Introduction to Publication Ethics

Publication ethics and misconduct

This section provides an overview of what publication misconduct is


The US Office of Research Integrity defines misconduct quite narrowly as:

"...fabrication, falsification, or  plagiarism  in proposing, performing or reviewing research, or in reporting research results"

Others have used broader defiintions, for example Nylenna & Simonsen wrote:

"Scientific a continuum ranging from honest errors to outright fraud...The research community must take a collective responsibility even for its deviants...Moving the whole research community in the right direction should reduce the number of serious cases."

The Lancet, 367, 1882,  1884, 2006
Richard Smith (a former journal editor) has written:

"Between 1997 and when I left the BMJ in 2004 I dealt with about 20 cases a year and I came to think it would be misconduct on our part to turn a blind eye to misconduct in authors. This was the effect of COPE, which was founded in 1997 primarily as a self-help group for editors ... wondering what to do with cases of misconduct they encountered. Its biggest achievement may have been to sensitise editors to recognise misconduct and oblige them to take action."

The Trouble with Medical Journals, RSM Press, London, 2006, p105

COPE Code of Conduct

COPE Code of Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines for Journal Editors states that:



Code of Conduct

"Editors have a duty to act if they suspect misconduct. This duty extends to both published and unpublished papers." [Clause 11.1]


"Editors should not simply reject papers that raise concerns about possible misconduct. They are ethically obliged to pursue alleged cases" [Clause 11.2]


"Editors should make all reasonable efforts to ensure that a proper investigation is conducted; if this does not happen, editors should make all reasonable attempts to persist in obtaining a resolution to the problem. This is an onerous but important duty." [Clause 11.5]

The current Code of Conduct and flowcharts can be found in the Resources section.


Responsible research publication: international standards for editors

Singapore Statement on Research Integrity

Guidelines developed at the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity in Singapore, July 2010, state:

"Editors are accountable and should take responsibility for everything they publish"


"Editors should guard the integrity of the published record by issuing corrections and  retractions  when needed and pursuing suspected or alleged research and publication misconduct"


"Editors should pursue reviewer and editorial misconduct  "


"Editors should have appropriate policies in place for handling editorial conflicts of interest"