A few months we were contacted by a dean of an institution who informed us about misconduct of one of the senior scientists in that institution. An investigation launched by the institution showed that author A and coauthors reused the same images to show controls in many figures in their different publications. This problem was found in three publications in our journal.
We decided to treat the three articles on a case by case basis. We launched our own investigation and contacted the original referees. One of the advisors felt that the authors could not be trusted anymore and we should retract the articles because of the authors’ misconduct. The original referee R1 confirmed that the images were indeed duplicated but did not feel that the main findings of the papers and their general merit depended on those images.
Based on that advice, we decided to give the authors an opportunity to provide corrected images and publish corrections rather than retract the articles. The authors provided new control images and corresponding results for most of the figures in question. However, two of the three articles had some images for which only the control panel was new, and the image showing the corresponding results was the same (ie, the entire experiment had not been repeated). The original referee R1, approached for further advice, felt that the corrected articles could be published and the fact that some results were not repeated was acceptable because it would involve a huge amount of work and it was not necessary.
We also sought a second opinion from an editorial board member (R2) who, in contrast to R1, felt that the three articles should be retracted due to fraudulent behaviour and the authors’ results were not credible.
Since allowing the authors to provide potential corrections on specific gel images, the case of author A has received extensive publicity in various journals, which has made the decision in this case difficult and may have influenced our advisors. Also, the past behaviour of the author in several publications casts doubt over whether the revisions are trustable. We now feel we have three options on how to proceed: 1) Retract the articles because the authors have lost credibility; we have confirmed their misconduct and scientific dishonesty in duplicating control images and the authors have not repeated all the experiments that were questioned in two out of three articles. 2) Publish a correction notice on each of the articles to warn the readers that we have found that some of the control images have been duplicated and the results of specific figures should be treated with caution but state that the main message of each article is not changed. This would have to be issued as a ‘correction’ but the text would amount to an ‘expression of concern’. 3) Publish the corrections supplied by the authors (or at least the one with all the images corrected).
We are leaning towards the second option because we have somewhat conflicting advice on the value of the corrections supplied by the authors and we would like to warn the readers that the control images were duplicated.
Would the Forum agree with this course of action or does it have any other views?
The Forum agreed that the articles should be reviewed on a case by case basis. All agreed that the editor needs clarification of what is going on, perhaps by obtaining further expert opinion on the validity of the work. Is the duplication a result of laziness? The editor needs to establish whether the scientific record needs to be corrected. At the moment, the editor does not have enough evidence. The advice was to go back to the institution and ask them for the actual findings of the investigation. Why did the authors use duplicated images? Does the institution believe it was misconduct on the part of the authors? Depending on the findings of the institution, the Forum agreed that the editor should follow option (1) or (2).
The editors contacted the authors’ institution with a request for more detail on the actual findings of their investigation. Unfortunately we have not heard back from the institution despite sending several chases. We also sought further and more detailed advice from the editorial board member (R2), who still felt that all three articles should be retracted because of the authors’ misconduct and loss of credibility. After further discussion of the available advice we decided to retract the two articles where not all of the questioned experiments have been repeated, and publish a correction for the article where the authors provided new results and controls for all the questioned experiments.
My subeditor handling this case told me he had found similarities with the protocol of a paper published elsewhere. The subeditor decided to send the paper for review to one of the authors of this published paper. The reviewer reported that the manuscript had the same figures and conclusions as a second paper he had published. All figures and the conclusions of the manuscript were the same as the second published paper. The reviewer also noted that most of the data were the same or had been only slightly changed and the text in the materials and methods section was also mostly identical. The reviewer asked me as editor to inform the first author’s institution asking for an in-depth investigation of this case of scientific fraud. The reviewer also said that he would inform the director of his own institute about this case of unethical behaviour.
This paper was first submitted to my journal in February 2010 and rejected on initial review by a different subeditor because it was missing many references and was incomplete.
I could not find any other papers written by the other authors on the paper so I’m assuming they were probably students, with the last author the professor. It is not clear to me if the paper was submitted with the approval of all authors as this was not stated in the covering letter.
