A randomised controlled trial submitted to a journal showed that a nutritional supplement could dramatically improve one aspect of the health of the elderly. The study was a follow up to a trial reported in an international journal eight years previously. Why had there been so much delay? Why were the results reported in this study not reported in the previous study? There was only one author and, if true, the results were extremely dramatic. The paper was sent for statistical review. The reviewer suggested that the paper bore all the hallmarks of being entirely invented. The results were unbelievably dramatic for the kind of health problem reported. The president of the university was asked to investigate.
_ Some countries are less rigorous than the UK regarding research conduct. _ Show concern rather than ask for definitive evidence. _ Refer the matter to the author’s institution. _ If there is no response contact the country’s national regulatory body.
The institution had investigated and had found no problem. But the editor remained unconvinced and sent the paper for further statistical review. The journal’s ethics committee also felt the results were unbelievable and suggested that the editor approach the institution again, asking for a further explanation, using the new evidence from the statistician and the ethics committee to highlight their concerns. It was not up to COPE to question the institution’s process of investigation. As the paper had been rejected the raw data could not be requested. But it was an editor’s responsibility to protect the integrity of scientific publication. The editor contacted the institution again requesting further information on this judgment. The journal is seriously considering publishing something on its unhappiness with the process. The university informed the editor that the lead author had resigned from his post. The author responded, explaining that it was “not practical” to respond to queries about the paper, because “all my papers are in storage and some pertaining to this study were mislaid. ” The university now wishes to “close the book on this matter” unless the editor could suggest another approach. Though the paper has never been formally rejected or withdrawn, a very similar paper has been published, raising the issue of duplicate submission of the paper.
An international specialist medical journal has editors in the UK and abroad who function independently. An issue of a scientific journal in 1998 reported that the overseas editor had been dismissed from a university professorship because of scientific fraud. This had been documented in three published research papers.The report highlighted a particular paper, in which 27 references cited indicated the editor was the author or coauthor of 19 of the papers. Laboratory notebooks detailing the research had disappeared. The university committee stated that the study falsely presented data, and that these had been manipulated to produce the desired statistical results. The editor stated that there had been honest errors and that the laboratory staff had used poor research methods. The editor is attempting legally to overturn the university’s action. The UK editor wrote to the journal asking whether the incident discussed affects the editorial arrangements for the journal. Is there anything else the editor should do and does the problem affect his own position as an editor working in parallel with the overseas editor, as neither one is accountable to the other?
The overseas editor hired the staff who were subsequently criticised. The publishers are awaiting the results of an appeal by the overseas editor, and COPE feels that the editor should stand down or be suspended, pending appeal. If the overseas editor refuses to do this,the other editors should tender their resignations. The publishers must face up to their responsibilities.
The overseas editor resigned from the journal. It is understood that the overseas editor has not appealed, to date, over the dismissal by the university.
A paper described an unusual approach to disease modulation in an experimental animal model. The apparently clear cut findings were somewhat surprising. The authors also seem to have used high and low power photomicrographs of the same tissue sections to illustrate completely different experiments within the study. This occurred twice in the paper. Furthermore, this particular area of study was a complete departure from the previous work of the first and senior authors. The editor wrote to the authors pointing out that the photos were the same. He received a garbled response, saying that computer photomicrographs got muddled up. There were 15 authors, all of whom were faxed. The first author responded immediately.
Need to pin down author responsibility and responsibility for data collection. This is either an author muddle or fraud. Editor should ask to see the raw data.
Further correspondence took place between the editor and the corresponding author, and two further sets of figures were received for consideration. The editorial team were unsure as to whether this constituted fraud and rejected the paper on the grounds that they “had lost confidence in the data.” The rejection letter was sent to all the authors.
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.