A paper describing an outbreak of infectious disease was submitted to three journals. The submission to one journal described the index case; the submission to another included investigation and follow up of other cases and contacts in the country where the outbreak had occurred. The third paper looked at the spread of the disease into other countries.
A considerable amount of the epidemiological data had been repeated in all three papers. Additionally, the authors did not submit copies of all three papers when making their submissions to each journal. The most important problems were the discrepancies between the papers: the nationality of the patient differed; the time of readmission differed;even the final diagnosis differed. There were also inconsistencies in the details of the secondary cases. What should the editors do?
It was noted that specialist journal editors are in a more difficult position as they are part of the “community.”
Write to the authors submitting copies of all three papers, asking for an explanation.
Write to the heads of the institutions,submitting copies of the papers,plus the correspondence and ask for an investigation to be conducted.
All three editors met up and wrote to the authors (letter signed by all three).This elicited a trenchant response and elaborate explanations. The consensus was that the institution should investigate the case further and the case was referred to the chief executive.
Two of the journals asked the chief executives of the organisations to investigate.They did, and found that things had not been done correctly. However, they did not think that any sanctions were necessary, but they revised their guidelines on authorship.
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.
This case was described to me by an author who is about to submit a paper. He has discovered that a member of his team has produced a lot of fraudulent data for other studies, and has forged consent from ethics committees. This researcher has been reported to the GMC and his case is pending. The problem with the paper about to be submitted to us is that the fraudulent researcher falsely claimed that he had gained consent from three ethics committees for patients to be x-rayed. The author has gone back to the three committees and they have all agreed to give approval after the event. Their judgement is that it would be unethical to suppress these useful data because of the consent problem. The author came to see me to ask whether we would be worried about publishing this paper. I said that I thought it would be acceptable to publish the paper, but that we should be explicit about the problems surrounding it. Does the committee agree?
COPE agreed, on the proviso that the data collection and analysis did not go through the fraudster’s hands. The author of the fraudulent data has now been struck off the medical register because of the fraud and forgery. The editor is sure that the fraudster did not collect the data. Several members of COPE said that they would not publish the paper. The editor should be advised to get further assurance regarding the data and then publish the paper with a commentary explaining the history.
The paper was published, along with an explanation of its history.
A paper was submitted that described the use of a non-licensed investigational drug. One of the paper’s reviewers drew attention to the fact that none of the investigators in the study had been supplied with the drug since 1992/3. The drug is produced exclusively by one manufacturer who has operated an extremely restrictive policy regarding availability of the compound. I contacted the clinical director who confirmed that the group had not received supplies of the drug since 1992 and that the material supplied at that time had an expiry date of 1993. What should I do?
· We need a response from the authors as to when the work was done.
The editor can point out to the authors that he is puzzled as the drug was withdrawn in 1993 and can question the legitimacy of the data.
The editor said that the data were unbelievably clean and that a statistician should analyse them thoroughly. Conclusion
The editor should ask the authors for copies of patients’ consent forms and the raw data.
The dean should be informed about the expiry date of the drug if the work was done after that date and should also query if this research had ethics committee approval.
The paper was sent to a statistician who could not confirm or refute the “biological” or “non-biological” origins of the data. The authors responded that the study had been performed with the original drug supplied within the expiry date. The paper originated from outside the UK and there was insufficient evidence to inform the head of the institution. The paper was rejected on the grounds of low priority. Ideally this case should have been referred to an external agency and arrangements made to inspect patient report books and check dates of the study.
A reviewer expressed suspicion that data were manufactured. We wrote to the authors saying that our reviewer would like to see the original data. The author replied that this research was carried out in the USA. We then wrote back suggesting that his co-workers in the US would probably be delighted that this work was being submitted for publication and would happily send over the data but that without this we could no longer consider the paper. The line went dead. What should we do next?