The advice from the Forum was to follow the flowchart on ‘Suspected plagiarism in a published article’. In the first instance, the editor should contact the corresponding author and ask for an explanation. If there is no response the editor should try to contact all of the other authors. If the response is unsatisfactory, the editor should consider informing the author’s institution and asking them to investigate the case. The editor should inform the authors that this is the course of action that he is pursuing. The Forum noted that it is very important to give the author a deadline for response, and most considered a month a reasonable length of time. The editor might also consider posting a registered letter to the author if there is no response to emails.
On 18 June the editor sent an email to all of the authors informing them that we were concerned about a possible case of plagiarism and asking the authors to provide an explanation. A deadline of 2 weeks was offered and we informed them that we would contact the universities involved after this date. The corresponding author replied that he was not aware of this manuscript and he believed someone has used his name to submit the manuscript. However, one of the authors replied that he was not aware that the data were plagiarised and he offered to help in this case. He provided a number of pieces of evidence confirming the identity of the corresponding author. The Dean of the University where the corresponding author is working was informed about the situation on 10 July, followed by a second email on 29 July. The Dean finally acknowledged receipt of our letter on 1 August saying he will investigate the case. The editor sent a follow-up email on 25 August and the Dean immediately replied that the case is now under investigation.
Dr R, of University 1, has written an ‘official complain’ to Editor E alleging that a paper he was invited to review employs without permission a method that is the ‘background intellectual property’ (BIP) of University 1. He believes the paper should not be published.
Dr R asserts that he created the BIP prior to its use in several research projects at University 1, and notes that Dr A, the paper’s author, worked on these projects at University 1 under Dr R’s supervision when the method was explained to him.
Dr A’s current affiliation is University 2. Dr R asserts that: University 2 was never granted any right to use the BIP and that to do so would be an infringement; Dr A was advised of the confidentiality of the method. Dr A did not cite University 1’s BIP in his paper.
Dr R did not in fact review the paper when first submitted: several reviewers were invited and the initial ‘revise’ decision was communicated to Dr A on the basis of other reviews received. Dr R’s complaint to Editor E, which incidentally is not on University 1’s letterhead, was received when a revised version of the paper was under final review, 5 months after the initial reviewer invitation.
Editor E has sent details of the complaint to Dr A, advising him also that the review process has been suspended pending a resolution. Dr A’s response to the complaint was a direct reply to Dr R (rather than to Editor E, although a copy was sent to him), expressing surprise at the complaint and refuting the allegations, asserting instead that he was already using the methods in his paper before working at University 1 and that he had not used University 1’s methods. He also comments that despite having undertaken ‘lots of work’ at University 1, he was never included as a co-author. Editor E has asked Dr R for a response to Dr A’s views but has yet to receive one.
Editor E and the journal’s publisher are both aware of the COPE flowcharts, and jointly seek the Forum’s further advice in this case:
1. Should Editor E take the lead in investigating the matter, or should this be handled by the publisher? 2. In terms of an investigation, the COPE flowcharts recommend forwarding the concerns to the author’s institution. Is this the appropriate course of action here? In a case such as this, we would be especially interested in the Forum’s view on the suggestion that the concerns be forwarded, at an appropriate level, to both institutions simultaneously.
As noted above, the review process for the paper is presently on hold.
The Forum was unanimous in their opinion that neither the editor nor the publisher should investigate the matter. Journals are not set up to carry out investigations. The advice was not to publish the paper until the author dispute is resolved. The editor should contact both institutions and ask them to conduct an investigation into this matter. The Forum also commented that this may be a case for lawyers to sort out but the journal and publisher should be kept informed. The Forum advised that it would be appropriate for the journal and/or the publisher to contact the institutions.
The matter was referred by the editor and publisher to University 2, who are conducting a formal investigation according to the university's code of practice for complaints of misconduct in research. University 1 is cooperating at the highest level. The process has been delayed at several points, but is expected to be concluded shortly, a date having been set for the examiners and expert advisors to hold a formal hearing. The review process for the article concerned is still on hold, pending a decision: a regrettable but understandable delay of more than 10 months.
A manuscript was submitted to our Journal in 2008. The six authors signed the author form for the Journal which accompanies all submitted manuscripts. The author form gives information on the role each author played in the study and states that each author has read and approved the paper for submission to the Journal.
