We received a review paper and it was accepted and published on our website. We then noticed that one of the figures had been copied from a paper published in another journal.
Before publication, we asked the authors if the figures were original or if they needed references, and the authors responded that they were original. After confirmation of the similarity of one figure to a published figure, we contacted the corresponding author again and he/she said they had not seen the paper and it was submitted by a student.
As the paper was “in press”, we thought that we may be able to withdrawn it. We contacted the research deputy of our university and the author’s university but we have received no reply.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum • Is this major plagiarism? Can the authors remove the figure and publish this paper or should the paper be withdrawn? • Should we contact the author’s university again?
The Forum agreed that there are two issues here: the authorship issue and the plagiarized figure. Regarding the plagiarized figure, there may be copyright issues, so the editor may like to consider contacting a Copyright Clearance Centre to obtain permission to publish the figure in a review article. The editor may decide that the use of one figure is not a major plagiarism issue and he may wish to educate, rather than punish, the author. The editor should emphasize to the author that having permission to use the figure is not the same as having permission to publish it. It is acceptable to re-use a figure if the author has permission and if the original figure is cited. But the potential copyright issue may be more serious than the plagiarism issue. This can sometimes depend on the nature and complexity of the figure itself and whether the author has made an honest attempt to redraw the figure.
Regarding the authorship issue, the Forum suggested contacting the institution. It is up to the institution to resolve the author dispute.
The Forum advised that the paper cannot be withdrawn—if it is available online, it is considered already published, and therefore it has to treated as published material.
Journal A has accepted a meta-analysis for publication. As is standard practice for many articles accepted in this journal, a key expert (Professor X) in the relevant field was invited to submit a commentary on the paper. Professor X expressed concerns to the journal that “we believe that some of the papers included in the review could be either fabricated or at best are heavily plagiarised”. The papers included in the meta-analysis are all primary studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
Journal A requested some evidence for the concerns raised by Professor X.
Professor X has already tried to investigate the potential research misconduct of the primary studies. He sent a comparison of five studies, three of which were included in the meta-analysis accepted by journal A. Professor X claims strong evidence of plagiarism, and questions whether the trials took place at all. He also notes that he has previously written to the authors of the trials but says that few have responded. Those that did respond, he believes, have failed to provide reassuring responses.
Example response from authors sent to Professor X include the following: “The work has been actually undertaken after proper clearance. And details of the same are available with the competent authority.” “We don't want to be get disturbed as I discussed with our main author.” “Excuse us..Bye”.
Journal A has now halted publication of the meta-analysis.
The editors of journal A are unsure how to proceed, as the potential research misconduct lies with research not submitted to the journal, but rather primary studies included as part of a meta-analysis submitted based on the “available data”.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum (1) How do we establish whether or not the primary studies are fabricated? (2) Is it journal A’s responsibility to pursue this investigation or should it be the responsibility of the journals in which the primary studies are published? (3) How should journal A proceed with managing the meta-analysis accepted for publication?
The Forum was told that the editor has not yet contacted the authors of the meta-analysis. The advice from the Forum was to raise the concerns with the authors initially. The editor has a responsibility to act on the information that he has, and the first thing to do is contact the authors of the meta-analysis.
The editor also needs to be sure that the evidence from the expert is sound, regarding the fact that some of the papers in the meta-analysis are fabricated or heavily plagiarised, before he draws any conclusions. The Forum suggested gathering more opinions on the meta-analysis and perhaps eliciting help from members of the editorial board. Why was the paper accepted in the first instance? Did the reviewers suspect anything untoward with the paper? The editor should go back to the reviewers and ask their opinions and also ask their advice on the response from the key expert.
The Forum cautioned against the practice of blindly re-analysing data for inclusion in a meta-analysis, without obtaining the original data, so the authors of the meta-analysis need to take some responsibility here.
