This guidance has been drafted following a COPE Discussion Forum in 2013, and Discussion Document in 2014 on the subject, and it was initiated in the wake of a number of high-profile cases of research misconduct in which the sharing of information between the relevant editors-in-chief (EiCs) was crucial to the final settlement of the cases.
Sharing of information among EiCs regarding cases of suspected misconduct can play a significant role in preserving the integrity of the scientific record, allowing EICs of affected journals to conduct investigations with greater efficiency and effectiveness. Benefits include the ability for EICs to:
compare different versions of the same work submitted to different journals.
compare the explanations provided by investigators/authors to questions resulting from concerns over submitted work.
collaborate and share effort in investigating cases of suspected misconduct.
work together when approaching investigators/authors and/or their institutions.
Such a joint approach to suspected cases may lead to faster resolution of investigations, as well as strengthen the pursuit of those where further investigation is warranted.
Notwithstanding these advantages, it must be acknowledged that confidential treatment of author submissions is a fundamental aspect of scientific publishing, and sharing of information concerning a specific journal submission with individuals who are outside the journal’s review process is inimical to the principles of confidentiality.
Further, there is a concern that sharing of information among EICs regarding possible misconduct presents the risk of undue exposure, unwarranted rejection of papers, or other reputational harm to authors, particularly in cases where the suspicion may ultimately prove to be unfounded. In addition, it is not uncommon for authors in such cases to allege defamation, and in extreme cases such allegations could potentially give rise to legal action.
The following guidance from COPE is not intended to serve as a legal opinion, nor should it be construed as affording legal protection against such claims; however, it is hoped that this guideline reflects ‘best practices’ in terms of responsible actions on the part of EiCs and publishers.