An author contacted our journal in August 2011 informing us that a paper he had published in our journal in 2005 had been published, word for word, in another journal (journal X), under a different title and author group, in 2007.
We followed the appropriate COPE flowchart and contacted the editor of journal X. The editor of journal X told us in September 2011 that he would publish a retraction and a letter submitted from the author group admitting a "disagreeable mistake".
Journal X publishes infrequently, so I checked over the past 12 months for the retraction and published letter. The notice and letter were never published and the article is still available through the journal's website and SCOPUS. I contacted the editor of journal X in October 2012 to ask him if he planned to retract the article and publish the letter, as we had agreed. He replied that the article was no longer available. I sent him the link where I was able to retrieve it and he did not reply back.
The original author of the paper contacted the author group's institution in September 2011, but he never received a response.
In the COPE flowchart for suspected plagiarism, the journal that published the plagiarized article issues a retraction; however, what should be done if that journal will not correct the record? Journal X is not a member of COPE.
The Forum noted that readers will be confused by having two versions of the paper available in the literature. Hence the advice was for the editor to publish a notice linked to the article explaining the relationship between it and the plagiarized article, which has not been retracted and is still available online. The Forum also recommended alerting the other publisher to the fact that the editor is planning on publishing this notice to see if that will make them respond and formally retract the article. The Forum agreed that there was not a lot else the editor could do but did suggest writing an editorial on this issue.
The editor contacted the editor/publisher again following the advice of the COPE Forum, attaching a notice letting him know that the journal would publish the notice if he did not retract the article. The author agreed to retract it but removed it instead from his site; it was still available in an internet search. The editor suggested he replace the original with a version that included a retraction notice and a watermark on each page that indicated the article was retracted. He agreed to this but did not know how to do it, so the journal prepared the document for him. This was done on 18 February 2013 and the journal is waiting for him to upload this version to his website.
Update (December 2013) The original article PDF and the "retraction notice" appear in a Google search; however, the retraction letter does not seem to be visible in Scopus so it has clearly not been linked correctly to the original article. As we have discussed before, this publisher appears to be ignorant of the established protocols for handling situations like this. In back-and-forth conversation with him, we did provide a PDF of the article with the retraction watermark for him and explained that the retraction notice had to link to the article. The retraction letter was not that easy to find—you would need to know what to search for to find it. No further action was ever taken by the publisher. On the plus side, their article has never been cited by any journals that are in Scopus, and our article has been cited 57 times by Scopus journals.
We do not feel that we can do any more at this point, but would be interested to hear what the Forum might say as far as whether this case should be considered closed or, if not, what more we could do.
Advice on follow up:
The Forum agreed that there was little else the editor could do. The only suggestion was that perhaps the editor should reach out to the other editor, in an effort to educate and inform on the correct course of action in a case such as this.
A questionnaire was distributed to knowledge workers in an organisation to investigate the following hypotheses:
— H1.There is a positive and significant relationship between ethics and organizational performance. — H2. There is a positive and significant relationship between ethics and intellectual capital. — H3. There is a positive and significant relationship between intellectual capital and organizational performance.
Partly due to the very high rate of response (148/160), consecutive queries were made to the authors about the procedures for subject consent.
Our most recent (and direct) query was: "What we need to know more about is what was done to protect the interests of the individuals who were surveyed. Was there any inducement for them to take part (for example, a reward, or a punishment for not doing so)? Did you collect any consent forms from those individuals? What did they say (please supply a translation as an additional document)? Were any reassurances made to them, or is there a possibility that giving an answer that managers, the government or religious authorities don't like could result in harm for the individual? If there are possibilities of harm were the 160 individuals surveyed warned about them? How? Were they told what the data would be used for? What were they told? When you have amended the paper to give some indication and can supply a (translated) consent form, please visit the instructions to authors to complete your submission".