Following peer-review the paper was accepted for publication. It was published in February 2009. In October 2009 the Journal received a letter from the corresponding author who asked for the paper to be retracted. The corresponding author stated that the first author had used data which was originally generated by a student working in the department (permission had been given to the first author to use the data) but that the data presented in the paper were different to the data published by the student in a thesis. The corresponding author further stated that the first author was being investigated by the university in which the research took place and by the Ministry of Education.
The Editor-in-Chief of the Journal and the Publisher wrote to the corresponding author and said that they would wait until the investigation by the university and Ministry of Education had concluded before deciding whether the paper should be retracted. The corresponding author responded to this letter and asked that the paper be retracted immediately and stated that the investigation would take several years.
The Editor-in-Chief and the Publisher then wrote to the first author and asked for a full and detailed explanation as to the concerns raised by the corresponding author. The first author responded and said that the dataset for the paper was extracted from a patient database which contains information on patients treated at the university. Datasets from several sources were used to update the main database and information was extracted based on the inclusion criteria outlined in the paper. The first author stated that she had identified more patients who fitted the inclusion criteria from the database than the student and this was the reason for the discrepancy in data between the thesis and the paper published in the Journal. The first author also told the Journal that the corresponding author had brought the discrepancies in the data to the attention of the Ministry of Education, the university's Academic Ethical Committee and the Faculty Appeals Committee. The first author says that these groups have accepted the reasons behind the discrepancies in the data.
The Editor-in-Chief and the Publisher also wrote to the co-authors of the paper (four co-authors, excluding the first author and the corresponding author). Three of the co-authors have responded and state that they accept the reasons behind the discrepancy in the data produced in the original project and the data used in the paper. In addition to writing to the co-authors, the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher informed the corresponding author that they were contacting the co-authors. The corresponding author responded and said that the paper should be retracted immediately and that he was considering whether to publicly announce that the paper should be retracted from the Journal.
The Journal would appreciate advice on how to proceed.
The Forum commented that it was unusual for an author to criticise his own paper. The Forum suggested asking the corresponding author to write a letter detailing his concerns that could be published in the journal and then his co-authors would have the chance to comment on the letter. Other advice was to contact the institution and ask them about their investigation and how long it will take to complete. The institution should be approached in neutral terms asking them to confirm the corresponding author’s claim that the investigation will take several years. The Forum believed that the editor is not in a position to do anything else at the moment.
Following the COPE meeting, we were informed by one of the authors involved in our case that an investigation had been launched to examine the allegations surrounding the data used in the paper. We wrote to the authors and asked for details of the investigation, particularly the contact details of the person chairing it. We received confirmation that the investigation is being coordinated by the research ethics committee of the university where the authors are based and have written to the chair of the committee and requested a report of their conclusions once the investigation has been completed. We have not yet heard back, although the letter was only sent recently. We have also let the authors know that we have contacted the research ethics committee and will wait on the findings of the investigation before proceeding any further.
Follow Up (December 2010): The editor received no response from the authors' university and no response from the complainant (who was also a member of the author team). Therefore, the journal did not retract the paper and it continues to stand. The editor considers the case now closed.
A letter was sent to the chief editor of our journal in response to a recently published article in our journal. The author had serious concerns about the ethics and consent obtained as a result of this study and the follow-up by the researchers.
The author explained that he was the physician of two of the “volunteers” who participated in this study and was concerned about informed consent procedures in the trial. Specifically, workers never provided informed consent that their tests, mandated by a company medical monitoring program, be used in any “research” study. His concerns were in four areas. (1) The researchers failed to inform both the company and the injured workers that they should have been removed from further exposures when their test results showed severe impairment. (2) The researchers failed to report abnormal findings to the workers in a timely and appropriate manner, a failure that placed these workers’ health in jeopardy. (3) The researchers failed to fully inform the workers of the known risks of exposure. (4) The timing and location that the researchers used to obtain signatures on the informed consent forms did not permit the workers to adequately question the researchers and become informed. One of the author’s patients who was studied was a previously (pre-employment) healthy 40-year-old woman who was found after a period of time at work to have abnormal results. However, no doctor contacted her to explain the results and written communication did not describe them as serious, and so she did not seek further medical attention. Her tests were repeated again one and two years later. The two year test indicated more severe disease. These findings were reported to her 10 months later by one of the researchers who failed to mention their significance in his cover letter to the radiologist’s report. Given the patient’s history, she should have been removed from work immediately, and the researchers should have reported this case of occupational disease to the state authorities. The following year, she sought care from a non-corporate physician and was removed from work the same day.