Unfortunately for the authors, their paper is in limbo while there are questions over the paper. One suggestion was to ask the authors to re-do the meta-analysis using only the data that are not under suspicion.
Ultimately, it will be up to the journals in which the primary studies were published to investigate the fabricated and/or plagiarised papers, but journal A should initiate the investigation by contacting these journals. It will be the responsibility of the other journals to see that an investigation is carried out but journal A should follow the events. Of course, if the other journals refuse to investigate, there is little that the editor can do.
In summary, the Forum agreed that the editor should contact the authors and the reviewers of the meta-analysis in the first instance. If the editor has sufficient evidence that some of the papers are fabricated or heavily plagiarised, he should then contact the journals where the primary studies were published and ask them to investigate.
Author A of a 2008 review article in our journal claims her article was used as the "framework" for a 2013 review article on the same subject in an open access journal by a former student of hers, author B. There was no verbatim overlap but the format (comparison of two common conditions) was indeed similar (differential diagnosis, management, pharmacotherapy, and implications for practice).
Author A sent me the articles for comparison and stated that she thought this was plagiarism and that, furthermore, her student had no experience caring for these patients so she had misrepresented herself as an authority on this topic. The student (author B) was the first author, the second author was a physician who was well published on this topic, and "writing assistance" had been provided by a professional medical writer and paid by a pharmaceutical company that manufactures drugs in this therapeutic class. I checked both papers through iThenticate and there was no verbatim overlap between the two. I had nine members of my editorial board review and compare the articles in question along with the complaints of author A. I asked for specific comparisons (quantity and quality) of overlapping material and whether or not any overlap constituted plagiarism of ideas (not words). The editorial board concluded, as did I, that this format is fairly standard for clinical articles; content overlap likely resulted from similar content in practice guidelines for these conditions; neither article is ‘conceptually original’; and that updates of clinical review articles are a common practice (there was a 5 year gap between the articles). We found multiple articles in the literature on the same or related topics with similar resources, content, and format.
Meanwhile, author A contacted the open access journal stating that she was consulting a lawyer and she wanted author B's article “pulled and reviewed for integrity and rigor”. Within 8 days of the complaint, I wrote to author A stating that we did not find evidence of plagiarism and that I would not contact the open access journal with a claim to protect the article copyright because I did not believe it had been violated. Author A was not pleased with my response and claims she has "confirmed" with two colleagues that there are striking similarities between the articles. I reiterated based on COPE guidelines and definitions of plagiarism, there was nothing more I could do. Meanwhile, the open access journal responded to author A's email that they have "removed" the offending article by author B from their website (in fact it is still there) and they suggested she contact the author because authors retain the copyright. I referred author A to my publishing manager, who has been appraised of this investigation since the beginning, if she wishes to pursue this further.
Questions for the COPE Forum (1) Do I have an obligation to contact the open access journal with my findings? I am reluctant to do so given there are legal implications (lawyer contacted by author A); author B's paper has not actually been removed; and there are professional medical writers and a pharmaceutical company involved in author B's paper. I had never contacted the open access journal myself and they have not contacted me but I "feel" that I might have some responsibility to let them know that we are not making any claim.
The editor updated the Forum that the paper by author B has now been removed from the publisher’s website, with no notice of formal retraction, although it is still possible to find the paper by a search of PubMed.
The Forum suggested that the style of writing of review articles may mean that this type of issue arises. Author B may have been commissioned to write the review and asked to format it in a specific way. The Forum noted that it is possible to have plagiarism of ideas and not just words, although harder to prove, and author A may feel this is the case in this instance.
But in reality, this is an issue for the open access journal, not the editor’s journal. The editor feels that the open access journal has genuinely tried to do the right thing but has just not handled the situation correctly. Should the paper in fact have been removed at all? Was there any plagiarism? By removing the paper, without issuing a retraction, the literature has not been corrected, and if the paper was not plagiarized, then what might have been a reasonable paper is no longer available. Was the editor of the open access journal pressurized into removing the paper by author A and/or its publisher because of the threat of legal action?