In response to these queries the following reply was received. "We have set a cover letter in the first part of questionnaire which included the following items: the questionnaire was developed without any name and individual information. As discussed before during the learning programs within the organization, strong attention and commitment to ethical issues are important to reach organizational objectives. Considering the importance of both ethics and IC, the ultimate goal of this study is to explore the relationship between them, and finally their impact on organizational performance. The result of this research will be published by considering privacy issues. It is important to note that the organization’s management has a strong commitment to the above noted subjects. Besides a non-valuable reward, the most important incentive for employees’ participation is that they are in this believed that their organization should be pioneer in comparison with their competitors. Due to being knowledge-based organization, employees have actively participated in such studies, and also they have perceived their positive outcome well, accordingly involving in such studies was accepted as a common subject in that organization".
It thus appears that no consent forms were collected and nothing was said about possible harm to participants. There is no assurance that they were able to answer freely. Given the wider context of the research, do human research ethics constitute a barrier to publication of this paper?
The Forum confirmed that consent forms are not necessary if the questionnaires are anonymous. Ideally, the authors should produce an “ethical reviewer waiver” so that the editor knows that an expert has looked over the protocol and deemed that ethics approval is not required. If the study was conducted at a university, then there should be a university ethics committee. If the editor decides to publish the paper, he could write a note saying that this paper does not have any ethical oversight. But if the editor still has some concerns, he could consider contacting the authors again for more information, and writing out in a very clear way the questions that he requires answers to.
The editor followed the advice of the COPE Forum. However, when peer-reviewed, the reviewers’ decision was 'reject', so the paper was rejected.
The authors of a manuscript sent an official complaint to our journal regarding a breach of confidentiality by an associate editor (AE). The authors had been informed by the supervisor of a reviewer of a manuscript. After submission of the review, the reviewer received a confidential email from AE asking whether the favourable recommendation made by the reviewer would have been different if the reviewer had been aware that the group submitting the manuscript had been recently queried by two journals on ethical issues. The reviewer (junior member of a research group) did not respond to the email of AE but informed her supervisor. The supervisor informed the authors and the authors filed a formal complaint.
The journal acknowledged receipt of the complaint and requested details and evidence of the accusations against AE. The editor received an email from the supervisor of the reviewer confirming the facts, as well as an edited copy of the email send by AE to the reviewer.
We informed AE of the complaint and our investigation of the allegation concerning a follow-up email send by AE to one of the reviewers of the manuscript informing them of the past history of the author group.
We asked AE for comments and an explanation, and told him that manuscripts will not be assigned until a resolution has been reached.
The reply from AE contained apologies for the "wrong behaviour" and a plea to be able to continue his work as AE. At no point was the resignation of AE offered to the journal. The editor and editorial team (deputy editors and managing editor) have considered all aspects and have come to the conclusion that collaboration with AE should be stopped.
Has the COPE Forum any additional comments? Have similar cases been submitted?
The Forum were told that the journal provides formal training for associate editors so there was no question that the associate editor was aware that their behaviour was wrong. The editor believes that professional competition was the motive of the associate editor. All agreed that the associate editor should have declared a conflict of interest and excused him/herself from the review process. The Forum advised that it is up to the editor to make the decision, and that he needs to consider how valuable he believes the associate editor is, and how likely they are to repeat this behaviour? Can the editor trust the associate editor now? The Forum suggested that the editor might re-emphasise the journal’s policy on conflicts of interest to the other associate editors.
The editorial team was unanimous in their decisions to stop collaboration with the associate editor and, regretfully, the collaboration stopped. The confidentiality issue was discussed with incoming associate editors during an annual associate editor course but this experience convinced the editors to emphasise the issue even more.
Following publication of an article, a reader posted a comment raising some questions about the data analysis in the study and the availability of the dataset. We followed-up with the authors and they offered to share the dataset with the reader—the dataset involves genetic information from potentially identifiable patients and as a result the authors indicated that the deposition of the data was not possible due to patient privacy concerns. After several months the reader indicated that he had not received the dataset from the authors and that he had discussed the study with a member of the editorial board who shared the concerns about the reliability of the results reported. We further followed-up with the authors to reiterate the request for the dataset and they made the dataset available to the editors and the reader.
