In October 2014 it came to our attention via one of the reviewers of a manuscript submitted to our journal that an identical article (100% identical) had been previously published on the website of the author. The submitting author had not made us aware in their submission documentation that the article had been publicly available on their website at the point of submission. Two different but related issues arise from this.
Firstly, as it is the journal’s policy to conduct blind peer reviews of each submission received, it is impossible to uphold this policy where submissions already exist, as does the present one, in an identical form in the public domain. Secondly, there is an issue of self-plagiarism. In academic contexts, it is not permissible to re-use identical copy for multiple submissions, and would in all likelihood be regarded as a case of academic misconduct.
We have consulted the COPE website for advice but there does not appear to be a comparable case whereby the original identical article is in the public domain but not previously published in another journal. We are also aware of the various definitions and types of plagiarism and self-plagiarism which render the details of this case a grey area (COPE Discussion Document: How should editors respond to plagiarism http://publicationethics.org/files/Discussion%20document.pdf), and that copyright and rights of author issues may apply.
In summary, both co-editors of the journal consider that this case constitutes self-plagiarism and possibly redundant/duplicate publication according to the COPE Case Taxonomy (http://publicationethics.org/cope-case-taxonomy). The two COPE case taxonomy areas we refer to in this case are: o ‘Self-plagiarism’ (submitted article)—reusing one’s own previous writing without being transparent about this or appropriately referencing/quoting from the original” and o ‘Prior Publication’—The publication, or attempted publication, of whole or substantial parts of the work/data/analysis that have already been published, or have been submitted elsewhere, without transparency or appropriate declaration/referencing.
We have contacted the author, forwarding the two peer reviewers’ comments which both contained major revisions to the manuscript, also pointing out that we are aware of the existence of the article on the author’s website.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum We would be grateful for the Forum’s advice on:
Whether to pursue this as we would a case of self-plagiarism of a previously published journal article (ie, reject the paper) or whether it would suggest an alternative course of action(s).
The other related issue is the publication of ‘green copies’. While many journals, including our own, now encourage authors to make their own author copy available on public forums (eg, researchgate, institutional fora), such publication would normally take place after the publication of an article in a journal and not before. It is our concern that better policies need to be developed around prior publication.
The Forum advised that it is up to the editor and the journal to decide what they regard as prior publication. Journals should provide guidance on their website, detailing what they do and do not consider prior publication. Many journals provide lists of what they consider prior publication, and these lists vary greatly from journal to journal, and between different disciplines.
It is crucial that every journal discusses this at the editorial level and decide what they consider to be prior publication and then puts this information on their website and on the online submission system. There is no general guidance on what is considered prior publication—it has to be an individual journal decision. In some areas prepublication posting is encouraged, and may be required eg for clinical trials. This is a rapidly changing area and journals should be prepared to modify their policies over time, with the increasing number of prior publication options becoming available (eg, blogs, preprint servers). This does raise issues in relation to blind peer review.
Regarding the present case, if the journal has not been explicit about what it considers prior publication, it may be difficult to accuse the author of self-plagiarism or duplicate publication. The author may reasonably state that he was unaware of the journal policy. Some members of the Forum noted that they would normally allow this form of prior publication but there should be a link to the previous version, and the author should have made the journal aware of the previous publication.
Other members of the Forum stated that they would definitely consider this prior publication, and would reject the paper.
So the editors needs to decide for themselves what they consider to be appropriate for their journal and their discipline.
There is an initiative called CrossMark, available for publishers, which provides a “version of record”, making it very clear which is the published version with linking to any other versions.
The editorial decision was to reject the manuscript in its current form, but offering the author the option of resubmitting the article following a substantial and complete reworking of the manuscript to include all of the feedback from the reviewers. The editors confirmed that they would require every one of the reviewers’ suggestions to be addressed in any resubmission, and that they did not guarantee acceptance of the resubmitted manuscript, which would be subject to further review by the same reviewers as previously. To date the journal has not received a reworked new version of the manuscript.