Is author B aware that his paper has been pulled from the journal’s website? Author B and his colleagues may have legal redress against the open access journal. But it is up to the open access journal to inform author B.
Hence a suggestion was for the editor to reach out to this other editor, and perhaps discuss how this might have been handled differently. On a poll of the Forum audience, more than half agreed that the editor should reach out to the other editor, obtain their side of the story and perhaps then establish how proper correction of the literature can be done.
At the suggestion of the COPE Forum, the editor wrote to the managing editor of the online journal clarifying that the journal did not find any plagiarism with their published article and that the editor would not pursue any claims against the journal. The editor also noted that the article in question was missing from the home page of the journal on the publisher’s website but that it remained available on the PubMed Central site for their journal. The editor asked that the journal update her if they were conducting an investigation themselves and offered information on the COPE guidelines.
The managing editor responded thanking the editor for the clarification and explaining that the decision had been made by the publisher to remove the article in question from their website to “avoid legal complications,” which had been threatened by the complaining author. He stated he did understand that removal of the article was not recommended by COPE but because the article was still listed and retrievable on the PubMed site for their journal, they thought this was a reasonable solution. He stated he would forward the editor’s letter to the editor-in-chief and the publisher to see if this would change the decision; however, the situation remains the same. There has been no retraction of the article and the editor has not heard back from either the journal managing editor or the editor-in-chief.
FOLLOW UP (December 2014):
There has been no change in the status of the article in question and no further communication from the authors or the open access publisher. The article remains widely available and discoverable. The editor considers the case now closed.
Two of four reviewer reports received by the editor-in-chief of a journal contained a significant amount of verbatim textual overlap. Although of the same native (not English) language, the two reviewers are affiliated to institutions in different countries. The reports were submitted to the journal within 5 days of each other. Both reviewers suggested rejection of the submission.
Separately, contacted by the editor-in-chief, both reviewers categorically denied that they communicated with anyone (including any other reviewer) about the paper and their review work. One reviewer explained the similarities in the reviews as appearing “due to the fact that I have worked with [the other reviewer] as a co-editor for a special issue … a few months ago. To ease the review work, we prepared a checklist … . It seems that we are still making reference to this checklist when we review papers on the same topic, and this explains the similarities in the terminology and approach that we used in our … reviews. Moreover, I think that the convergence of our opinion about the overall quality, strengths and weaknesses of the paper is due to the fact that we are actively collaborating on the topic … and therefore have similar ideas about what it takes to provide a good contribution in this field of research”.
The other reviewer offered the following explanations: “[The other reviewer] and I have coauthored several papers … and, as a result, share many ideas about the ... literature; as a result of working together on several papers on the subject, we use the same perspective in assessing how a study fits into the literature and the contributions that it makes; potential overlaps in the terminology can be due to the fact that we developed for an old special issue that we guest edited a checklist for paper review …, that we shared with each other. Some of the common terminology in our review can be found in this checklist; … neither one of us is a native English speaker. This is why some expressions (common in … but unusual in English) appear in both of our reviews”.
Questions for the COPE Forum (1) Should the editor-in-chief rely on the reports of the two reviewers? (2) Should the editor-in-chief invite in the future the two researchers to review other submissions in the field?
The Forum suggested that the editor should consider that the explanations of the reviewers could be feasible and may in fact be true, particularly as their reviews were not dissimilar to the two other reviews of this paper in terms of content and recommendations. The editor noted that he has seen the checklist and that it does look useful and well designed, and could possibly be shared with other reviewers. In the end, it has to be a judgement call by the editor. Whether or not the editor decides to invite these researchers to review other submissions depends on whether he accepts their explanations.