The reader has re-analyzed the datasets provided by the authors and he indicates that his results do not support the conclusions reported in the article. The re-analysis has been evaluated by the editorial board member who previously commented on the article and he agreed that the reliability of the findings in the article is compromised by the results of the re-analysis. We asked the authors to provide a response to the results of the re-analysis and we indicated that, in the light of the concerns raised, it may be necessary to consider retraction of the article. The authors have replied and offered to collaborate with the reader in further analyses, however they suggest that the differences in the results may be due to the different methodologies employed for the analyses and they have not formally agreed to retract the article.
We have offered the reader to submit his re-analysis for publication but he is not interested in doing this; he is however willing for us to make his re-analysis publicly available via a public notification on the published article if we decide that such a notification is necessary.
In the light of the concerns raised about the study, should we post a formal public notification on the article in order to alert readers of the concerns about the validity of the findings? If so, would it be appropriate to proceed with a retraction or given that the authors have not agreed to this, consider instead the publication of an expression of concern?
The Forum suggested that a better course of action would have been if the editor had asked the authors for their comments on the re-analysis, and then submitted the results of the re-analysis and the authors comments to an independent expect to review.
Although the reader is happy to have the re-analysis attached to a commentary, this will not be formally indexed or linked to the original article. The Forum agreed that ideally, the reader should publish the re-analysis. The suggestion was for the editor to try to persuade the reader to publish the results of the re-analysis. Getting the re-analysis published formally is the best option. If the reader still refuses to publish, then the editor should ask the authors to respond to the re-analysis and then ask an independent reviewer to look at all of the data and then publish this as a comment on the article itself.
In the light of the advice provided by the COPE Forum, the editor followed-up with the reader and he has agreed to submit his re-analysis for publication. The editor is awaiting the submission of the piece describing the re-analysis.
Earlier this year it came to our attention that a published article in our journal (journal A) had also been published in another journal (journal B). The article in journal A was published later than the article in journal B, so following COPE guidelines on duplicate publication, we contacted the authors for an explanation. Their response was to blame the editor of journal B for publishing the article without their agreement. From the date of submission to journal B and date of publication in journal A, we knew that the manuscript was under consideration in both journals simultaneously. We were therefore not satisfied with the authors’ response and, as we had the later publication, we proceeded to contact the authors, informing them that we intended to retract their article. In response to this, the authors informed us that the article in journal B had now been retracted, and that they had received an apology from the editor. We have looked into this, and the article in journal B does indeed appear to have been retracted. The retraction notice does not give a reason for the retraction, other than that it was retracted at the request of the authors. Journal B is not a member of COPE.
Regardless of the reason for the duplicate publication, or how it came about, we felt that as we had published second, the onus was on us to retract the article. We are concerned that the authors have chosen which published article to keep in the public domain and have avoided a retraction notice mentioning the duplicate publication. As there is no longer a duplicate publication, there appears to be little we can do. We plan on contacting the authors’ institution, and journal B (to inform them of why retractions are usually published), but we are unsure whether there is any other action we could take and would be grateful for any suggestions.
The Forum agreed this is still a case of duplicate submission and that there has been possible misconduct on the part of the authors. Although there is only one copy of the paper in the literature, the Forum advised the editor to consider publishing an expression of concern to alert readers to this.
The Forum agreed that the editor needs more information and the advice was to contact journal B and ask the editor for his side of the story. It is possible that the authors are blameless. Even if journal B is not at fault, the editor needs to mark the paper in their journal with a clear notice. Readers should be alerted to what has happened and the advice was to have a notice linked to the article to say that this this paper is one of a duplicate submission, and the first article has been retracted.
Author A submitted a trial comparing the safety and feasibility of two delivery techniques in patients. The trial, which was done at author A’s institution, was assessed by inhouse editors, who decided to send it out for peer review.