Another patient of the author’s had abnormal test results in 2005, which were markedly worse on repeat tests conducted in the same year. The researchers wrote to her in September of 2005 and advised her to have a CT scan and repeat testing. A year later, a member of the researcher’s group ordered a CAT scan. In November 2006, the CAT scan revealed moderately severe disease. The patient requested that these results be forwarded to her personal physician. At the time of the author’s first visit with her in late August 2008, she had never seen the results, and neither the company nor the researchers had communicated with her about her condition or continued occupational risk. The author requested that the researchers send him her complete medical records, including communications with the company and the research protocol. However, only incomplete records were sent, omitting the research protocol and including none of the communications with the company.
In October 2008, the author wrote to the IRB Director and filed a formal complaint concerning these matters informing them that one of the researchers was both a paid consultant advising on occupational health procedures while simultaneously conducting the research/monitoring program. This researcher based his published paper on a mandated monitoring program in which the “volunteer” workers had to participate as a “condition of work” in order to keep their jobs. The “research” was based on test results for which full consent had not been obtained. The Director of the Office of Research Compliance and Regulatory Affairs responded in February of 2009, stating that although the committee’s investigation determined that “no misconduct occurred” with respect to any violation of IRB policies, their findings prompted them to institute “modifications to our processes that will help us to continue to raise that bar.” The author concluded that “IRB protocol modifications” were based on an acknowledgment that the researcher’s study violated patient rights, even if the study did not violate IRB rules. The author believes that journal editors have a responsibility to investigate allegations like these.
All agreed that this was a very serious matter and possibly of criminal concern and were surprised that the complainant had not taken any more action or taken the matter up with the medical authorities or the police. If medical staff are aware of abnormal test results and they do not tell their patients, the staff should be reported to the GMC in the UK or to a similar authority in the country where the research took place. The editor should contact the authors and ask for a detailed copy of the ethics approval. The editor should explain that he has had a complaint about the paper but he should not divulge the name of the whistleblower. The editor should also ask for copies of the consent forms.
It was suggested that the editor might want to consult the flowchart on “What to do if you suspect an ethical problem with a submitted manuscript”. All agreed that this case has wider implications than ethics or patient consent and that the whistleblower should pursue other avenues. There is little that the editor can do other than to contact the authors and request an explanation. All agreed that the journal cannot offer due process to investigate the concerns itself but must leave this to the institution involved or the committee that gave ethical approval for the research.
Advice on follow up:
Following the advice from COPE, the chief editors wrote to the authors of the paper to mention that we had received a complaint regarding the ethics of the paper. The chief editors asked for proof of approval of the study from the authors’ university and also the patient consent forms. These were both received from the authors and the chief editors were happy with the documents provided and have therefore taken no further action.
A review paper (paper 1) was published in journal A. A review paper on the same subject (paper 2) by a different author was published in my journal (journal B) later in the same year. The authors of paper 1 and the editor of journal A informed me that paper 2 had in part been plagiarised from paper 1.
I as editor of journal B looked to the COPE flowchart for guidance and I wrote to the author of paper 2 for an explanation. Although I did not consider the author’s explanation satisfactory, I felt uncertain whether this was a case of “minor” or “major” plagiarism based on the fact that the paragraphs copied verbatim from paper 1 constituted only a small fraction of paper 2 and because this was a review paper and not original data.
I then contacted COPE and the chair of COPE gave me some personal advice. I was advised that plagiarism is not a matter of percentages but of principle and to take another look at the flowchart and decide if the author had given a satisfactory explanation for the “overlap”. If there was no satisfactory explanation, I should consider a retraction and informing the author’s institution.
In considering what to do, I was advised to take account of COPE’s guidelines and code of conduct under the headings of encouraging integrity of the academic record and pursuing misconduct..