A manuscript was submitted to our journal describing a study of a new drug. The manuscript had only one author who gave their affiliation as a company that we can find no record of online. It describes a study in which they appear to have developed a new drug, carried out a toxicology study in mice and then, because no adverse effects were seen, tested it on one patient and five healthy volunteers. There appear to have be no stages in between. There is no statement of informed consent in the manuscript. There is a statement that says the study was reviewed by the institution’s human subjects committee but we cannot find a record of the institution.
We had ethical concerns about the study so we asked the authors for more information, specifically: the details of the ethics committee that approved the study; whether they had informed consent from the patient and healthy volunteers; whether the trial had been registered before it commenced; how the patient and controls were recruited; what information the patient and controls were given before they agreed to participate; where the study took place; what safety/monitoring was in place in case of any adverse effects; what approval was obtained (eg, from the country’s drug regulatory body) before this drug was injected into a human for the first time; and what other research had already been carried out on this new drug? The author responded to our email asking to withdraw the manuscript but did not answer any of our questions. We responded that we had serious ethical concerns and therefore would not be withdrawing the manuscript at this time. We informed the author that we would be investigating the potential ethical issues and asked again for answers to our questions. We have heard nothing from the author since.
The author is based in a country that does not appear to have a national medical board and is not affiliated to an academic institution or hospital. The affiliation given is the company that we can find no record of. The author’s email address is not an institutional or company email address. We have contacted the professional society for the medical specialty of the author but they have informed us that the author is not a member and therefore they cannot investigate. We have also searched for the author on the registry of the regional medical board for the region in which the author is based, and they are not registered with them either. We do not want to reject the manuscript until an appropriate body has agreed to investigate but we are struggling as to how else to report this.
Questions for the COPE Forum (1) Does the Forum agree that we should continue to try and find someone to investigate this before we reject? (2) Does the Forum have any suggestions on how we can report this?
The Forum agreed that the editor had made a tremendous effort in trying to resolve this case. The Forum reiterated that in instances where a paper is rejected or withdrawn, there is still a responsibility to pursue any suspicions of misconduct. In this case, where the author wishes to withdraw the paper, it was agreed that the editor had probably done as much as he could. In some countries, this type of behaviour might be considered criminal, and a last resort might be to inform the legal authorities in that country.
The Forum advised that there is always the possibility that the paper is a hoax, but the editor has to assume, until otherwise proven, that the author has submitted the paper in good faith and should investigate this as far as possible. This is a particularly difficult case as it is a single author paper. If there had been more than one author on the paper, the journal could have applied the revised criteria of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). The fourth criterion states that all authors are accountable for all aspects of the work and are responsible for ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved. However, this is not applicable in this case as there is only one author.
The only other suggestion was for the editor to write an editorial on this topic, emphasizing that this type of behaviour is unacceptable.
After the case was discussed at the forum, the journal made one further attempt to report the unethical research. This was successful and the case is now being investigated by the relevant governmental department in the country where the research was carried out. The editor also discovered that while he had been trying to resolve this case, the article had been published in another journal. He informed the editor of that journal of the duplicate submission and his concerns.
Follow up (June 2014):
After the relevant governmental department agreed to investigate, the manuscript was rejected by the journal. The journal did not receive a response from the editor of the other journal in which the article had been published.
A reviewer of our journal noticed similarity between a published paper (P1) and a manuscript under review (P2). At the same time, a member of the editorial team noticed similarity between another accepted manuscript for publication (P3) and both paper P1 and manuscript P2. All three papers were submitted by the same authors based on the same trial, reporting three different endpoints measuring the same effect. The earlier paper P1 reported the results on the most accepted and validated efficacy measures. The latter manuscripts reiterated the findings of the published paper but did not cite the same.
The editor-in-chief decided to hold P2 and P3 and follow the COPE guidelines. The editorial team asked clarifications from the authors, who in reply stated their ignorance about publication practices and argued that the two other efficacy measures will substantiate the results of P1. The results of the papers were contradictory to current practices and hence the editorial team decided to be lenient with the authors. The editors suggested combining the two manuscripts under review (P2 and P3) into one short communication and asked the authors for appropriate modifications (eg, reporting ancillary data).