During the peer review process, some reviewers pointed out that “this work seems premature, experimental and hard to believe”, and also expressed suspicion about the result (ie, 100% procedure success rate). One of the peer reviewers, reviewer X, who works with author A at the same institute in Europe, and who was also acknowledged in the author’s submission, provided further comment. In his letter to editor, he stated that “I have reviewed some of their manuscripts more than 10 times, and I have refused to be associated with their research, because I had no access to the raw data on which there is an embargo made by the military authority in this country.” He continued that “it is fair to say that the data are unbelievable, without a negative or positive connotation. If the data exist and are correct, they will deserve a Nobel Prize.....as a matter of fact, a fake document has been circulated and the hoax has been disclosed in a very elegant way by a young colleague”.
After discussion among editors at our journal, we decided to reject the manuscript and ask for an investigation by the author’s institute. However, since the European institute already seems to be aware of the likely fraudulent nature of these results, and we cannot find contact details for anyone at the institution, we would welcome your advice on to whom we might best direct the investigation.
The Forum cautioned that it is much more difficult to deal with authors and resolve an issue when you have rejected the paper, as the journal no longer has any say over the paper. It is much easier to obtain information from the authors before you reject the article. However, all agreed that this case should be pursued and the editor needs to give the authors an opportunity to respond to the accusations.
The advice was to give the authors one more chance to reply. The editor should contact all of the authors (not just the corresponding author) and inform them that because of the issues raised in peer review unless he hears back from them by a specified date, he will assume that the reviewer comments are correct and will then contact the author’s institution. The Forum advised contacting the institution if the authors fail to respond or if they respond in an unsatisfactory way. The European institute may be able to provide contact details for the initial institution. Also, the editor could ask the reviewer who works with author A at the same institute in Europe to provide contact details for the author’s present or previous institution. The Forum advised addressing the institution in a non-judgemental way, simply informing them of the facts of the case and asking them to investigate.
The editor continued to contact the institute about this matter, but there has been no response since February. The editor now feels there is little else he can do and considers the case closed.
Suspicions were raised on 20 September 2012 by a reviewer who commented that some of the passages in a submission from Dr J were similar to an earlier paper published in our journal by the same author. An iThenticate check indicated a similarity index of 60%: however, the overlap was not from that earlier paper but from another source by a different author which had contributed 41% of the material.
This prompted an iThenticate check of the published paper, which gave a similarity index of 57%, with 45% of the material from three papers by other authors. (It should be noted that this paper was reviewed and accepted before iThenticate was available for checking incoming submissions.)
It was clear that the new submission should be rejected. The key issue was the action to be taken about the paper that had already been published.
The editor of the journal in which two of the key sources had been published kindly provided copies and the published paper was checked by hand against these two earlier papers. This check established that the iThenticate report was reasonably accurate. It appeared that one of the plagiarized papers had been used as a means to improve the quality of the English while the other had provided a framework for the reporting of the statistical results: Dr J had substituted new figures in the running text of the earlier paper.
COPE guidelines were followed and a carefully worded letter was sent asking Dr J for an explanation. In summary, his reply said that: (a) he was building on the work of the earlier authors, (b) he did not understand or mean to do it and (c) he was very sorry and would not do it again.
Dr J had made six other submissions to our journal, all of which had been rejected on the grounds of quality. iThenticate checks on these revealed similarity indexes between 66% and 77%. Typically up to three sources had been plagiarized to contribute up to 63% of the material. A search using Google Scholar identified that Dr J had published over 20 other papers in different journals since 2005.
In the light of this information, Dr J’s explanation of naivety was considered to be implausible and the decision was taken to retract the published paper. Dr J was given a final opportunity to respond and gave the same explanation for the overlap. The retraction will be published in the next issue of our journal and on the journal website. In view of the extent of the plagiarism, the decision was also taken to inform the president of his institution.
There remains the question of whether the editors of the other journals in which Dr J has published work should also be informed of this case. The editor would welcome the comments of the Forum on this issue.
Following this incident, the journal has reviewed its policy to detect and discourage plagiarism in submitted work.