One suggestion was to use plagiarism detection software on the reviewer reports and the special issue as a background check. This may give some indication of the overlap. Another suggestion was to allow the reviewers to continue to review other submissions but to monitor and score them so that their performance can be tracked over a period of time. The editor might also like to suggest that they refer to the COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers.
Polling the Forum audience in relation to who uses structured review forms and expects their reviewers to use them revealed that about a third do use them, but there was not much support among those not using structured forms to introduce this practice
An author contacted our journal in August 2011 informing us that a paper he had published in our journal in 2005 had been published, word for word, in another journal (journal X), under a different title and author group, in 2007.
We followed the appropriate COPE flowchart and contacted the editor of journal X. The editor of journal X told us in September 2011 that he would publish a retraction and a letter submitted from the author group admitting a "disagreeable mistake".
Journal X publishes infrequently, so I checked over the past 12 months for the retraction and published letter. The notice and letter were never published and the article is still available through the journal's website and SCOPUS. I contacted the editor of journal X in October 2012 to ask him if he planned to retract the article and publish the letter, as we had agreed. He replied that the article was no longer available. I sent him the link where I was able to retrieve it and he did not reply back.
The original author of the paper contacted the author group's institution in September 2011, but he never received a response.
In the COPE flowchart for suspected plagiarism, the journal that published the plagiarized article issues a retraction; however, what should be done if that journal will not correct the record? Journal X is not a member of COPE.
The Forum noted that readers will be confused by having two versions of the paper available in the literature. Hence the advice was for the editor to publish a notice linked to the article explaining the relationship between it and the plagiarized article, which has not been retracted and is still available online. The Forum also recommended alerting the other publisher to the fact that the editor is planning on publishing this notice to see if that will make them respond and formally retract the article. The Forum agreed that there was not a lot else the editor could do but did suggest writing an editorial on this issue.
The editor contacted the editor/publisher again following the advice of the COPE Forum, attaching a notice letting him know that the journal would publish the notice if he did not retract the article. The author agreed to retract it but removed it instead from his site; it was still available in an internet search. The editor suggested he replace the original with a version that included a retraction notice and a watermark on each page that indicated the article was retracted. He agreed to this but did not know how to do it, so the journal prepared the document for him. This was done on 18 February 2013 and the journal is waiting for him to upload this version to his website.
Update (December 2013) The original article PDF and the "retraction notice" appear in a Google search; however, the retraction letter does not seem to be visible in Scopus so it has clearly not been linked correctly to the original article. As we have discussed before, this publisher appears to be ignorant of the established protocols for handling situations like this. In back-and-forth conversation with him, we did provide a PDF of the article with the retraction watermark for him and explained that the retraction notice had to link to the article. The retraction letter was not that easy to find—you would need to know what to search for to find it. No further action was ever taken by the publisher. On the plus side, their article has never been cited by any journals that are in Scopus, and our article has been cited 57 times by Scopus journals.
We do not feel that we can do any more at this point, but would be interested to hear what the Forum might say as far as whether this case should be considered closed or, if not, what more we could do.
Advice on follow up:
The Forum agreed that there was little else the editor could do. The only suggestion was that perhaps the editor should reach out to the other editor, in an effort to educate and inform on the correct course of action in a case such as this.
Suspicions were raised on 20 September 2012 by a reviewer who commented that some of the passages in a submission from Dr J were similar to an earlier paper published in our journal by the same author. An iThenticate check indicated a similarity index of 60%: however, the overlap was not from that earlier paper but from another source by a different author which had contributed 41% of the material.
This prompted an iThenticate check of the published paper, which gave a similarity index of 57%, with 45% of the material from three papers by other authors. (It should be noted that this paper was reviewed and accepted before iThenticate was available for checking incoming submissions.)
It was clear that the new submission should be rejected. The key issue was the action to be taken about the paper that had already been published.