The authors modified the manuscript but quoted a guideline for analysis, which had not used before, was not present when the authors completed their study and was not related to the topic. This raised questions about the overall integrity and reliability of the authors. The editorial team decided to hold the manuscript and refer to the COPE Forum for consultation.
Questions for the COPE Forum (1) What should be the stand of the editorial board, especially if authors want to withdraw the paper? (2) Should the editors share the review information with editors of other related journals? (3) Should we disclose the names of the authors to other journal editors in the sector? (4) Should we have an alert list of such authors?
The Forum agreed that even if the authors wish to withdraw the paper, and they have every right to do so, this does not mean that the issue is gone away or is resolved. If the editor has concerns, he/she retains the right to follow-up with the author and/or the institution. The editor can still contact the author’s institution and ask them to investigate. COPE always advises that even if a paper is rejected or withdrawn, the editor has a duty to follow-up any issues relating to suspected misconduct. The editor may like to explain this to the authors.
It may be necessary to share the information with related journals, but the editor may need to assess the scale of the problem first by doing a search for other articles by the same authors and determining what other journals are involved.
Regarding an alert list, COPE always advises against blacklisting authors or sharing alert lists with other editors because of the risk of litigation and the danger of harming other innocent associated authors.
The editor asked the authors for clarification, but did not get a reply even after several reminders. The editor also contacted the author’s institution and asked them to investigate the case but received no reply. The article was rejected on the grounds of compromised publication ethics.
The case was discussed by the editorial team members. The journal has improved the editorial review methods of the journal to filter out possible cases of plagiarism and salami slicing. The editor discussed the case (without revealing any of the author's details) with editors of related journals who said that they also experienced similar cases and expressed the need for efforts to create awareness to avoid publication misconduct. The editor acknowledges the guidance from the COPE website in strengthening the journal's editorial processes.
A sixth year medical student, with expected year of graduation of 2013 (Mr X), submitted 29 original articles and 17 letters to the editor in the period February 2012 to October 2012 to our journal. This amounted to an average of five submissions per month. Mr X is an author and corresponding author in every article. Of these, he is the first author of eight original research articles and 12 letters. In the remaining one he is a co-author. The articles are on very diverse subjects.
This set us thinking that, apart from his clinical work and studies, how he had time to conduct research, analyse the results and write the articles.
The journal first wrote to Mr X for the necessary justification. He responded promptly, “I am one of the best researchers of my country and have multiple publications in every field of medicine and have won multiple prizes”. He provided a list of 72 publications to his credit. He also provided the name and email of the chief of the research committee of the university.
We wrote to the concerned parties asking them to endorse the submissions as being ethical and valid for the purpose of publication. The chief replied that Mr X was a member of the student research committee with some research background in medicine which led to multiple awards and publications. He confirmed the research background in a vague manner and there were no more comments or endorsements of the submitted articles.
We then wrote to the vice chancellor of the university asking for verification and endorsement of the articles according to the ICMJE guidelines. The director of research affairs was also approached, who asked for details of all the articles submitted. These were duly sent.
In the meantime, Mr X contacted us stating that his e-mail had been hacked and someone else had sent letters and articles with his name. This was incorrect, as all mails had the same e-mail address. We also sent an email to the Publication Commission in our country on 6 March 2013. There has been no response.
We face a dilemma. The articles are lying unprocessed. It is a mystery as to why the higher authorities are not taking any action or replying to our emails.
Question What would the COPE Forum suggest we do?
The Forum suggested that it may be useful in this case to help rather than punish the author. As an initial approach, the Forum asked if there was any pastoral care available to the student, or whether the medical school has anyone who could talk to the student in a confidential manner. This may be more of a problem with the student, rather than research integrity concerns. The institution has a responsibility to its students and they need to ensure that students are sufficiently supported. So the editor should consider contacting someone in this role at the author’s university.
