In 1995 a group of nine authors published a paper in a leading general medical journal. Copyright was granted by all authors to the journal. In 1998 the senior author received a complimentary copy of a recently published book. One of the chapters was essentially a reprint of the original paper. It was attributed to the sixth, first and second authors. Neither the first nor second author (the guarantor) had ever heard of this chapter or the book. They had not consented to the publication or the authorship of the chapter. The remaining six original authors were acknowledged for their help with the study, but were not listed as authors of the chapter. The chapter acknowledged that the data it contained had been published before. Enquiries to the publisher of the textbook revealed that the sixth author had applied for and, for £60, had been granted permission to use the original article by the medical journal in which it was first published. What are the professional, ethical and legal issues? What should be done?
The editor was advised to write a conciliatory letter to the publishers and a letter of complaint to the author who had reproduced the article without permission.
The author admitted he had made a mistake and apologised profusely.
An author submitted part of his PhD thesis as a paper. The section editor of the journal asked the PhD supervisor to review the paper. This induced a very heated response from the reviewer who made various claims regarding the paper:
The author does not credit one of the tests he uses in his work
There is no proper acknowledgement of co-workers who perhaps should have been co-authors (including the reviewer himself).
The manuscript is similar to others—one published with the reviewer’s name but without his consent
The author is taking credit for work done by others—most notably the reviewer
The author has refuted many, if not all, of the allegations
What should the editor do now? He has invited advice from the university who awarded the PhD, but is not sure what standpoint the university will take, particularly if there is any allegation of misconduct at a scientific level which can be supported by hard evidence. At the moment, the editor is inclined to go ahead with publication and call the reviewer’s bluff. However, this might be expensive in litigation.
COPE advises the editor to back off this one and let the university sort it out. The editor should certainly not publish the paper or do anything further until the university reaches a judgement.
The editor informed COPE that the reviewer who had complained about the author plagiarising his work had backed down. The paper was re-reviewed in the normal way.
A doctor has submitted an account of how his daughter falsely accused him of having abused her as a child. His daughter is another British doctor. We would like to publish the account as part of a package of articles on false memory syndrome. The questions we are considering are: (1) Can it ever be right to publish something that describes the intimacies of a family conflict, to illustrate a subject? (2) Do we need the daughter’s consent even if we are going to publish the paper anonymously? (3) Should we give the daughter a right of response? (4) Should we go ahead and publish the paper even if the daughter refuses to give her consent and declines to respond?
The father did not want to try to get consent from his daughter. Nothing was published.
We published an article that contained a detailed account of a woman’s obstetric and psychiatric history. The information had been obtained from a court judgement and is published in Family Law Reports. The article had been written by two people who had never met the patient in question. The patient’s consent was not sought because the information was on the public record.
We subsequently received a letter for publication from the obstetrician and psychiatrist who had treated the patient. For this, we did seek consent from the patient, because the information had emerged from the doctor–patient relationship. Consent was given. On the day the letter was published, we received a letter from the patient’s solicitor saying that she was very upset at the detail given in the original article and could not understand why we had published it.
Are we operating double standards as the patient obviously thought we were, by publishing information on the public record? Should we get consent from patients in these circumstances?
This information is already in the public domain and therefore it is OK not to get patient consent.
We told the solicitors that the material was on the public record and that was why we had published it. They did not pursue the case.