The editor of the journal in which two of the key sources had been published kindly provided copies and the published paper was checked by hand against these two earlier papers. This check established that the iThenticate report was reasonably accurate. It appeared that one of the plagiarized papers had been used as a means to improve the quality of the English while the other had provided a framework for the reporting of the statistical results: Dr J had substituted new figures in the running text of the earlier paper.
COPE guidelines were followed and a carefully worded letter was sent asking Dr J for an explanation. In summary, his reply said that: (a) he was building on the work of the earlier authors, (b) he did not understand or mean to do it and (c) he was very sorry and would not do it again.
Dr J had made six other submissions to our journal, all of which had been rejected on the grounds of quality. iThenticate checks on these revealed similarity indexes between 66% and 77%. Typically up to three sources had been plagiarized to contribute up to 63% of the material. A search using Google Scholar identified that Dr J had published over 20 other papers in different journals since 2005.
In the light of this information, Dr J’s explanation of naivety was considered to be implausible and the decision was taken to retract the published paper. Dr J was given a final opportunity to respond and gave the same explanation for the overlap. The retraction will be published in the next issue of our journal and on the journal website. In view of the extent of the plagiarism, the decision was also taken to inform the president of his institution.
There remains the question of whether the editors of the other journals in which Dr J has published work should also be informed of this case. The editor would welcome the comments of the Forum on this issue.
Following this incident, the journal has reviewed its policy to detect and discourage plagiarism in submitted work.
As a matter of routine, the journal now checks all of the work submitted for publication using iThenticate.
Submissions that appear to include a significant amount of previously published material are investigated further to establish whether that material has been referenced and attributed appropriately.
Where the overlap is found to exceed an acceptable level, we write to the author(s) providing a link to the full report and inviting them to withdraw the submission, or alternatively to revise it extensively to reduce the overlap and to indicate where they are quoting the work of others (or their own previously published work). We also ask for their comments on the overlap.
If the author cannot provide an acceptable explanation or where the overlap is very significant, then we will immediately reject the submission.
The issue of plagiarism is being included in the Journal Reviewer Development Programme to heighten awareness of the problem within the Reviewer Panel.
We are seeking to engage in discussions and the exchange of information on plagiarism with editors of other journals in the field.
We have also retrospectively checked the overlap of all submissions currently in process and identified several others with unacceptably high similarity indexes. We are asking those authors to withdraw their submissions or to revise them to eliminate the overlap.
Of the 231 submissions that have been checked to date, 71% have an iThenticate similarity index of less than 30%. Over 12% have a similarity index in excess of 40%—the level at which iThenticate gives a plagiarism alert. Excluding the eight submissions from Dr J, there were 9% falling into this category. The remaining 16% fall in the range 30–39% and have been investigated. In all of these cases, the overlap was in acceptable quotations and in the bibliography and no further action has been taken. The, as yet unanswered, question is whether these figures are typical for an international journal.
The Forum agreed with the editor’s course of action and also agreed that the editor could contact the editors of the other journals. The editor could inform the other editors that he is retracting the paper, stating the reasons (eg sending the retraction notice), and saying that he noticed that their journals have also published papers by this author. One suggestion was that the editor could run the other papers (from the other journals) through the plagiarism detection software, but this is very time consuming.
COPE does not recommend using percentages as cut-offs for detecting plagiarism. COPE believes that each paper should be judged individually and by eye after an initial screen. Percentages can mean very different things in different disciplines and in different sections of papers. COPE is considering developing a flowchart for what to do about plagiarism detected using plagiarism detection software.
A retraction was published in the journal. There has been no further communication from the authors. As suggested by the COPE Forum, the editor contacted the editors of the other journals who had published work by the author in the past, drawing their attention to the retraction but without further comment. Most of them have understood the implications of the email. The editor considers the case closed.
The journal continues to get a significant number of papers with high similarity indices. About half are understandable (eg, a paper that makes accessible a report which received very limited circulation, derivatives of theses, etc): others are naivety.
