should editors respond to plagiarism? April 2011

                    Forum Discussion documents

                    In a new undertaking for the COPE Forum, a specific topic will be discussed at the start of each quarterly COPE Forum meeting. As well as those at the virtual meetings, people unable to take part in the meetings can comment via the COPE website in advance.

                    COPE Forum 26 February 2018: Expressions of concern

                    How should journals use expressions of concern? They are “used to raise awareness to a possible problem in an article”. They are a relatively new, rare, and non-standardized type of editorial notice compared to corrections or retractions and “considerable differences in policy and practice remain between journals”. Journals are grappling with when expressions of concern are appropriate and what happens if the concerns are later found not to be valid.

                     Summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum and of the comments on the COPE blog [PDF, 141KB]

                      COPE Forum 24 July 2017: Preprints: what are the issues?

                      Preprints and working papers have been posted and shared for many years. They report research results that have not undergone peer review, although in many cases the authors also submit to a journal (before, after or at the same time as making a preprint available). In the past 5 years, the number of preprint servers and preprints has expanded and new disciplines, notably biology and life sciences, have seen rapid growth in the number of preprints. To date there have been few public discussions around the ethics of making unverified research available in this way and there are a number of issues that arise.

                      Summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum and of the comments on the COPE blog [PDF, 332KB]

                        COPE Forum 12 February 2016: Data sharing

                        Data sharing is increasingly viewed as an essential step in improving research transparency and reproducibility. There has been a lot of discussion on the imperative for data sharing in the biomedical arena, particularly of publically funded research. As a result, there are many disciplines where proposals for data sharing are being discussed. 

                        Summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum and of the comments on the COPE blog [PDF, 204KB]

                          COPE Forum 9 December 2015: COPE consultation/guidance document on handling competing interests

                          The aim of this document is to encourage discussion and to capture a record of the issues around competing interests, especially when they arise after publication, to help inform and progress the debate, and to firm-up guidance where that is indicated.

                          Summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum and of the comments on the COPE blog [PDF, 274KB]

                            COPE Forum 9 September 2015: Who “owns” peer review?

                            Two trends have recently come together within scholarly publication; open review, and the desire to give credit to reviewers. At the convergence are organizations like Publons and Academic Karma who wish to openly acknowledge the work of peer-reviewers by recording, not only the amount, but also, in some circumstances, the content of individuals’ peer-review activity. Academics may view services like this as a way to regain control over their reviews and so may be keen to sign-up and provide their data. Journals, on the other hand, often conduct confidential review processes and wish to restrict the sharing of comments exchanged during peer-review.

                            Emergence of these services therefore prompts a number of concerns and questions as to how best ensure author, editor, reviewer and journal interests are protected.

                            Summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum and of the comments on the COPE blog [PDF, 246KB]

                              COPE Forum 10 June 2015: Prior publication and theses

                              Research higher degree theses have traditionally been seen as part of the scholarly communications chain, and have been made available by university libraries in print and, latterly, online via institutional repositories. The issue we seek to address is whether or not work already publicly available in a thesis (whether in print or online, although the concern is primarily around online) is seen as “prior publication” by journals and rejected for that reason. The perception drives behaviour so that, where students/supervisors have a choice, they will decline open access or seek a lengthy embargo because they fear publishers will refuse to publish work that has arisen from the thesis.


                              Summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum and of the comments on the COPE blog [PDF, 207KB] 

                                COPE Forum 10 March 2015: Coming back from disgrace

                                The tragic suicide of Yoshiki Sasai, one of the authors of the retracted STAP stem-cell paper  (discussed in the Letter from the Chair in the August 2014 edition of COPE Digest), highlights the fact that, above all, the communication of research is about people and about trust. Some researchers are seemingly able to bounce back from a finding of serious research misconduct. For example, Hwang Woo-suk was last year granted a patent related to stem-cells. However, for other researchers in such a situation it is the end of their careers. Some may argue that that is no bad thing; researchers who commit serious research misconduct have no place in research. Contrast that with the situation when a crime is committed. Most places, when a crime is committed, punishment results, and after some time that person is allowed back into society. Indeed, in some jurisdictions, if the crime was not severe, after some period following expiry of the sentence a “spent conviction” may be recorded. That is, history of the misdeed will be erased


                                Summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum and of the comments on the COPE blog [PDF.198KB]

                                  COPE Forum 9 December 2014: Publication ethics issues in the social sciences

                                  The history of research ethics in general and publication ethics more specifically was initially and primarily grounded in the biomedical sciences. As concern over issues of animal care, human participant protection and research integrity developed throughout the latter part of the 20th century, some members of the Social Sciences and Humanities communities raised concerns that the cultures in their particular disciplines differed and that a ‘one model fits all’ was inadequate to evaluate research ethics and publication ethics.

                                  Summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum and of the comments on the COPE blog [PDF,190KB]

                                    COPE Forum 23 September 2014: Standard retraction form

                                    Hervé Maisonneuve, Université de Lyon, France, suggested “a standard retraction form” as the topic for discussion at this Forum. A copy of the form can be downloaded here. Retractions are often used as a proxy for publication quality. Retractions have been studied with cohorts of various sizes over differing time periods. Time after time these studies have pointed out that there is often no clearly stated reason for retraction and when given these reasons are often lacking in detail.

