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.
A director of an institute in France has expressed concern about a paper published in our journal. One of the authors (not the corresponding author) of the paper, person A, visited his laboratory in France for 5 months in 2009 to carry out some work. The director says that some methods used and results obtained in his laboratory have now been included in the paper without his knowledge or permission. Researchers from another institute in a different country are co-authors of the paper, and the corresponding author is someone from that institute. The director in France acknowledges that the experiments could have been repeated in conjunction with this other group, but says that it is not very ethical to work in this way.
I would be grateful for any advice on how to proceed in this matter. We have replied saying that we would contact COPE for advice. In 2010, the editor-in-chief of another journal contacted the French group about a paper submitted by person A which included several members of the French laboratory as co-authors without their knowledge and permission. That editor-in-chief was concerned about apparent falsification of data by manipulation of a gel photo, which the French group were able to confirm. They contacted person A and the departmental head but have had no response.
The editor provided additional information that there was no formal contract between person A and the laboratory in France, and the director of the laboratory has replied that none of the data have been published previously.
The advice from the Forum was to contact person A, relaying the concerns expressed by the French institute, and ask for an explanation. If there is no response or an unsatisfactory response from person A, then the editor may consider contacting person A’s institution and asking them to investigate the matter. In the meantime, the editor may like to publish an expression of concern if an investigation is ongoing. However, as the director acknowledges that the experiments could have been repeated elsewhere and if he cannot prove that the published results were actually produced in his laboratory, it may be difficult for the journal to pursue this further. Further advice was for the editor to encourage the French institute to take up the matter with person A and her current institute. Or the French institute could contact the corresponding author of the paper, and then he/she should then be responsible for putting together a response on behalf of all authors. If it turns out to be a simple matter of ‘scientific discourteousness’, a letter exchange would be a good way to publicly apologise. Regarding the second paper, involving the other journal and possible falsification of the data, this should probably be set aside for the moment, in the interests of giving person A the benefit of the doubt. It is the other journal’s responsibility to pursue this matter.
The editor contacted the director in France who brought the case to their attention, and forwarded the recommendations of the Forum COPE, asking him how he would like to proceed. He asked the editor to try to contact person A to ask for an explanation. The editor emailed and sent a letter asking person A to respond. They are still awaiting a response.
It was brought to our attention that there is considerable overlap and duplication of data in two papers that a group of authors submitted and that were subsequently published in two different journals. The control groups are identical in the two papers although it is claimed that they were matched controls. The data in several columns in the tables are identical; one figure has been reproduced.
The response from the authors was as follows. Regarding the considerable overlap and duplication of data, I'd like to explain this:
In both papers the control group is the same.
One figure has been reproduced in both papers. The aim of including this figure in each paper is different, being in one case to show the difference against one option and in the other case to compare against a different technique, with their respective different discussion, implications and discussion.
Having this in mind, it is our opinion that this cannot be considered redundant publication as the rationale behind each of the papers aims to address a different hypothesis and the discussion dealing with the explanation of the results is largely different. Moreover, in the results section, representing the bulk of the achievements of our research, only one figure out of six is present in both papers.
Both papers are clearly different in their scope, bulk of results, discussion and clinical implications.
The Editor of the journal is not happy with this response, feeling that the author has explained why they did it but does not seem to be concerned that they did it. The editor and publisher of the other journal involved have not responded to our emails. We would like some advice from COPE on where to take this case and whether retraction is fair.
The Forum suggested there are two issues here: (1) possible fraudulent data as it is unlikely that both studies would have the same control group (if they were matched controls); (2) duplicate publication. It is the responsibility of the other journal to act, as they published second. The suggestion was for the editor to contact the second journal and ask the editor what he understands to be the case. It can also be more influential if two editors act together if they need to contact the author’s institution, for example.
It may be that the author needs to be educated regarding the fact this is unacceptable behaviour. The editor should write to the author and ask him to explain why the control groups were the same. The editor should give the author a specific deadline in which to respond and the author should be informed that if a response is not received, the editor will contact the institution. The Forum advised against retraction until the full facts of the case are known.
A manuscript was published by journal X and submitted by author A (last author). Author B claims that fraud occurred in relation to authorship for the following reasons.
(1) Author A did not take part in producing the data for the paper and has never been a co-author on any version of the manuscript. (2) A paper with very similar content ,which was part of the PhD thesis of author C (first author), was accepted for publication in journal Y. (3) The figures in the paper published in journal X were identical to the figures in author C’s PhD thesis. (4) The name of author B was misspelt in the paper published in journal X to avoid identification of the article search in PubMed.