A reviewer, R1, brought to our attention several suspected cases of plagiarism in paper A1, submitted by authors A.
The main concerns were: — large parts of paper A1 resembled paper B submitted by a different group of authors B, with one of the most major changes being a change in the observation day; — large parts of a section were taken from paper C by author C, including an entire figure; — other sentences were copied from other papers.
The paper was rejected with no further repercussions for authors A. Authors A then resubmitted the manuscript to our journal a year later. We had since become more aware of pursuing cases of suspected plagiarism and asked for a statement before submission to peer review. Authors A answered in great detail, providing lots of information, apologizing profoundly and promised to take the utmost care that this would never happen again. We discussed this case and decided to proceed with peer review, treating this as a once only mistake and noticed that all of the criticized sections and more had been removed and/or rewritten.
Paper A2 was then reviewed by reviewer R2, who found new cases of plagiarism, different from the first. Again, the corresponding author A, when asked to comment, apologized profusely. We are unsure how to treat this, as the sections copied are not too extensive. However, given the author's history, we feel the need to issue a ban or possibly notify the institute? Does the Forum agree?
The Forum advised contacting the author’s institution. The editor should write to the institution informing them of the misconduct, but emphasising that the authors perhaps need to be educated on how to correctly cite papers, reiterating that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. The Forum agreed that it is likely that the author will continue to submit articles unless there is some intervention from the institution. The Forum again noted that COPE does not support sanctions against authors or banning authors from submitting papers because of the legal ramifications,
We received a complaint of plagiarism by Dr A concerning a book that has just been published. This case is ongoing since January 2012.
Authors B and C published a new, very extended edition (+1000 pages), on a topic that previously was covered in part in an English book by author B (published in 2006). Part of this book was based on a German book published back in 1993 by Dr A and author B. The English book was taken off the market by the publisher because of alleged "plagiarism" by author B. The publisher apologized to author B for this withdrawal which seemed to have been a mistake (but there is no written documentation on this). Copyright of this book was transferred to author B. Dr A has made a complaint of plagiarism for this book too. Copyright of the German book was transferred to both authors (Dr A and author B). It is therefore unclear what exactly has been plagiarized (in the 2006 book and the revised edition).
As the publisher, we sought two independent reviews. Unfortunately, the publisher asked the authors to come up with the names of the “independent” reviews, so we are a little hesitant to rely on both reviews. However, the reviews are respected scientists, and both state that “similarity is inevitable because of the involvement from the same author (author B) and overlap in the topic treated. It is also clear that the book is not based on new material, but it brings together existing material in a presentable form, but has a different formulation form and interpretation of material”.
Authors B and C mention that they have included all appropriate quotes/references to the previous book. Dr A has received parts of the text for review, and the authors have been willing from the start to rewrite anything that comes close to the original text of Dr A, should there be any similarity.
The lawyer, hired by author B, informed all parties, based on both reviews, that this is not a case of plagiarism. Dr A in the meantime has also hired a lawyer because he is not in agreement. So far we have not heard anything from this lawyer. Dr A now requests a statement from publisher on the case.
We believe there are strong personal issues at work here. With books, there is no editor-in-chief that can investigate the case or make a decision with help of his editorial board/associate editors or other body in the form of a society.
At the moment we, as the publisher, will make the new book (of over 1000 pages) available to Dr A so that he can indicate which sections show overlap with the 1993 German book (published by him and author B) and probably the 2006 English book.
Is there any advice from the Forum on this complex case?
The Forum agreed that this is a complex copyright issue rather than an ethical issue. This may have to be resolved by lawyers. The Forum supported the editor’s actions of making the new book available to Dr A so that he can indicate which sections show overlap with the 1993 German book and the 2006 English book. It was suggested that following this, independent advice should be sought from an independent expert. It was also suggested that the editor may be able to obtain agreement in advance on the use of an independent arbitrator who would review the case and whose opinion the authors would abide by.