As a matter of routine, the journal now checks all of the work submitted for publication using iThenticate.
Submissions that appear to include a significant amount of previously published material are investigated further to establish whether that material has been referenced and attributed appropriately.
Where the overlap is found to exceed an acceptable level, we write to the author(s) providing a link to the full report and inviting them to withdraw the submission, or alternatively to revise it extensively to reduce the overlap and to indicate where they are quoting the work of others (or their own previously published work). We also ask for their comments on the overlap.
If the author cannot provide an acceptable explanation or where the overlap is very significant, then we will immediately reject the submission.
The issue of plagiarism is being included in the Journal Reviewer Development Programme to heighten awareness of the problem within the Reviewer Panel.
We are seeking to engage in discussions and the exchange of information on plagiarism with editors of other journals in the field.
We have also retrospectively checked the overlap of all submissions currently in process and identified several others with unacceptably high similarity indexes. We are asking those authors to withdraw their submissions or to revise them to eliminate the overlap.
Of the 231 submissions that have been checked to date, 71% have an iThenticate similarity index of less than 30%. Over 12% have a similarity index in excess of 40%—the level at which iThenticate gives a plagiarism alert. Excluding the eight submissions from Dr J, there were 9% falling into this category. The remaining 16% fall in the range 30–39% and have been investigated. In all of these cases, the overlap was in acceptable quotations and in the bibliography and no further action has been taken. The, as yet unanswered, question is whether these figures are typical for an international journal.
The Forum agreed with the editor’s course of action and also agreed that the editor could contact the editors of the other journals. The editor could inform the other editors that he is retracting the paper, stating the reasons (eg sending the retraction notice), and saying that he noticed that their journals have also published papers by this author. One suggestion was that the editor could run the other papers (from the other journals) through the plagiarism detection software, but this is very time consuming.
COPE does not recommend using percentages as cut-offs for detecting plagiarism. COPE believes that each paper should be judged individually and by eye after an initial screen. Percentages can mean very different things in different disciplines and in different sections of papers. COPE is considering developing a flowchart for what to do about plagiarism detected using plagiarism detection software.
A retraction was published in the journal. There has been no further communication from the authors. As suggested by the COPE Forum, the editor contacted the editors of the other journals who had published work by the author in the past, drawing their attention to the retraction but without further comment. Most of them have understood the implications of the email. The editor considers the case closed.
The journal continues to get a significant number of papers with high similarity indices. About half are understandable (eg, a paper that makes accessible a report which received very limited circulation, derivatives of theses, etc): others are naivety.
Authors A submitted paper A to our journal in April 2012. One of the reviewers pointed out that a very similar paper, paper B, had already been published in another journal based in the authors' home country and covering a different field, in August 2012. Indeed, the title is almost the same, except for a few words switched around.
We asked the authors to comment on this and were told that the database and analysis were different, with the main difference being data collected along the coast versus data collected inland. The data and analysis are indeed slightly different, but in our opinion not enough to be treated as two separate publications. Also, we asked why the authors did not cite paper B in paper A.
They answered that because they did not receive a review for paper A for 4 months, they submitted paper B somewhere else with a slightly different scope. This paper was seemingly immediately published online by the end of the month and printed in October 2012. The authors stated that they had no chance to cite paper B in paper A, and were not apologetic in the least. Instead, they chose to blame our turnaround time.
Paper A has been rejected, but we are unsure of how to deal with these authors in the future.
The Forum suggested there could be legitimate reasons for having two papers, although this might also be considered “salami slicing”. The Forum advised that for the future, and to prevent a similar situation, in the instructions to authors and on the journal website, the editor should add a statement asking if the authors have any related paper under submission or in press elsewhere and, if so, to send details of that paper along with the current paper they are submitting.
A reviewer, R1, brought to our attention several suspected cases of plagiarism in paper A1, submitted by authors A.
The main concerns were: — large parts of paper A1 resembled paper B submitted by a different group of authors B, with one of the most major changes being a change in the observation day; — large parts of a section were taken from paper C by author C, including an entire figure; — other sentences were copied from other papers.