The editor of journal X contacted all of the authors by email and they responded as follows: author C (first author), author D and author E agreed with author B (claiming author). Author F did not respond, despite receiving five emails.
In addition, author B sent us a letter signed by the Vice-Rector at his University, agreeing and supporting the point raised by author B.
Author A (last author) disagreed with all of the allegations and pointed out the following. (1) Author A declared that he was the principle investigator of the project in country Z during 2004–2009, and the role of author B was to help in the analysis of the samples in his laboratory, located in country W. (2) Author A submitted an official complaint to author B’s university, alleging that they (authors B, C and D) had no right to use data without notifying or asking his permission. In addition, they did not have any patient consent. (3) The paper published in journal X was the original manuscript and it was circulated to all of the authors. (4) The name of author B was misspelled in journal X by mistake.
Author B requests that the paper must be retracted from journal X, and he also demands that the editors ensure that the paper will disappear from PubMed.
In summary, all of the authors confirm that the data are correct but they disagree regarding the issue of authorship?
Because of the quality of the phone line, it was not possible to discuss this case at the forum. Council instead gave the following advice on this case.
All agreed it was a complicated case and it would be useful to know which paper was submitted and published first, X or Y, although it seems likely it was X. Also what is the role of author F, is he/she affiliated with the institution of author A or authors B, C and D? Before dealing with the authorship dispute, it is essential to confirm whether patient consent was required and obtained. There are grounds for retraction of the paper if the study was not conducted ethically. Is journal Y aware of this dispute? As both parties disagree on the fundamental points, such as whether author A was involved at all in the study, official documentation and, if available, email conversations need to be produced to consider how to proceed. Hence more information gathering and a request for a formal investigation by the institution should be undertaken to find out exactly what the real issues are first. It might be useful for the journal to check or ask for information from both parties on national regulations and institutional policies for transfer of biological material and data sharing in this case of collaborative research.
The paper cannot “disappear” from PubMed, but at this point, most agreed that an “Expression of Concern” should be issued immediately and the editors need to investigate further the issues of (1) patient consent, (2) overlapping content and (3) the roles of each author on both manuscripts. Institutional input is also needed and the editor should clarify if the statements from the university vice rectors resulted from a formal inquiry.
The ethical issue can be compounded by the policy by some universities that if they conduct research outside of their own country, they require dual ethical approval by (1) that university and (2) whatever ethical system is in place in the countries where the research is undertaken.
The editor published an expression of concern in his journal, stating that one of the authors had questioned the authorship of the corresponding author. The submission is on hold and the authors have been all informed of the claim. The investigation by the journal has not yet reached a conclusion. Pending the results of the investigations, the journal decided to publish an expression of concern to alert readers to the fact that serious questions have been raised about the authorship of the paper.
Update (June 2013):
The paper was first submitted in journal Y, but it was first published in journal X.
Author F is affiliated with the institution of author A.
The institutional input from university of author B (Vice-Rector) stated that authors B, C and D are the legitimate owner of the data, and confirmed that authors B, C and D were not informed about the submission to journal X.
Ethical approval by the university in both countries was presented by author B, but not by author A.
Authors B, C and D stated that there has been no contact with author A for more than 7 years, and the research was performed long after author A left the research collaboration.
Further questions to COPE:
Author B stated that author A committed plagiarism and requested that the paper must be retracted. There is considerable evidence that plagiarism may have occurred by author A. What would the COPE suggest we do?
Advice on follow up:
(COPE council provided the following advice.) Publication of an expression of concern was the correct route but this now needs a resolution. It appears to Council that there is sufficient evidence that the paper should be formally retracted at this point.
Provided the editor is confident that the account they have is correct, ie, that there is no further information available from the institution, they could consider retraction on the following grounds according to the COPE guidelines: • “The findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper crossreferencing, permission or justification (ie, cases of redundant publication).” In this case the findings were not published previously but were submitted earlier. • “This constitutes plagiarism.”
However, it would be essential for the editors to do a timeline, listing the issues, so that the retraction statement is clear and accurate and can be agreed by the authors and the institution(s) involved before issuing the retraction, even if it is likely that only authors B, C and D will agree to the retraction notice. The retraction notice much also note who agrees to it.
A meta-analysis was conducted of about 1000 patients included in a number of small trials of a drug for emergency management administered by route X compared with route Y. The report concluded that administration by route X improves short term survival.