However, that still leaves the dilemma of the unprocessed articles and what to do with them. The Forum advised that the editor needs to be certain that the articles are all from the author and that he takes responsibility for them. If there is any doubt, then the articles should not be processed. However, if the articles are genuine and have scientific merit, then they should be processed in the normal way, as there are no grounds for rejection.
The Forum also suggested contacting any co-authors on the papers for an explanation and to confirm that the papers have all been written by the author. The editor should make it clear to the author that the papers are on hold while the issue is satisfactorily resolved.
Another suggestion was for the editor to consider contacting some higher authority or regulatory body, or ministry of research, and asking them to investigate the case.
As suggested by the Forum members, we did some investigations ourselves as the higher authorities, including the Vice Chancellor of the University to which the author belonged, were unresponsive.
As a sample, an Internet search was made for three of the articles. One was found to be copied in full from a similar article in another online journal.
A search was made for the correct names and email addresses of the coauthors, as those stated in the articles submitted to us were wrong. We spoke to two coauthors by telephone— one knew nothing about the concerned author or about his name being included as a coauthor. He also knew nothing about the article. Another senior coauthor spoke in favour of the author. He said, “ Mr X is a very intelligent and knowledgeable researcher and writes very well”. He could not justify how Mr X could write on such diverse topics.
We received only one email reply from a senior professor. He wrote : “I was really shocked to see the paper published without my knowledge. I do not know Mr X (author). I have never met him. He has never worked with me. He has stolen my published data. I am going to forward this message to the ethics department and make a complaint on the concerned person at the university”.
We have had no comment or reply to our queries from the officials of the university. From the Internet searches made by us, we can conclude that Mr X, the medical student (author) is: • Not only good at writing in English but is also excellent in fabricating and stealing data. • He has the support of one or two senior faculty members of his university. • He has been committing these unethical acts for quite a few years as there are a number of articles with his name. • The articles submitted to our journal had fake email addresses and names, even with incorrect spellings, making contact difficult. • The signatures of all authors were forged.
Questions for the COPE Forum (1) Should we just close all the files and bury the case? (2) If not, what steps should be taken?
Advice on follow up:
One view from the Forum was that, as suggested before, the editor should contact a higher authority, regulatory body, or ministry of research, and ask them to investigate the case, given the institution’s unwillingness or inability to engage with the editor on this issue.
However, others argued that it is the responsibility of the institution to deal with this student. Institutions not responding to editors’ requests is a common problem, and the advice was to contact the institution every 3 months, requesting a reply and including copies of the information on the case. The editor should say that he/she does not consider the matter closed and request that the institution investigate the case. If the institution does agree to an investigation, the editor should publish the findings of the investigation in the journal, using the text from the institution’s report.
The Forum advised the editor not to accept any more papers from this author. The editor should write to all of the authors of the submitted manuscripts to say that no further papers will be considered from this student.
Regarding the published papers, the editor should consider contacting the editors of the other journals that published papers by this author.
Update (December 2013): The Secretary National Ethics Committee updated the editor that the university was conducting an investigation. The Committee have confirmed that more misconducts had been detected against this author and the concerned authorities were still looking into the case. The Committee suggested that the journal should take an independent decision on the unprocessed articles in the journal’s office. The journal plans to make a final decision on the pending articles very soon.
Update (February 2014):
The Secretary National Ethics Committee told the editor that more misconduct cases had been detected against this author and the concerned authorities were still looking into the case. He suggested that the journal should take an independent decision on the unprocessed articles. We will make a final decision on the pending articles shortly.
Update (June 2014):
The decision of the editorial board of our journal was to close all 27 pending files on the grounds of fraud. The decision was also taken to debar the author. The Secretary National Research Ethics Committee of the author’s university was informed.