The paper was rejected with no further repercussions for authors A. Authors A then resubmitted the manuscript to our journal a year later. We had since become more aware of pursuing cases of suspected plagiarism and asked for a statement before submission to peer review. Authors A answered in great detail, providing lots of information, apologizing profoundly and promised to take the utmost care that this would never happen again. We discussed this case and decided to proceed with peer review, treating this as a once only mistake and noticed that all of the criticized sections and more had been removed and/or rewritten.
Paper A2 was then reviewed by reviewer R2, who found new cases of plagiarism, different from the first. Again, the corresponding author A, when asked to comment, apologized profusely. We are unsure how to treat this, as the sections copied are not too extensive. However, given the author's history, we feel the need to issue a ban or possibly notify the institute? Does the Forum agree?
The Forum advised contacting the author’s institution. The editor should write to the institution informing them of the misconduct, but emphasising that the authors perhaps need to be educated on how to correctly cite papers, reiterating that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. The Forum agreed that it is likely that the author will continue to submit articles unless there is some intervention from the institution. The Forum again noted that COPE does not support sanctions against authors or banning authors from submitting papers because of the legal ramifications,
We received a complaint of plagiarism by Dr A concerning a book that has just been published. This case is ongoing since January 2012.
Authors B and C published a new, very extended edition (+1000 pages), on a topic that previously was covered in part in an English book by author B (published in 2006). Part of this book was based on a German book published back in 1993 by Dr A and author B. The English book was taken off the market by the publisher because of alleged "plagiarism" by author B. The publisher apologized to author B for this withdrawal which seemed to have been a mistake (but there is no written documentation on this). Copyright of this book was transferred to author B. Dr A has made a complaint of plagiarism for this book too. Copyright of the German book was transferred to both authors (Dr A and author B). It is therefore unclear what exactly has been plagiarized (in the 2006 book and the revised edition).
As the publisher, we sought two independent reviews. Unfortunately, the publisher asked the authors to come up with the names of the “independent” reviews, so we are a little hesitant to rely on both reviews. However, the reviews are respected scientists, and both state that “similarity is inevitable because of the involvement from the same author (author B) and overlap in the topic treated. It is also clear that the book is not based on new material, but it brings together existing material in a presentable form, but has a different formulation form and interpretation of material”.
Authors B and C mention that they have included all appropriate quotes/references to the previous book. Dr A has received parts of the text for review, and the authors have been willing from the start to rewrite anything that comes close to the original text of Dr A, should there be any similarity.
The lawyer, hired by author B, informed all parties, based on both reviews, that this is not a case of plagiarism. Dr A in the meantime has also hired a lawyer because he is not in agreement. So far we have not heard anything from this lawyer. Dr A now requests a statement from publisher on the case.
We believe there are strong personal issues at work here. With books, there is no editor-in-chief that can investigate the case or make a decision with help of his editorial board/associate editors or other body in the form of a society.
At the moment we, as the publisher, will make the new book (of over 1000 pages) available to Dr A so that he can indicate which sections show overlap with the 1993 German book (published by him and author B) and probably the 2006 English book.
Is there any advice from the Forum on this complex case?
The Forum agreed that this is a complex copyright issue rather than an ethical issue. This may have to be resolved by lawyers. The Forum supported the editor’s actions of making the new book available to Dr A so that he can indicate which sections show overlap with the 1993 German book and the 2006 English book. It was suggested that following this, independent advice should be sought from an independent expert. It was also suggested that the editor may be able to obtain agreement in advance on the use of an independent arbitrator who would review the case and whose opinion the authors would abide by.
The editor has been informed that the complaining author is trying to ‘organize’ the community in order to ‘discredit’ the book. So far nothing has been heard from his lawyer. Dr A has not provided any detailed information of where the plagiarism has occurred despite the fact that he requested a copy of the book in order to look at the chapters and the book was sent to him for comparison with the request to send his findings to the editor.