The paper was submitted to our journal in September 2011 and after peer review was returned to the authors for revision in November 2011.
In the letter sent to the authors, the editor stated: “Before coming to a final decision on your paper we will need to see your responses to our referees' comments. We will also need you to discuss the preliminary results of the large randomised controlled trial (RCT) recently presented at a national meeting which conflict with and may negate the conclusions of your meta-analysis.”
The revised version was sent back to us in January 2012. It contained only one mention of the large RCT without quoting any of its findings. The covering correspondence discussed the RCT findings that had been recently presented and speculated as to why they appeared different from the findings of the meta-analysis.
We accepted the meta-analysis in January 2012. We considered that the differences described by the authors were irrelevant, because the large RCT had not, at that time, been published in a peer-review journal and the only information available was from data presented at a meeting.
We now know that the authors of the meta-analysis were fully aware of the findings of the large RCT at the time they submitted the revision because the RCT paper had already been accepted by a high profile journal and the lead author was co-author on the meta-analysis submitted to our journal. None of this was revealed to the journal prior to accepting the meta-analysis
In March 2012, the high profile journal published the large RCT which randomized more than 2000 patients to drug treatment by the two different routes. The main conclusion was of no difference in survival for route X versus route Y. This finding rendered meaningless the finding of the meta-analysis accepted by our journal 6 weeks previously.
The authors of the meta-analysis were then emailed asking if they would now update their meta-analysis with inclusion of the RCT data.
The response was negative but an email from another co-author (who wrote the editorial accompanying the RCT in the high profile journal) agreed “it makes no sense to report a meta-analysis claiming death reduction considering available data”. He then copied us in an email he had sent to the lead author of the meta-analysis in January 2012, before it was sent back to our journal: “just to let you know that I am finishing an editorial on (the RCT) which will likely come out very soon with the main Ms....I would suggest that you try to include (the data from the RCT) into your meta-analysis ASAP”
The authors chose not to include the data from the RCT in the revised version of the meta-analysis they submitted to our journal, even though they had available those data. Since then the authors of the meta-analysis have steadfastly refused to update their paper. Meanwhile the editorialist for the high profile journal has asked that his name be removed from the meta-analysis in our journal.
The authors of the meta-analysis, one of whom was the lead author of the high profile journal report, had full access to the RCT data at the time they were preparing their revised paper for our journal. They knew that the main finding of the RCT contradicted the conclusion of their meta-analysis and ignored the suggestion of a co-author (the editorialist) to include the RCT data in their revised paper to our journal.
COPE states that journal editors should consider retracting a publication if they have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable. The authors of the meta-analysis knew their findings were unreliable at the time they submitted their revised paper and we now wish to have the paper retracted
The Forum agreed there were grounds for retraction of the paper. Clinical decisions are often based on meta-analyses and the editor cannot rely on all readers being aware of the newly published meta-analysis in the other journal. However, the ideal situation would be for the author to correct the published paper. Although the author has refused to do this, the Forum suggested that the editor should contact the author again, asking him to correct the paper. The editor should tell the author that if he refuses to correct the paper, then the editor will be left with no option but to retract the paper.
The Forum suggested that the fact that the editor did not ask the authors to wait until the results of the RCT were available before submitting their final paper has contributed to the confusion surrounding the case. Going forward, the editor should consider revising journal policy to request authors to send any related papers under submission to them when they submit an article.
Following the Forum’s advice, the editor emailed the corresponding author of the paper, copying in the co-authors, stating that he hoped the authors would agree to update the meta-analysis whereupon the matter would be concluded. He told the authors that if they did not agree to provide an update, he would retract the paper. The editor received no reply and therefore retracted the paper. The retraction notice stated that the findings of the paper were unreliable because they failed to address data from the large RCT, to which the authors had access prior to submission and which contraindicated the paper's conclusion. The notice said that authors were asked to update the paper to include the RCT findings but, with the exception of one of the authors, they declined. Owing to this difference of opinion, this author asked to be removed from the list of authors, a request to which the journal acceded. The notice stated that under these circumstances, the matter was considered by COPE who recommended retraction and this paper has now been withdrawn.
In early 2012, author A submitted a paper reporting on the gene mutated in a rare syndrome seen in a specific population. The paper was citing an earlier (2006) report by author B that had mapped the disease locus to a narrow chromosomal location but had stopped short of actually identifying the gene (which would have been laborious by the technology available at the time).