Based on the advice communicated to me, the journal decided to retract the paper and to inform the dean of the author’s institution about this incident. The retraction note has been published online (and will also be printed in the next possible print issue).
The authors’ institution has established a high-ranking committee to look into this matter, consisting of the dean, the rector and representatives from the Academy of Sciences.
This case is for information only and was not discussed at the COPE Forum.
We received a paper reporting a trial. There has only been one previous trial of this intervention in this condition that we know of (which was also done by these investigators). There were substantial issues with the reporting of that trial but the end result, as reported by them, favoured the intervention.
The trial we received, presumably approved after that result had come out, had the complication that most patients also received another treatment, and on an intention to treat (ITT) analysis of all patients, those given the intervention did no better and there was increased mortality in the intervention arm. The only positive outcome was from a per-protocol subgroup analysis of patients who did not have the other treatment (which they say is the only group comparable to the previous trial, and hence shows that the first trial was correct).
Although the trial was investigator led, it seemed to us that the authors were trying very hard to make something positive out of this actually rather worrying result. We sent the paper for review, including to a statistician; the reviewers raised a number of issues about the interpretation (eg, the overemphasis on subgroup analysis) and the analysis and reporting.
We felt that this was an important trial that needed to be reported, mainly because of the excess mortality in the intervention arm, but we had the rather odd situation that the authors wanted to emphasise the positive, and the need for further trials of this intervention, whereas the reviewers and editors saw the paper as delivering a negative message and feel actually that the paper will be the death knell for this treatment.
We therefore rejected the paper but offered to see a revised version if it was written more in line with our concerns.
The authors revised and the paper was re-reviewed. The paper was felt to be more balanced, but not yet completely satisfactory (ie, there was still too much emphasis on the positive result in one subgroup and not enough on the mortality).
A further issue then arose in that a reviewer spotted (on re-review) that three of the authors were noted as being on the DSMB for this trial. In their author contributions all are listed as having been involved in “analysing the data” and one, X, as “supervising the statistical analysis”
We asked the authors about these points and they replied: "(1) We are fully aware that it is unusual for members of the DSMB to be listed as authors, as independence is obviously important for such boards. In our case, the DSMB’s independence was not affected for the following reasons:
(a) Members of the DSMB worked for the entire study period (ie, between 2003 and 2008) completely independent and without any promises or expectation that they would be credited later by a coauthorship.
(b) My personal decision to include three of the four DSMB members in the list of authors was made a significant time after the final database lock. This decision was long after completion of the clinical study and its analysis. It credited three members of the board who made some significant advisory contributions to the present manuscript. Only for this reason they were included as coauthors, and it was quite unexpected for them. This decision from December 2008 has in no way influenced their independence and objectivity at the time when the study was running.
(2) As to the contribution of X (one of the members of the DSMB), we have to admit a simple language problem. In our use of the word “supervision”, the word meant that he took a final comprehensive look at our data analysis before the paper was submitted for publication. Importantly, he never supervised (like an academic supervisor) data analysis at any time point before database lock and processing of the data by the clinical research organization. We will change the terminology accordingly.”
We subsequently found that X was also an author on the previous trial.
Finally, the authors did not declare initially any competing interest but after we enquired specifically, they declared that the corresponding author “holds a patent on the use of t[he intervention] for treatment of [the condition]”.
Our concerns overall therefore were that this paper not only reports the outcomes in a way that is not appropriate, but also the composition of the DSMB and the presence of some DSMB members as authors means that the trial may not have had adequate independent oversight.
We felt we had two possible options with regard to publication:
(1) We reject the paper because it was inappropriately conducted and not appropriately reported.
(2) We publish the trial after further revision to ensure it is reported appropriately and publish alongside it an editorial that lays out our concerns with the conduct of the trial, but notwithstanding those, our reasons why we think it should be published.
We also discussed whether we needed to raise the issue of the DSMB with the authors’ institution.
We discussed the paper with our internal ethics board and they unanimously agreed we should reject the paper (mainly because of the concerns over the DSMB) and inform the authors' institution. We have as yet heard nothing from the institution.
We are bringing this to COPE as this paper raised a number of serious issues we had not come across before. We would appreciate the Forum’s opinion on whether we handled this correctly.
