The reviewer of a paper contacted Journal A to point out that a significant proportion of a review paper, on occupational stress measures, was a near verbatim copy of a longer review in a journal of a different, though related, speciality. The editor of journal A confirmed this was the case. Not only were the descriptions of the measures lifted from the previous publication, but also comments about their usefulness, etc. The previous publication was referenced, but only for a small point, and the reference in no way indicated the wholesale reproduction of sections of the paper. The paper comes from a respected institution and the corresponding author is a highly regarded researcher. The first author, who presumably drafted the review, is on a research scholarship to the institution. It seems likely that the co-authors are unaware of the plagiarism by the first author. The editor of Journal A wrote to the corresponding author to point out the apparent plagiarism and to ask for an explanation. The corresponding author replied, apologising profusely for the error and saying that he would withdraw the paper for consideration while further investigations were made. He explained that the whole group was considered at fault for not checking the paper more thoroughly. The author, a graduate student from another country who had written most of the paper, may have found that the language barrier made summarising findings from other papers into his/her own words difficult. There was probably no deliberate intent to copy chunks of the text without acknowledgement as indeed reference was made to the source. If warranted, however, the corresponding author would take action regarding present and future submissions from this author. New procedures would also be put into place to prevent a recurrence of this unfortunate event. Finally, the corresponding author felt that a positive aspect of this incident was that it demonstrated the high calibre of the reviewers, and thanked them for doing such an excellent job. The editor was also thanked for seeking the corresponding author’s views on the matter.
_ Plagiarism can be “accidental. ” _ All authors should be willing to take responsibility for the first author’s writing. _ This case again demonstrates that all authors/contributors should take responsibility for the work.
The editor accepted the author’s reply as a satisfactory response and decided that no further action should be taken.
The whole discussion section of a submitted case report was almost identical to the discussion section of a previously reported, similar case written up by another group of authors in another journal. The only difference lay in the patient details. While the other paper had been referenced in the case report, the authors of this case report had not indicated that the whole discussion was identical to the previously published paper. The editors wrote to the chief executive of the author’s institution. He investigated the matter and agreed that each additional case concerning the same topic as that previously reported, had to be explained in a different way. He agreed that the authors had clearly made a mistake and asked that the case report be withdrawn. He also stated that in future any similarities (such as the discussion provided in the case report) would be avoided by members of his institution when publishing scientific material.
_ This case provoked a great deal of discussion, but it was concluded that the chief executive had conducted a thorough investigation. _ But what was not clear was whether the editors had asked the authors to explain themselves before alerting the chief executive, which COPE feels they should have done. _ There are different cultural understandings of how duplicated material is handled.
A paper was received which described a double blind cross over study investigating the effect of a drug in pruritus as a result of chronic cholestasis. Both reviewers recommended rejection on the grounds that the information contained in the paper was not new. Both cited a study published four years earlier in a high impact factor journal which essentially dealt with the same question. One of the reviewers, however, felt that the two studies were “almost identical” raising the possibility of plagiarism. The editor sent the manuscript and the two reviews to a third reviewer to arbitrate, and in particular, to examine whether concerns should be raised about the similarities of the two papers. What should the editor do next?
_ The third reviewer found no evidence of plagiarism, despite the similarities in both papers. The editor did not request the original data, and the committee acknowledged that the data could have been falsified. _ The presentation of the papers was similar, but drug companies often use the same format for reporting, so they would, in fact, look the same. _ The Cochrane Group finds it acceptable to use the methods section from one paper in another, but this must be acknowledged and cited in the paper.
Journal A published a review paper. About a year later, the author of a paper published in 1997 in Journal B wrote to say that he had come across the paper in Journal A during a literature search. He pointed out that parts of this paper were virtually identical with his paper in Journal B. Although the author of the article in Journal A had made one reference to his article, this was only to one specific point and the nearly identical sections had not been referenced. The editor of Journal A wrote to the author asking for an explanation. The author of the paper in Journal B works in a faculty of law. He discussed the two papers with colleagues who agreed that this was a violation of authorship and perhaps even copyright. He wanted to know how the journal intended to remedy the situation.