Author A’s submission independently replicated the mapping data of the earlier paper and proceeded to identify the gene by exome sequencing, a technology that had become widely available since the publication of the mapping paper in 2006. Since the mapping was independently replicated, the methodology used would have been sufficient to identify the gene whether any prior knowledge was available or not.
Author A requested that the editor exclude author B as well as author C (another researcher from a different institution) as reviewers. Because the earlier paper made it clear that author B was a competitor, and external referee expertise was readily available elsewhere, the request was granted. After some minor revisions, the paper was accepted for publication in the journal. On the day of acceptance (the timing being pure coincidence), two papers by authors B and C were published online in a different journal, reporting the same gene discovery, plus some functional data about the gene.
Author A’s paper appeared a month later and, shortly thereafter, the editor received an email from author B, requesting that author A’s paper be retracted. It was alleged that the work reported by author A had inappropriately used information, given to him confidentially by author B, in 2009. The information consisted of disclosing the identity of the mutated gene that author B had already discovered at the time but was not publishing, waiting for the functional studies to be completed. Author B alleges that the information had been confidentially given to author A at a closed meeting, to help in the clinical management and genetic counselling of the patients. No non-disclosure agreement or similar document was signed. It was also alleged that author A’s group included in their study three of the patients that they knew were already studied by author B.
The confidential nature of the meeting, attended by several physicians and researchers, is in dispute. Author A, in response to a request by the editor, said that the meeting was open to all but could not provide any copy of a public announcement. Author A learned about the meeting from a private email (from one of the attendees, not directly from author B). The email, a copy of which was provided to the editor, does not mention confidentiality but may be interpreted as an invitation to collaborate. Author B and his collaborators say that the meeting was by invitation only and the confidential nature of its content was made obvious. The clinician collaborators of author B did not respond to repeated requests by the editor to identify the three overlapping patients by their pedigree IDs in each of the two papers.
In his response to a query by the editor, author A stated that in 2006 (and, therefore, prior to the 2009 meeting), he had obtained funding to identify the gene. One fact is clear: in 2011, knowledge of the mutated gene was not necessary to perform the work reported by author A. The work reported by author A addresses the question “from scratch” using hypothesis-free methodologies and requires no prior knowledge.
The editor believes that, although the behaviour of author A may not have been the most collaborative and collegial, no misconduct justifying retraction of the paper has been committed.
The opinion of COPE would be highly valued in resolving this matter.
The Forum agreed that as the paper is scientifically sound, there are no grounds for retraction. It is important not to retract a paper where the data are not in question. Although author A may not have behaved well, there has been no misconduct. If the paper could have been written without the information gained from attending the meeting, then the complainant has no grounds for complaint.
The Forum suggested that the editor should invite author B to write a letter to the editor for publication in the journal. The readers will then be alerted to the issue and author A will have the opportunity to respond. The editor may wish to tell the authors that he has sought the advice of COPE.
The editor communicated the advice from the Forum to both authors. Author B and his co-authors decided not to write a letter on the matter.
The editor-in-chief received an email from author A regarding a recently published corrigendum by authors BCD, one of whom (author C) is a member of the journal’s editorial board. In this email, author A claimed that the corrigendum, which corrected some errors in an earlier article by BCD, was based on illicit use of privileged information, obtained by two of the authors (B and D) who were reviewers on two different versions of a critique submitted by author A, which pointed out these errors. In the email, author A requested that the corrigendum be retracted and that the journal “publish an editorial note that sets the record straight”.
The sequence of events was as follows. Author A’s critique was rejected by the handling editor, based in part on negative reviews and in part on the grounds that it was far too long and contained redundant and unnecessary material. One reviewer (B) invited a revised version. A second round of review led to the suggestion by reviewer D, that BCD publish an erratum acknowledging the errors uncovered by the submission, together with a further comment from author A. The handling editor in turn proposed that author A and authors BCD submit a joint manuscript acknowledging the errors and other points. Author A refused, on the basis that the information that authors BCD obtained was privileged, and therefore could not be appropriated. Author A informed the editor that the critique had now been submitted to another journal.
Authors BCD then proposed submitting a corrigendum, but the handling editor informed authors BCD of author A’s objection along with the admonition that authors BCD’s “only option is to wait for the critique to appear in print and publish a response to that”.
About 1 year later, authors BCD submitted the corrigendum, suggesting that sufficient time had elapsed to allow author A to publish the critique, and that “This seemed to us to balance the interests of author A against the ethical requirement to promptly correct errors that we are aware of in our published paper”. The original handling editor had since left the journal but recommended publication, and the recommendation was accepted by the editor-in-chief.