Some of the members of the Forum suggested that perhaps the journal should have a formal policy that DSMBs should be independent and not involved in the study in any way. The Forum questioned whether these authors fulfil the criteria for authorship, as outlined in the ICJME guidelines. One opinion was that perhaps the paper should not have been rejected until the outcome of the investigation was known. However, most agreed that rejecting the paper was the correct decision and the editor might consider contacting the ethics committee who approved the study if no response is received from the authors’ institution.
The editor reported the case to the author’s institution but no response has been obtained. The editor is pursuing the case.
I am the editor of an international clinical journal and am facing a very unusual problem that does not fit readily into COPE flowcharts.
Through a reviewer, I was informed that an author had submitted a paper without the approval of at least one of the other authors. This appeared to be confirmed by two other authors. In response to my bringing this possibility to the first author’s attention, he asserted that all coauthors had given informed consent to publish the work as it is. I have requested that he provides written corroboration of this. If this is not forthcoming I will send the paper to the other authors and seek permission to identify their views to him.
Another reviewer raised concerns about the ethics of a component of the submitted investigation. The author has responded that the work was investigated by the university to which at that time he was affiliated and received ethics approval. I have requested written confirmation of this. The author is no longer at the institution at which the work is reputed to have been conducted: he quotes as his current affiliation an institution that does not exist and gives only an email contact.
Additional criticisms of the work from a scientific perspective made it clear it was not acceptable for publication and I have informed the author of this. The author has two other manuscripts in submission and I have requested documented confirmation that the listed coauthors of these approve of their content. Furthermore, my attention has been drawn to items in four other journals raising issues about coauthors’ approval of other papers from the same first author and additional concerns about misappropriation of material from the publications of others.
In his response to my request for clarification of the issues raised with regard to the paper I rejected, the author stated his intention to “formally let open further legal steps against you”. Nevertheless, it seems clear that I have a responsibility to continue investigating the foregoing issues.
The journal has no established regular mechanism for this circumstance. A way of proceeding could be, after as much possible information has been assembled, to draw together a small panel, including appropriate experts and representatives from the sponsoring international society whose task would be to review the information (in anonymised form) and advise on any further action, both from the point of view of my journal and the wider issues. In the absence of an identified current employer, it may be that the institution at which the work was performed is the most appropriate to charge with responsibility for any further investigation and action.
Is the presumption correct that, in the event of the author translating his statement about legal steps into action, the editorial team and others involved on behalf of the journal would be indemnified by the publisher?
The Forum noted that this is a case that perhaps can never be satisfactorily resolved. It is very difficult for editors to intervene in authorship disputes. The advice was for the editor to contact the author’s institution and ask them to investigate the authorship dispute. As the editor suspects unethical research, that is another reason to approach the institution, report the matter and request an investigation. The Forum noted that this is as much as the editor can do with regard to the submitted papers. On the wider issue, the editor could publish an expression of concern for the papers already published and alert the other journals where the previous papers have been published. In the UK, a physician could be reported to the GMC for his conduct – there may be a similar body in other countries to whom the author’s behaviour could be reported.
May 2009 In brief, I took advice, based on an anonymised set of information, from the three chairmen of the relevant committees of the European Society of which the journal is the official journal. Their view was clear that the various concerns amounted to a serious departure from appropriate standards. They concurred with the recommendation that responsibility for action should include the employing institution. This was communicated to the main and co-authors. However, at this stage, communication was received from a lawyer on behalf of the main author and the matter has been taken up by the publisher’s lawyers.
Our journal has recently been the subject of an attack of attempted plagiarism by an author from a military hospital in another country. The first evidence of this was alerted to us by one of our reviewers who identified an almost word-for-word copy of a paper previously published in which the disease being treated was changed slightly and a few numbers but everything else, including the reference list, was almost identical. The case was forwarded to me to deal with and after some consideration I adopted the following course. Firstly, I contacted the authors of the allegedly plagiarised paper to assure myself that it was submitted long before our correspondent’s effort. Secondly, I wrote to the submitter, sent him a copy of the paper and suggested to him that he withdraw his paper. He expressed surprise and affront but agreed to withdraw it. (Incidentally, another of our reviewers identified that the author in question had retracted a paper from another journal last year).