_ The author was somewhat naïve in using a fictitious letter to start his article, but it was not necessary to declare that it was a device. _ It highlights the problem of mistaking notes taken from published material as the author’s own. _ Contact the institution of the author of Journal A. _ An independent assessment should made. If there are substantive findings, the journal should report this.
The author apologised, and said that no deliberate attempt to plagiarise had been made, but the editor of Journal A contacted the author’s institution. A careful review was undertaken, concluding in the end that there was no intentional plagiarism. The editor, with consent of all parties, sent this to the author and the complainant, explaining that the journal did not intend to take any further action. Nothing further has been heard from the complainant.
Advice on follow up:
The editor had asked the author’s institution to conduct an investigation into the issue. The editor felt that the institution’s investigation had been even handed and thorough. The aggrieved party has written back and made several points: (i) He felt that it was inappropriate to rely on an employer to make a final recommendation. i(ii) The COPE guidelines do not include rules for review articles. (iii) The COPE guidelines do not differentiate between “conscious” and “unconscious plagiarism.” The editor indicated that although the employer had made a recommendation, she alone made the final decision, which was based on her own judgement, and not that of the employers. Many of the passages highlighted by the aggrieved author were ideas and concepts that had been published by several different authors and were not the sole provenance of that author. Although it is true that employers may have vested interests, this does not necessarily mean they are corrupt. The notion of conscious plagiarism implies that the plagiarism is intentional; unconscious plagiarism is unintentional. It is the former that attracts sanction, and the intention must be proven. The point of requesting an internal investigation is to provide the editor with the facts so that s/he may then make a judgement, and that there are no alternative mechanisms. The editor would write back to the aggrieved party detailing COPE’s discussion, stating that from the journal’s point of view, the case was closed.
A paper by Turkish authors was submitted to journal A. The paper was virtually the same as one published in the equivalent US journal B of the same specialty,but with different authors. The paper submitted to journal A seems to have been plagiarised from the paper published in journal B. The editor has written to the deans of the faculties of medicine to which the authors are attached. What more should he do?
It was agreed that the editor should have written to the authors for an explanation first. Only if a satisfactory reply was not forthcoming should the editor have contacted the deans.
The editor received no response from the deans of the faculties of medicine to which the authors were attached, and no response from the authors.
A manuscript submitted to journal X was remarkably similar to a paper already published in journal Y. The similarities were noticed by one of the peer reviewers for journal X. The paper has been rejected by journal X but the editor has now written to each of the authors asking for an explanation and has told them that if a reasonable explanation is not forthcoming, she will inform the dean of the medical faculty from where the paper was submitted.
Does COPE think the editor has acted appropriately?
COPE was advised that the paper has been rejected. The editor wrote to each of the six authors threatening them with being reported to the dean if their explanations were unsatisfactory. The editor received five replies with four different excuses. The editor was advised to write to the dean of the medical school and include the authors’ replies to the dean too.
The editor wrote to the dean of the relevant medical school enclosing the copies of the ?ve replies. A year later no reply has been forthcoming.
A researcher has written to us to point out that a paper published in a German journal in 1993 was put together almost verbatim from articles published in the BMJ in 1989 and the New England Journal of Medicine in 1992. About three quarters of the material in the article in the German paper comes from these two journals. It may be that the data are original but it seems unlikely. What should we do?
The editors of both the BMJ and New England Journal of Medicine have been in correspondence and have written to the editor of the German journal. The editors should ask the author for the original data. Editors of all of the other affected journals should be informed and then a collective submission should be made to the author’s institute. If the allegations can be proved, the institution should be informed that if there is no action or explanation forthcoming on their part, then all the journals will simultaneously publish a notice of plagiarism.
The author turned out to have been guilty of many cases of plagiarism. He was dismissed from his partnership.