Authors BCD’s corrigendum acknowledged that the errors were “called to our attention” by author A. When notified of author A’s email complaint, authors BCD proposed to submit a second corrigendum to supersede the first one, and would cite author A’s critique, which had now appeared in another journal. This proposal was rejected by author A on the grounds that authors BCD had appropriated author A’s ideas.
There are several complications.
1. Author A’s manuscript was a direct critique of authors BCD’s earlier article, but author A did not consult with authors BCD before submitting it. However, author A nominated author B as a potential referee.
2. Authors BCD did not inform author A that, despite authors A’s objection, they later submitted the corrigendum, nor did the handling editor at the time inform author A that the corrigendum had been submitted and later that it had been accepted.
3. Although author A informed the handling editor that the critique had been submitted elsewhere, author A did not apprise the editor of its progress.
4. Authors BCD did consult with the editors of the journal at each step.
What is the appropriate balance between two conflicting ethical principles: the need for authors BCD to correct an error in their work versus the need to maintain the confidentiality of privileged information?
Is retraction of the corrigendum warranted?
Is authors BCD’s proposal of a second corrigendum a reasonable solution?
Are there other actions that should be taken?
The Forum suggested that an addition could be made to the correction, citing author A's published work. The journal should take some of the blame for not finding an acceptable solution for the publication of author A's original critique and perhaps issue an apology to that effect
The Editors are grateful for COPE's advice, which they followed. An addendum was published which (1) cited author A's published work and (2) expressed regret that the editors were unable to agree with author A on an acceptable solution for the publication of A's original critique in the journal.
A scientific paper was submitted in January 2011. After initial assessment by the journal’s editor-in chief, it was allocated to one of the co-editors. By chance, the co-editor had reviewed the manuscript for another journal only a few weeks before. The manuscript had been rejected by the previous journal for a number of methodological flaws.
The resubmitted manuscript contained significant changes to both methodology and results apparently correcting the flaws noted in the previous reviewers’ comments. Realistically, these changes could have only been possible if the study had been repeated but as only a few weeks had elapsed since the previous rejection, the editor suspected fabrication of results.
The editor contacted the editor-in-chief to highlight a possible case of misconduct. The manuscript was rejected primarily because it was not of a sufficient standard to merit publication and also because of concerns regarding the possible falsification of results.
In his letter to the author, the editor-in-chief asked for an explanation of the differences between the two manuscripts. The reply claimed that additional patients had been recruited. Of note, the demographic details (including age, height and weight) in the revised paper were identical to the previous submission, making this explanation unlikely.
In view of the unsatisfactory response from the lead author, a letter was sent to the dean of the faculty of medicine at the author’s institution but no reply has so far been received. Information regarding the academic department in this university has been difficult to obtain as their website is unhelpful so it is not clear if this letter was received by those in authority. Consequently, after several months and following discussion with the journal’s publisher, it was decided not to pursue this enquiry further.
Recently, another manuscript from the same department has been submitted. The co-author of the previous paper is listed among the five authors of this new submission. It is not clear, however, if this author was complicit in the previous case of alleged misconduct. The lead author of the previous paper is not included.
This paper has been reviewed and is again of a poor standard that does not warrant publication. There is, however, no reason to suspect misconduct with this current study.
The editor-in-chief has so far not responded to the authors regarding publication but has asked for the contact details of the head of the academic department from the lead author. An email reply included a contact name. A letter to the academic lead asking for clarification of the previous submission has been sent. A reply is awaited.
At present it is impossible to establish whether the previous misconduct is the result of a single rogue researcher or an institutional problem with research governance. The failure to receive an adequate explanation may simply be a problem with contacting somebody in authority who can investigate the conduct of research within this department. It is however, difficult to believe that a co-author of a paper where misconduct almost certainly occurred was not aware of such behaviour.
To avoid a similar situation in the future, the Forum advised the editor to tighten the journal’s instructions to authors and request the contact details of all authors, not just the corresponding author, on submission of a paper. The Forum agreed that it is difficult to deal with the second paper until the issues with the first paper have been resolved, particularly as there is no evidence of misconduct in relation to the second paper. The advice was to contact the ethics committee or institutional review board in relation to the first paper, or if a response from the institution is not forthcoming, consider contacting any professional bodies the author might be a member of or the funding body. The editor might consider contacting any collaborating institutions listed on the second paper.
Despite a further letter to the university in question, the editor has not yet received a reply. The editor was given the email address of the head of the academic department from the author of the second submission. No response has been forthcoming. The editor is not aware of other bodies who could be contacted to shed light on the matter. The research project was funded internally.