                                    Summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum and of the comments on the COPE blog [PDF 185KB]

                                      COPE Forum 8 July 2014: Fair play for “researchers”: Can editors and regulators develop a common approach to the need (or lack of need) for ethical review?

                                      There are a number of legitimate and valuable tools for gaining information and evidence for scientific advance and improving health care. These include research, evaluation, audit, and others. There is a real danger that UK “researchers” using tools other than “research”, duly following guidance in UK research regulation stating a lack of need for ethical review, find that journal editors will not consider their manuscript for publication because editors dispute the definition of what needs or does not need ethical review. Many of these issues, of course, also apply to animal ethics approval.

                                        COPE Forum 4 March 2014: Issues related to papers submitted to “discussion” journals

                                        Authors in any subject area have always had a number of potential publications to choose from when they decide that they want to publish their research. As well as subscription journals to pick from, the increasing number of Open Access models has meant that the choices for authors are expanding all the time. A new type of publication that has arisen from the OA movement is the European Geosciences Union (EGU) and Copernicus model of open peer review and “Discussion” journals, examples of which are: Hydrology and Earth System Sciences: Discussions and Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Earth Surface Dynamics: Discussions and Earth Surface Dynamics. This Forum discussion document concerns this model of peer review and publication, but primarily the consequences of the decision of “reject” on papers.

                                          COPE Forum 4 December 2013: How should a journal deal with persistent complainers?

                                          The topic for discussion at this Forum was ‘How should a journal deal with persistent complainers?’ Every so often a journal may get not one, but a series of complaints from the same source. These complaints may be directed at an author, an editor, or the journal in general. If these complaints turn out to be well founded, obviously there is a serious problem with the publication. However, we are aware of cases where a complainant continuously comes up with cases that turn out to be baseless. How should editors act when the complaints do not stop, get personal, and start humming around the community? 

                                            COPE Forum 4 September 2013: Sharing of information among editors-in-chief regarding possible misconduct

                                            The topic for discussion at this Forum was ‘Sharing of information among editors-in-chief regarding possible misconduct’. Recent high profile cases of research misconduct have relied upon the sharing of relevant information among the Editors-in-Chief of the journals concerned during the months and years leading up to the final settlement of the cases. However, discussions with publishers suggest that such sharing of information risks accusations and/or legal claims of defamation, since submissions should be handled confidentially, even though the journals concerned might carry a statement on their website saying that manuscripts and related documents may be shared if that is considered necessary to investigate possible misconduct.

                                              COPE Forum 4 June 2013: Authorship, contributorship, who’s doing what, and what do we need?

                                              The topic for discussion at this Forum was ‘Authorship, contributorship, who’s doing what, and what do we need?’ Authorship issues are one of the most common issues that COPE members have to deal with.  Leaving aside the ethically problematic issues of ghost, guest and gift authorship, seemingly simpler authorship disputes of for example, who deserves authorship, or what author order should be are very common across most disciplines

                                                COPE Forum 12 March 2013: Text recycling

                                                The topic for discussion at this Forum was ‘Text recycling’. Self-plagiarism, also referred to as ‘text recycling’, is a topical issue and is currently generating much discussion among editors. Opinions are divided as to how much text overlap with an author’s own previous publications is acceptable, and editors often find it hard to judge when action is required. In an attempt to get some consensus and consistency on the issue, editors at BioMed Central produced some guidelines. These guidelines were posted on the COPE website and members were invited to comment, and the topic was discussed at the COPE Forum on 12 March 2013

                                                Summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum and of the comments on the COPE blog [PDF, 113KB]

                                                  COPE Forum 4 December 2012: Citation manipulation

                                                  The topic for discussion at this Forum was ‘Citation manipulation’. The issue of self citation has been discussed in a number of places before. The focus here is on a form of citation manipulation that qualifies as coercion, where an editor or others affiliated with a journal pressure an author to add citations from that journal for the implied purpose of increasing citation rates and, by extension, journal impact factor. 

                                                  Summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum and of the comments on the COPE blog [PDF, 66KB]

                                                    COPE Forum 11 September 2012: Publishing offensive material

                                                    The topic for discussion at this Forum was ‘Publishing offensive material’. Specifically, what constitutes bad taste, indecency or obscenity? How do you deal with expletives (as part of interviews or transcripts)? Where is the line between censorship and freedom of expression?

                                                      COPE Forum 18 June 2012: Electronic Responses to Blogs and Journal Articles

                                                      The topic for discussion at this Forum was ‘Electronic Responses to Blogs and Journal Articles’. Specifically, what are the issues, in terms of publication ethics, surrounding blogs where journals are the target of concerted 'attacks' by the proponents of one particular viewpoint, and are there appropriate guidelines on managing such situations?

                                                      Summary of the discussion at the COPE Forum and of the comments on the COPE blog [PDF, 49KB]