The editor has been informed that the complaining author is trying to ‘organize’ the community in order to ‘discredit’ the book. So far nothing has been heard from his lawyer. Dr A has not provided any detailed information of where the plagiarism has occurred despite the fact that he requested a copy of the book in order to look at the chapters and the book was sent to him for comparison with the request to send his findings to the editor.
We received a complaint from an author claiming that her PhD thesis had been plagiarized in a journal article. After many discussions, the editorial office decided that the authors should resolve this issue among themselves, as it was an author dispute. After further correspondence, the editorial office is now also saying that because the thesis is not published anywhere, there is no need to cite it in the reference list. The instructions for authors state that: "The list of references should only include works that are cited in the text and that have been published or accepted for publication. Personal communications and unpublished works should only be mentioned in the text."
There are many opinions/views/cases available on different websites. But the prevailing view seems to be that any document, whether an unofficial discussion piece (or an unpublished thesis?), must be cited. What is the opinion of the COPE Forum?
The Forum were unanimous in their assertion that the PhD thesis should be cited. Even if the PhD thesis is unpublished, it should still be cited. It counts as a type of publication. The intellectual property belongs to the authors, so their rights may have been violated.
However, the editor raised another issue. The Forum were told by the editor that one of the authors of the paper is a supervisor of the PhD thesis. Hence there may be incorrect author attribution here. Should the author of the PhD thesis in fact be an author on the paper? At this point it is impossible for the editor to sort this out, so the editor should contact the institution with this information, presented in a neutral way, without making any accusations. The institution need to investigate who owns the data. Following the investigation, the editor may have to publish a correction. In the meantime, one suggestion was to publish an expression of concern in the journal.
The editor sent the advice of the COPE Forum to the complaining author who said he would discuss the possibility of publishing an erratum with the authors of the article. The editor is awaiting a response.
Follow up (September 2013):
In the end, the author concerned decided that he did not want to escalate the case to the university authorities. This editor considers the case now closed.
Author F published a single case report (CR1) in my journal. A few months later, I received a letter from author G who claimed that the case published by author F was a verbatim copy of his case report published in another journal H. On comparison of the documents it was obvious that CR1 was an exact reproduction of the article of author G. More than 90% of the sentences overlapped in both articles and even the clinical photographs were identical. The case report by author G was published 6 years before the publication of CR1. Both authors work in different institutions that are more than 500 km apart. Neither journal is indexed in Pubmed and journal H is not a member of COPE.
I contacted author F but received no reply to multiple emails. I also contacted the editor of journal H and informed my editorial board members about the case. One of the associate editors recognised author F’s name from another case report which had been accepted for publication at the journal. This second case report (CR2) had been reviewed and recommended by reviewers and no one suspected plagiarism. Following some research into this matter, the associate editor found that CR2 was an exact copy of another article by author P published in journal H. Publication of the article by author P predated the submission of CR2 by 7 years. In CR2, the text and clinical photographs were identical to the article of author P. As the journal is not indexed in any major database, no one had detected the plagiarism. We were able to stop publication of the second case (fortunately the manuscript was in the queue for the printer but had not yet been published).
It seems author F is habituated to plagiarism. It is not known how many such plagiarised papers he has published in various journals. Apparently, author F has never published any papers in journals indexed in Pubmed, suggesting he is aware of what he is doing.
What advice would COPE offer regarding this case?
The Forum agreed that this appears to be a clearcut case of plagiarism. The editor should retract the article. The Forum advised the editor to consult COPE’s retraction guidelines, which are published on the COPE website. The editor should state in the retraction notice the reason for the retraction. The Forum also advised the editor to follow the COPE flowchart on “Suspected plagiarism in a published article”. As well as retracting the article, the editor should consider contacting the author’s institution and informing them of the author’s misconduct. The Forum advises against any sanctions or blacklisting of authors because of the risk of legal consequences.