The journal’s Guide for Authors has been updated and authors are made aware that extra information can be requested by the editors. Should the journal receive further submissions from this institution, they will receive thorough peer review and if there is any doubt as to the validity of the data, the journal will seek clarification from the authors.
Last March we accepted a paper written by a post-doctoral fellow (PD) and an assistant professor (AP). The work was done by PD in AP's laboratory; PD has now moved on (to another country, in fact). Soon after the manuscript was sent to production, AP sent an email asking to delay production of the manuscript because AP was worried that there may be an ‘error’ in the manuscript that might require ‘some adjustments’. Months passed with no further word from AP. A few weeks ago, I wrote to AP regarding an update. Last week, AP replied, asking to remove his/her name from the manuscript because AP and PD “... have an insurmountable scientific disagreement over how the data for this study should be tabulated and presented”.
AP called yesterday to provide some additional background. AP believes that PD made some questionable decisions with respect to the data and AP is unable to replicate the findings in his/her own analyses of the data.
AP's university looked into the matter and found insufficient evidence to pursue a claim of scientific misconduct. According to AP, PD interprets this to mean that PD has done nothing wrong.
I have not yet said anything to (or heard from) PD. I am certainly not comfortable in moving forward with this publication. Yet, without knowing more details and without hearing PD's side of the issue, it would seem unfair to PD to withdraw our decision to publish the paper. And, anticipating what PD might say ("I did everything correctly"), I find it hard to imagine how we can adjudicate the issue.
The editor updated the Forum by telling them that PD had provided him with a copy of the email from AP’s institutional panel saying that after careful review of the evidence, the panel unanimously reached the conclusion that allegations of misconduct against PD were not merited and no further proceedings were warranted. Also, AP emailed the editor and requested that the manuscript be withdrawn. AP continues to insist that s/he cannot back up the data but refuses to say why.
The Forum agreed that for the editor to make a decision on whether or not to publish the paper, he needs more facts. The Forum suggested the editor should contact the institution and ask them for the details of the allegations. The editor is perfectly within his rights to push the institution for this information. It is critical for the editor to know why AP wants the paper withdrawn before he can make a decision. Another suggestion was for the editor to respond to AP asking her for her scientific reasons as to why the paper should be withdrawn.
The editor contacted AP’s university for additional information regarding its inquiry but was provided with nothing useful. In essence, the editor was told that the inquiry had found no evidence for scientific misconduct.
At this point, with no firm evidence of misconduct, the journal was inclined to move forward with the paper. The editor told AP that she had one last chance to provide specific details regarding the nature of her disagreement with PD. It turns out that it involved two data points (out of 22) in a supplementary analysis. AP and PD could not agree on the value of those data points.
The editor then suggested to AP and PD that they re-do the supplementary analysis, based on the 20 scores that were not in dispute; if the pattern reported originally was confirmed in the new analysis, then the journal would publish the paper.
The editor has just received the revised manuscript reporting these new analyses; it looks as if the results are not affected by the disputed data points so that the journal will be able to publish the paper.
An article was submitted for publication. This was a survey of research activity in a specialist area and included, among other things, research funding amounts from each institution. This led to a sort of 'league table'. The information was provided by the responding director of the specialty area or head of school/research group of each institution. The cover letter stated this is for research purposes. No particular ethics approval was sought for the study as it was based on staff/professionals and most were known to the principal author.
The question is whether these data on amount of funding are private or public. While grant income data can be available in funders' websites/reports or the institutional/departmental websites, certainly it exists in Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) reports that are available to the public for past research, this may not be the case for all research grants (ie, industry grants or private donations).
Is research grant income classified as private data (in which case, consent is needed) or it is public data and the cover letter to the study means that returning completed questionnaires implies consent?
The Forum suggested that although the authors may have a responsibility to the individual researchers at the institutions who provided the data, this case appears to relate to institutional data. As there are no individual data, breaching any privacy laws is not an issue. There was some concern from the Forum that the individuals may face disciplinary action by their superiors for supplying the data, but all agreed that this was not really an ethical issue, and there is no ethical principle to protect the institution. Most believed that it did not appear to be a very well-designed study and perhaps the editor should talk to the authors about anonymising their data and broadening the message of the paper. The editor might also like to draw their attention to the potential obligation the authors have to the individual researchers. However, no one suggested that the paper should not be published
The authors were allowed to continue with the submission and the paper is now undergoing peer review.