I then looked at Manuscript Central and discovered that he had two other case reports in our pipeline, one of them in a second revision. It was not hard (a simple Google search of the titles) to find the papers from which each of these had been slightly altered as well.
I rejected both of those papers from the Editor-in-Chief desk with a stern email and a request for him to be sure that he did not submit material that had been published previously again. At our editorial board meeting in November, I am to bring this up to discuss strategies to prevent this but in the meantime, I have asked my specialty editors to be vigilant about this form of intellectual property theft and to do whatever is possible to prevent being a party to it. I will explore whether there is any usable free software or online solution available to deal with this problem easily but in the meantime I have found Google really easy to use.
While I have submitted this anonymised, I feel that serial offenders such as this should be “outed” to the international medical publishing community by name. I have available copies of his submissions and the papers from which I believe he has copied. I would question the ethics of not making this information widely known and am prepared to share them with the Forum or any individual editor.
I have asked myself whether or not I should write to the other of his colleagues or local funding agencies in his home country but am still unsure of what to more to do.
The advice from the Forum was for the editor to follow the COPE flowchart on what to do if you suspect plagiarism in a submitted manuscript. The editor should contact the author’s institution or employer and ask them to carry out an investigation. In doing so the editor might need to contact the insititution concerned to find out who is responsible for research integrity as this can vary from country to country. What is important is to make the institution realise the seriousness of this form of misconduct, to take the matter seriously and to persuade them to carry out an investigation.
A letter was sent to the administration of the hospital but no response (nor additional submissions) have been received.
A review article was submitted to the journal and sent for peer review. One of the reviewers brought to the editor’s attention that a substantial number of sentences and sections of the paper had directly, verbatim, been copied from chapter books and a monograph he had written in the past. The editor asked the reviewer to provide the texts in question. The editor carefully compared the submitted manuscript with the publications provided by the reviewer and concluded that the submission presents a severe case of plagiarism with multiple copy-and-paste examples throughout the entire manuscript.
The editor contacted the corresponding author by email and requested an explanation within a week. The corresponding author replied within the deadline but the editor did not find the explanation satisfactory.
He then contacted the heads of the corresponding author’s institution by email but has not heard from them as yet, even though he has sent them several reminder mails.
In the meantime, the editor has made the decision to reject the submission because of plagiarism. In his letter of rejection, the editor has informed the corresponding author that he has taken action and contacted the heads of the author’s institution.
What shall we do if the university hospital management does not respond?
The Forum were informed by the editor that having received no responses to his emails, he had mailed a letter to the institution but had still received no response. The Forum questioned whether or not he had evidence that the institution had in fact received the complaint. Was it sent by courier? Was it signed for? The Forum noted that there are limited options available to an editor as the paper is not published (ie, he could retract the paper if it had been published). The advice was to write to the institution every 3 months until a response is received. Other advice was to contact the Grant or Funding Body or to write to the rector of the university explaining the case. All discouraged the editor from publishing details of the case in his journal until the results of an investigation are available as he could be in breach of confidentiality.
The Institution Commission, comprising the Dean and vice Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery and the Dean of Curricula Studiorum, agreed that a substantial part of the article contained evident plagiarism.
At the Institutional hearing, the author declared that during the preparation of the manuscript the contributions of several authors were collated by himself, assembled by himself and that he failed to recognise that part of the manuscript which had been prepared by other participating coauthors were taken from another article published in 2006. These parts of the manuscript had been sent to the author only as a starting point for discussion and were not intended as part of the content of the final paper. There was, however, a misunderstanding.
As a consequence, the Institution Commission proposed the following sanctions:
• All data from each individual experiment and the raw data from the database as well as abstracts and all drafts and final manuscripts prepared for publication by the author MUST be fully reviewed by the Institution Commission for a period of 2 years.
• The author has also been informed that should the Institution Committee note any discrepancy between the raw data and the final manuscript, he will be forbidden from presenting data at all national and international meetings.
• Furthermore, he will also be banned from presenting at the University Scientific Meetings.
The editor was satisfied with the investigation and now considers the case closed.