A new Editor was appointed to a society journal in a minority medical specialty. An officer of the society immediately handed him an anonymous letter from a reader of the journal complaining that an article recently published was unethical. The Editor is a personal friend both of the previous editor who accepted the paper, and the author of the paper. The paper is by a single author who gives no affiliation to an academic organisation. The report describes a cohort study of patients to whom he had given treatment X over previous years. In the world literature, treatment X has been reported to cause endocarditis in a small number of patients, the majority of whom had risk factors. The author invited his patients back for a clinical examination together with blood and urine tests for markers of endocarditis, and echocardiogram. He did not seek permission for the study from an ethics committee, and did not obtain informed consent formally from the patients, though the study’s purpose was discussed with them all. The report is of considerable scientific and clinical importance, being the first in which the presence of endocarditis after treatment X was systematically sought, and its results (no cases were found) provide some supporting evidence that the risk of endocarditis after treatment X is low. The author said that the project grew out of his initial concern for the wellbeing of his patients, and he did not realise he had passed the threshold of requiring ethics approval. The Editor’s close personal involvement at several levels makes it very difficult for him to make a decision on what action should be taken.
The committee discussed whether or not this was a retrospective cohort study without informed consent or ethics committee approval. The committee felt that this could also be an example of good clinical practice by the author in that having read about the potential for adverse effects of treatment X in patients with specific risk factors, he/she called back those patients at risk for a check up. The paper could then be said to arise from the writing up of the clinical practice. On balance the committee felt that the case as presented provided no cause for concern.
An author who published an article in Journal A at the end of the year wrote to advise that it would have to be retracted on the grounds that his PhD tutor, Professor X, had already submitted a similar manuscript more than a year earlier to another journal. In the absence of any contact from the tutor, the author had assumed that this manuscript had not been accepted and went ahead with her own submission. She then explained that some personal and professional issues had distracted her for some time, after which her PhD tutor told her that his manuscript had indeed been accepted and published elsewhere. The lengthy review process had caused serious delays since it was first submitted, he said. The second paper was published two months after the first. The letter writer and Professor X are listed as authors on both the papers. The copyright assignment form for Journal A shows that Professor X was a signatory and therefore knew that the paper was under consideration.
The journal in question only requests licence to publish at the point of acceptance. If both authors had signed the licence form then the professor clearly knew about the publication in the first journal.
On the facts presented, the editor of Journal A has no grounds to retract the paper.
The author has no "right" to request a retraction without appropriate grounds. The author may have been under pressure to request retraction of the first paper.
The editor should write to the authors' institution to look into the case, informing the authors of his intention to do this.
The editor should contact the other journal to publish a notice of duplicate publication.
A paper was submitted and reviewed by one referee, who recommended that the paper be revised and then refereed again. The authors submitted the revised version which went back to the initial reviewer. In his second report the reviewer raised concerns that the revised version was fundamentally different from the first paper. The number of patients and the inclusion criteria had changed. This was put to the authors, who explained that the studies were of two different non-overlapping patient populations that they were investigating at the same time. They had intended to send only the second study in their original submission, but inadvertently submitted the first one by mistake. This was realised at the point of revisions, so they submitted the second study with an explanation in the covering letter. What should the editors have done?
_ The authors added that the error had been due to the wrong email attachment having been sent. _ The editors should have asked to have seen the original protocol for the study.
The first paper submitted was ignored and the second paper was peer reviewed and subsequently rejected.
An author published a paper in Journal A that looked extremely similar to one already published as guidelines in Journal B. Of 48 paragraphs of text, 41 were almost identical. It has since transpired that several authors who were involved in the writing of the article published in Journal B have not been acknowledged. Prior publication elsewhere had not been acknowledged in the Journal A paper. The editor wrote to the authors requesting an explanation. He informed them that the journal takes a strong line on duplicate publication and disclosure of related publications, and that there should also be an appropriate acknowledgement of the contribution of other authors. The editor also wrote to the editor of Journal A asking him to look at both of the papers and to give him his views. Has enough been done?
_ This is a clear cut case of duplicate publication. _ Publish a notice of duplication in both journals. _ The editors of both journals should also write to the head of the authors’ institution, informing them of this indiscretion. _ Inform the authors that this course of action is to be taken before writing to the institution.
The author of the Journal A article contacted the editor of Journal B, stating that it was an error of omission and not a deliberate attempt to deceive. The editor accepted this explanation, but intends to contact head of the author’s institution, and the authors have been informed of this. No reply has been received from the editor of Journal A, but the editor of Journal B will attempt to find some agreed form of wording that both journals can publish. The author involved has apologised to all of the individuals involved.
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.
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.
We have accepted a systematic review for publication and have commissioned an accompanying commentary. The authors of the commentary noticed that a particular randomised controlled trial was included in the systematic review while a duplicate version of the trial, published in another journal, was excluded because of inadequate randomisation. The authors of the commentary pointed this out in their commentary. We showed the commentary to the authors of the review (as is our practice) and they said that they had excluded the duplicate version of the study, not because of inadequate randomisation, but because it was a duplicate. The authors of the review have thus changed their text. The authors of the commentary find this explanation hard to believe and want to include a sentence in their commentary, making the point that the review was changed in the penultimate draft. We think that it is unsatisfactory to publish the commentary in this way, because it leaves a serious accusation hanging in the air. Either we must accept that the authors of the systematic review made an error and not mention it in the commentary, or we must raise the possibility of research misconduct and ask the host institution to investigate. What does COPE think we should do?
The authors’ explanation is adequate; the commentary can only be published without the criticism.
The commentary was published without the criticism.