Earlier this year it came to our attention that a published article in our journal (journal A) had also been published in another journal (journal B). The article in journal A was published later than the article in journal B, so following COPE guidelines on duplicate publication, we contacted the authors for an explanation. Their response was to blame the editor of journal B for publishing the article without their agreement. From the date of submission to journal B and date of publication in journal A, we knew that the manuscript was under consideration in both journals simultaneously. We were therefore not satisfied with the authors’ response and, as we had the later publication, we proceeded to contact the authors, informing them that we intended to retract their article. In response to this, the authors informed us that the article in journal B had now been retracted, and that they had received an apology from the editor. We have looked into this, and the article in journal B does indeed appear to have been retracted. The retraction notice does not give a reason for the retraction, other than that it was retracted at the request of the authors. Journal B is not a member of COPE.
Regardless of the reason for the duplicate publication, or how it came about, we felt that as we had published second, the onus was on us to retract the article. We are concerned that the authors have chosen which published article to keep in the public domain and have avoided a retraction notice mentioning the duplicate publication. As there is no longer a duplicate publication, there appears to be little we can do. We plan on contacting the authors’ institution, and journal B (to inform them of why retractions are usually published), but we are unsure whether there is any other action we could take and would be grateful for any suggestions.
The Forum agreed this is still a case of duplicate submission and that there has been possible misconduct on the part of the authors. Although there is only one copy of the paper in the literature, the Forum advised the editor to consider publishing an expression of concern to alert readers to this.
The Forum agreed that the editor needs more information and the advice was to contact journal B and ask the editor for his side of the story. It is possible that the authors are blameless. Even if journal B is not at fault, the editor needs to mark the paper in their journal with a clear notice. Readers should be alerted to what has happened and the advice was to have a notice linked to the article to say that this this paper is one of a duplicate submission, and the first article has been retracted.
Authors A submitted paper A to our journal in April 2012. One of the reviewers pointed out that a very similar paper, paper B, had already been published in another journal based in the authors' home country and covering a different field, in August 2012. Indeed, the title is almost the same, except for a few words switched around.
We asked the authors to comment on this and were told that the database and analysis were different, with the main difference being data collected along the coast versus data collected inland. The data and analysis are indeed slightly different, but in our opinion not enough to be treated as two separate publications. Also, we asked why the authors did not cite paper B in paper A.
They answered that because they did not receive a review for paper A for 4 months, they submitted paper B somewhere else with a slightly different scope. This paper was seemingly immediately published online by the end of the month and printed in October 2012. The authors stated that they had no chance to cite paper B in paper A, and were not apologetic in the least. Instead, they chose to blame our turnaround time.
Paper A has been rejected, but we are unsure of how to deal with these authors in the future.
The Forum suggested there could be legitimate reasons for having two papers, although this might also be considered “salami slicing”. The Forum advised that for the future, and to prevent a similar situation, in the instructions to authors and on the journal website, the editor should add a statement asking if the authors have any related paper under submission or in press elsewhere and, if so, to send details of that paper along with the current paper they are submitting.
Ten years ago, the author published a paper on the same subject in his country’s specialty journal. The first report was short and the product of the author’s graduate work. The publication was in their country’s language. (Recently, the journal has been translating the abstracts of their previous publications into English, but the body of the text is still in their language.) Subsequently, the author submitted to our journal a more extensive article on the same subject, which included more data. This went through our peer review process and was published last year.
We were made aware of this problem several months ago. We consulted with the editor-in-chief of the original journal and he feels that it is a double publication and should be withdrawn. At the same time, we contacted the President of their country’s specialty organization, who thinks that this is a new publication and the author has done nothing wrong.
Initially, my feeling was that if the original journal felt that this was an infringement on their copyright, then the paper should be withdrawn. However, the comments from the President of their specialty association have left me and our editorial staff in a quandary. We are unsure how to proceed.
The author has been contacted and feels his more extensive publication should stand. He feels that the original publication is a more abbreviated version and received only regional exposure.
We would welcome the Forum’s opinion.
The Forum agreed this is a very common problem. The main issue here is one of transparency and disclosure. It is acceptable to publish a longer version of a paper that was published previously as an abstract, as long as the original abstract is cited. If there are significant new data, then duplicate publication may not be an issue, but the original material must be cited. Hence, in principal, this is not duplicate publication but the problem here is the transparency issue and the lack of disclosure by the author.
