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 study by Japanese authors was submitted to specialist journal A. The manuscript was sent to three reviewers, including expert X. After two weeks, expert X contacted the editorial office to say that an identical manuscript had been sent by the competing specialist journal B to expert Y in the same unit as expert X. Expert X and expert Y had compared and discussed both manuscripts. Expert X said that the Japanese authors were clearly attempting dual publication, were therefore completely unethical,and should be reprimanded severely. As editor of journal A,what should be done about: 1 The issue of apparently simultaneous submission to two journals? 2 The breach of con?dentiality by expert X (and also expert Y, commissioned by another journal B)?
Journal B doesn’t state that reviewers should maintain confidentiality. The editor wrote to authors and received a garbled response saying that they meant to withdraw the paper from Journal A. There had also been a letter from the head of the institution saying that the “authors were considering their response.” It seems that this may be a genuine mistake because of sickness. This story was corroborated by all the authors. As to reviewer confidentiality, journals vary in their practice. Breaches of confidence may be justified “in the public interest”.
The paper was withdrawn from both journals. The head of the institution formally apologised to both journal and gave sufficient explanation to make it apparent that a genuine mistake had obviously been made. He also added that he felt the corresponding author, as well as all the others,had learnt from this mistake. The breach of confidentiality was discussed by the editors of both journals involved. Expert X admitted that he had not read the instructions to referees, and had not been aware of this particular aspect of peer review. He undertook to reform his ways. He is still being used as a reviewer for journal A.
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.