It was brought to the attention of Journal A that a paper published in 2002 was similar (title, summary, introduction, case, survey, results, discussion) to a paper published in Journal B. Journal A is a very technical journal that reports conference proceedings and is not peer reviewed. Furthermore, Journal B had received a letter from the authors of another paper, published in a very prestigious journal, which had been criticised in the version of the paper published in Journal B. Journal B has a policy of not publishing letters in their journal, but the letter was sent on to the authors of the paper. When submitting their paper to Journal A, the authors took into account some comments made in the letter forwarded by the editor of Journal B. The authors then made use of these comments in modifying the second paper without acknowledging the authors of the letter. The editor of Journal A often felt that the article published in journal B was a full paper even though the authors disputed this. Journal B’s editor said the authors had been “blacklisted. ”
_ Was the letter from the authors of the paper being criticised analogous to a reviewer’s report? Reviewers comment on papers and authors then rewrite the paper addressing any concerns. _ The editor felt that this was not entirely analogous as the letter was not “friendly” advice and had been written with a view to publication, rebutting the article’s criticism. _ The content of the letter had not been plagiarised. _ The letter authors knew that their comments had been passed on by journal B. _ The editor felt that the authors of the letter would want their concerns published. _ The authors should be asked to respond to the issues raised by the letter authors about duplicate publication and then the editors should publish a notice of retraction. _ If the article in journal B was—as the editor stated—peer reviewed, how could the authors not know about this? _ However, the publication of society abstracts can occasionally lead to inadvertent publication. Peer review can simply mean a panel reviewing the abstracts or posters for proceedings. Some societies record and print everything presented at their meetings. _ The high degree of overlap between the two papers suggested poor practice on the authors’ part. _ The editor should write to the authors’ employers about the issue and inform the authors of this. _ The editor should also publish a notice of duplicate publication in the journal. _ Indefinite “blacklisting” is not a considered action
In 1990 a case report was published in which it was alleged that the use of a particular endotracheal tube had led to tracheal damage, requiring the child to have a tracheostomy and a tracheal reconstruction. This paper was from a specialist surgical unit, and a letter was subsequently received from the paediatricians who had cared for the baby at the referring hospital before and after the transfer to the surgical unit. They pointed out that the baby had never needed a tracheostomy, and that in fact the child had had dysmorphic features with an abnormal upper airway, which may have accounted for the problems that occurred subsequently. This letter was shown to the authors of the case report, who replied; both letters were published in the journal. The reply was an extraordinary brush-off, which said that misuse of this particular tube could lead to tracheal stenosis, and that whether the child was dysmorphic or whether he did not eventually require a tracheostomy was irrelevant, adding “we believe that the child was fortunate not to need tracheostomy. ” This issue was resurrected because over nine years after the original publication one of the authors of the critical letter offered the journal a filler article, using this story as a lesson about the possible unreliability of conclusions from single case reports. The writer of the filler article did not give a reference to the paper or the journal, but since he seemed to be suggesting misleading and inaccurate publication, he was asked for the reference and it turned out that the journal was responsible. It is clear that the case report published was grossly inaccurate and misleading, and it is very surprising that the journal allowed the authors of it to get away with such an offhand reply. At the very least the journal would now have made the authors of the original paper publish a correction, with an apology from them, or that perhaps more probably the journal would have made them withdraw the paper, saying that the report was inaccurate and the conclusions could not be relied on. Is it worth doing anything about this now? The main conclusion is that the journal’s standards about what is acceptable in publications and in errors in publications have markedly changed over the past nine years. But should the journal now acknowledge errors made long ago, and if so how long ago?
_ There are three main issues: the continuing possibility of harm, pollution of the scientific literature, and results that had been obtained through scientific fraud. _ There should be no time limit on retractions, but editors cannot be expected to retract all obsolete work. _ An editorial on “lessons in retraction” could be written, airing concerns that had come to light recently, to which the authors could be invited to respond, and asking the question “how far back do we go?”
The journal decided not to retract the article, and the editorial is still pending.
The co-author of a paper has contacted us about a paper he published 5 years ago together with a researcher who has now been convicted of serious professional misconduct by the GMC for research misconduct.
The co-author is worried that the paper he co-authored may also be fraudulent.
The research was in two parts. The first was analysed by a doctor not convicted of research misconduct but the convicted doctor was responsible for the interviews and original data collection. The co-author has no doubt that this part of the project was carried out properly. The second part involved a follow-up telephone questionnaire, which was undertaken by the convicted doctor without prior knowledge of the co-author. The co-author has seen no questionnaire answer sheets to provide him with any evidence that the telephone interviews took place. The original data cannot now be found, but this may not indicate much as there have been many reorganisations of the institution concerned. The convicted doctor did provide a list of individuals he said he had called, and the co-author who has written to us undertook a follow-up feasibility survey to see how many patients recalled the telephone interview. Nobody did. Should we retract the article?
COPE advised the editor to retract the article.
The editor retracted the article with a statement, which attracted a write-up in the NewYork Times.
A paper was submitted to one journal on 7 March, revised on 20 May, submitted to another journal on 21 March, revised on 29 May, accepted on 2 July and published in December 1997. The content of both papers is identical but each has different reference styles so were clearly intended for two different journals. The submission letter to the first journal clearly states that the material has not been submitted elsewhere. What should the two editors do now?
The committee felt that this behaviour was clearly wrong. They suggested that the two editors should write initially to the authors inviting an explanation and saying that they were considering sanctions. They should invite a reply by a certain date and if they had not heard enact the sanctions. - They suggested writing to all the authors, not just the corresponding author. - Another suggestion was peer review to ensure that the two publications were duplicates. Suggested sanctions included: - A notice of duplicate publication, including details of any further sanctions. - Consider refusing to consider papers for 2 years. - Writing to the head of department/institution.
The editors of both journals simultaneously published an editorial in their May issues the following year, explaining to readers why they minded about duplicate publication. Both editors also retracted the publication and informed the author that they would not be accepting any further papers from him for 2 years. Nothing further has been heard from the author.