There may also be a copyright issue, which the editor needs to discuss with the editor of the first journal. A suggestion was that if the editor is confident that this is not duplicate publication, he could publish a correction.
The editor is preparing a correction that acknowledges the previous publication. The correction will indicate that it is a more extensive presentation of the data, but there is some redundancy. This will make the issue transparent to the reader.
It was brought to our attention that there is considerable overlap and duplication of data in two papers that a group of authors submitted and that were subsequently published in two different journals. The control groups are identical in the two papers although it is claimed that they were matched controls. The data in several columns in the tables are identical; one figure has been reproduced.
The response from the authors was as follows. Regarding the considerable overlap and duplication of data, I'd like to explain this:
In both papers the control group is the same.
One figure has been reproduced in both papers. The aim of including this figure in each paper is different, being in one case to show the difference against one option and in the other case to compare against a different technique, with their respective different discussion, implications and discussion.
Having this in mind, it is our opinion that this cannot be considered redundant publication as the rationale behind each of the papers aims to address a different hypothesis and the discussion dealing with the explanation of the results is largely different. Moreover, in the results section, representing the bulk of the achievements of our research, only one figure out of six is present in both papers.
Both papers are clearly different in their scope, bulk of results, discussion and clinical implications.
The Editor of the journal is not happy with this response, feeling that the author has explained why they did it but does not seem to be concerned that they did it. The editor and publisher of the other journal involved have not responded to our emails. We would like some advice from COPE on where to take this case and whether retraction is fair.
The Forum suggested there are two issues here: (1) possible fraudulent data as it is unlikely that both studies would have the same control group (if they were matched controls); (2) duplicate publication. It is the responsibility of the other journal to act, as they published second. The suggestion was for the editor to contact the second journal and ask the editor what he understands to be the case. It can also be more influential if two editors act together if they need to contact the author’s institution, for example.
It may be that the author needs to be educated regarding the fact this is unacceptable behaviour. The editor should write to the author and ask him to explain why the control groups were the same. The editor should give the author a specific deadline in which to respond and the author should be informed that if a response is not received, the editor will contact the institution. The Forum advised against retraction until the full facts of the case are known.
As editor-in-chief of a journal (journal A), I was contacted by an individual (N) who indicated the following: authors of an article published in journal A were questioned as to the similarity of a figure and a table appearing in both journal A and in another journal (journal B). N noted that reanalysis of the data of the published work by the authors suggested errors and inconsistencies of the similar data across journal A and journal B.
Subsequently, N provided additional details, including notice of a third journal (journal C) that appeared to have published a table similar to those in journals A and B. The editor of journal B responded to this saying that although the authors had been contacted by the editor of journal B and a response from the authors was pending, they agreed that retraction from journals A, B and C was required. Of note, journal B had previously resolved a challenge from N with respect to the study in question as a letter to the editor regarding data interpretation with a response from the authors. The editor of journal B shared both of these publications with the other journals involved at the request of journal A.
Although the authors referenced journal B in the article they published in journal A and stated that it was an extension of the study published in journal B, they only indirectly referenced the figure and table. The figure and table did not include a reference or acknowledgment to indicate where they were initially accepted/published or submitted elsewhere. Hence it appears that a very similar figure and table appeared in three publications and a figure in two publications without appropriate assigning credit.
This appears to journal A to be a possible case of overlapping publications by the authors. Taking the first publication dates (including Epub dates) on PubMed, it appears all three articles were published at around the same time, with the article in journal C publishing first as an Epub article.
It should be noted that the authors retained the copyright to their article published in journal B. I am not sure about journal C.
Most recently, N sent another email to all three journals questioning the housing conditions of the animals used in the study and whether the statement indicating that the authors had received approval from their ethics committee of experimentation on animals is actually true.
As editor of journal A, I forwarded all the information to my publisher. I plan to contact the authors on review and after discussion with COPE. My publisher has also informed journals B and C of our plans to contact COPE before taking any initial action.
As well as asking for guidance on how best to handle this case, we would like COPE’s opinion on which journal should be taking the lead to resolve these concerns, as it involves multiple journals.
The advice from the Forum was to follow the COPE flowchart on redundant publication. Initially the editor should contact the authors and ask for a full explanation. If the editor feels that the explanation from the author is not satisfactory, he can then retract the paper, if his is the second journal which published the paper. If a paper is published online it should be considered as being published, so the epublication date is the date to go by. The first version of the paper should remain and the others should be retracted.
However, if the editor feels that there is only partial overlap and readers would benefit from the availability of new data, then the editor could issue a notice of redundant publication.
Another scenario would be if the editor accepts the explanation of the authors that they made a genuine mistake. In this instance, the editor could issue a correction (for example, figure 7 has appeared in a previous publication).
The Forum stressed it is important to contact all of the authors, not just the corresponding author. The Forum also agreed that regardless of whether or not N is acting in good faith, the editor should investigate the accusations by contacting the authors and asking for an explanation.
The Forum advised liaising with the other editors if possible, and jointly contacting the institution.
The Forum also suggested looking at the copyright issues (e.g. the date on which copyright was transferred to a journal, if applicable).
The editor retracted the paper. To the best of his knowledge the other papers in question have also been retracted.
This case involves four manuscripts. Three of the manuscripts were originally published in another language and then published in our English language journal. There is overlap in the authors who were involved in all four manuscripts.
The first and second manuscripts were duplicated publications from another journal. The evidence is very clear. The papers were published in another country in another language, and then in English. A native speaker of the other language was able to read both versions and found only minor differences, and the editor of the foreign language journal also did this, and recommended that our journal retract the papers. The authors checked the box on our submission form that indicated that the submissions had not been published elsewhere, and they made no mention of any previous publication in their covering letter.
For the third paper, which shares authors, we had no evidence of duplicate publication until we heard from the editor of the foreign language journal who said that it came from two other articles. However, the editor did not say in which journals these were published. Again, the authors checked the box indicating that the paper was original and had not been previously published.
For the fourth manuscript there is no evidence of duplicate publication, but it shares one author and is therefore included. The editor of the foreign language journal did not find a duplicate publication.
Two authors are in common on the three duplicated papers. The paper for which we do not have evidence of duplication has different authors for the most part, but one of its authors is also an author of two of the duplicated papers. To try to make this clear, the authorship of the four papers is as follows, where each letter indicates an author: 1) A, B, C, D 2) A, B, C, E 3) A, B, F, G, H 4) C, I, J, K, L
The editor in chief of our journal wrote to the authors (A, B, and C) telling them that they had violated international standards against duplicate publishing and received an email in reply from a supervisor at their institution, apologising for this. We seek guidance from COPE on how to publish a retraction in our journal concerning these four manuscripts, or is another course of action more appropriate?
The Forum noted that publication of a translation of a paper is permissible if the process is transparent and the original paper is cited in the translation. In this case, the authors failed to inform the editor of the previous versions of papers 1 and 2, and checked the box on the submission form saying the papers had not been published previously. One option suggested by the Forum was to publish a notice of duplicate publication, as then readers would not be deprived of reading the translated version of the paper. The Forum suggested contacting all of the authors, not just the corresponding author, and asking them for an explanation. If the editor is satisfied with the evidence of duplicate publication, he should retract both papers. There should be one retraction notice per paper so that the notice can be linked to the original paper. The retraction notice should clearly identify the original paper.
Regarding the third paper, the editor should obtain full details from the other editor about where the paper was published previously. When the editor has definite evidence and the names of the other journals, he can then decide on whether or not to retract the third paper.
For the fourth paper, as there is no evidence of duplicate publication, the editor should not retract this paper. COPE advises against punishing authors or imposing bans because of the risk of litigation. However, the editor can contact the authors and ask them questions about the paper, but he needs to have evidence before taking any further action.
After the editor contacted all of the authors, and received all of the information with regard to the third paper, the journal decided to retract the three papers.