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consulted with the editor-in-chief of the original journal and he feels that it is a double publication and should be withdrawn.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.
Our journal (journal A) received a complaint from a 'Clare Francis' alerting us to a case of duplicate publication involving our journal and another (journal B). The article in journal A was published first, but submitted after the article in journal B. Clare Francis requested that the article in journal A should be withdrawn as it is duplicate publication. However, the article in journal B was an extended abstract, included in a section of selected conference proceedings. Our records do not go back far enough to check whether the authors informed us of this but they did not reference their abstract in the article in journal A. The article in journal A is a full paper, with a materials and methods section, detailed results and enough information for someone else to replicate the experiment. The extended abstract in B was not. When we contacted the editor of journal B, we were informed that they had received several such complaints from Clare Francis which have turned out to be somewhat spurious.
A simple Google search revealed that 'Clare Francis' is a widely known self-styled whistleblower in scientific publication.
We responded that we had looked in detail at both papers and did not consider it to be a case of duplicate publication, and that we considered the matter closed. Clare Francis did not agree, and reiterated the issue of the article submission timings, insisting that the paper be withdrawn, and seeming to ignore the substance of what had actually been published. 'She' appealed to our status as a member of COPE as a reason that we should take on board these concerns. We believe not only that using a pseudonym to pursue these matters is unethical, but that we have followed the correct procedure and have made the correct decision regarding these papers. We would be interested in hearing if the Forum agrees (on the former points, if not the latter).
The Forum agreed with the editor that it would not consider prior publication of an extended abstract as duplicate publication, unless the extended abstract was very detailed and included lots of data, which was not the case in this instance. The editor made the right decision. COPE supports a whistleblower’s right to remain anonymous and would encourage editors to respond to any allegations of unethical behaviour as long as there is specific evidence and not just vague accusations.
We replied to Clare Francis saying we had been to COPE and were satisfied that we had done the right thing, and we are not going to change our course of action. She responded along much the same lines as the original complaint—we did not respond and consider the matter closed.
A reader contacted us with evidence that a number of western blots in a manuscript published by us in 2007 had been duplicated from other published papers; in one case, the same gel was duplicated in the paper itself. I compared the original papers and agreed with the reader. Some of the blots had also been duplicated in other papers but all had been published previous to being published in our journal. In the meantime, I received a forwarded email from the reader in which the editor of another journal, apparently involved, told this reader that the two affected papers in its journal were being retracted by the author.
I then contacted the two senior authors, Dr X and Dr Y (both listed as corresponding authors), as well as the heads of department (two departments listed) of Dr X. I could not find similar information for the institute of Dr Y (I later learned that Dr Y is the president of that university). I presented the evidence I had received and requested an explanation.
Dr X contacted me to say that he had started to investigate the issue a few weeks earlier (presumably after being contacted by one of the other journals). He said that it appeared that all "scientific wrongdoings identified so far" were caused by his laboratory staff. Although he had recently reproduced the data published in our journal and in other journals, "the mistakes have already appeared in these papers". He said he was willing to take full responsibility for this 'misconduct' and had decided to withdraw all papers involved, including the one in our journal. Dr Y contacted me to say that he and all the other co-authors agreed that Dr X would take responsibility for answering the required questions. I did not hear from either of the heads of the institutes.
I then emailed Dr X, copying in Dr Y and the heads of the institutes, with suggested text for the retraction, asking him to make any changes he felt necessary. He instead wrote back to ask that we consider allowing him to publish a correction, showing the correct bands for each of the relevant experiments. He said that the results in the paper are accurate, and he had all of the original data available for inspection. He had also reproduced the experiments, achieving the same results. He cited a number of papers by other groups in which some of his findings had been replicated. He again admitted that there was ‘misuse’ of bands, and gave a number of explanations for what might have happened (based on inexperience of his technicians). He said that, ultimately, however, he took full responsibility for what happened, but would like the opportunity to publish a correction. Dr Y also emailed me to support Dr X’s request, vouching for Dr X as an honest scientist. Again, I have not heard from the heads of the institutes.
Although I think, in principle, the article should be retracted because of redundant publication of data, does it best serve readers if the conclusions are, in fact, sound? This paper has been well cited in the literature, and some results do indeed seem to have been reproduced by others.
I would very much appreciate advice on whether we should retract this article, issue a notice of redundant publication or involve the original handling (academic) editor and the editor-in-chief. In the latter case, I would most likely ask Dr X's institute to verify the results based on the documentation provided by Dr X, and then ask the the editor and editor-in-chief for their opinions. If the editor and editor-in-chief agree that the data are still sound, then we would issue a correction.
The Forum suggested that this was a case not only of redundant publication but also of image manipulation and fraud and agreed with the editor that the paper should be retracted. The author admitted wrongdoing, the editor has the evidence, and if he believes there are grounds for retraction, then he should retract the paper. However, the Forum did caution that it was unusual not to wait for the results of the investigation being carried out by the institution. Although the author blamed his laboratory staff and claimed the data were sound, the Forum agreed that the editor does not have to include this information in the retraction notice. In any event, the principal investigator is ultimately responsible for the data and if the gels were duplicated then clearly the principal investigator was not involved enough in the study. The Forum agreed this was a difficult case but the editor had handled it correctly.
We retracted the article on the basis of redundant publication and image manipulation, avoiding any finger pointing. The institute completed their investigation and told us that they would have requested that we retract the article anyway. The PI was fired from his post.
A reader flagged up that a review article originally published in a journal X in April 2003 had subsequently appeared with a few minor additions and deletions in journal Y (our journal) in July 2004 and then in journal Z (of which the author is an editor) in September 2006. The authors on the paper are all from the same institute although with some minor differences between the publications: journal X has three authors; journal Y has two of these authors plus a further two; and journal Z has all three authors from the first paper, plus one from the second journal and a further two new authors.
The editor-in-chief and the publisher reviewed the two review articles from journal X and journal Y side by side and identified that significant portions of the text from the 2003 journal X publication were used verbatim in 2004 in journal Y. Specifically: (1) The title of the paper is identical. (2) Three out of seven headings are identical. (3) The abstracts are identical except for a couple of minor amendments. (4) Three out of the seven sections within the review article are identical barring a few minor changes (eg, dropping single words like ‘other’ and an abbreviation is described in full instead). (5) In the remaining four sections, the majority of the text is identical except for a few similar minor changes, but has the occasional new sentence(s) and/or paragraph(s). (6) Four of the five images that appear in journal Y already appeared in journal X’s review article. Journal Y had no other images.
Journal X’s paper is only cited once in journal Y and this is only in reference to permission to reproduce an image. No other citation or reference is given to the paper in journal X.
The editor-in-chief of journal Y followed our standard procedures and wrote to the corresponding author seeking an explanation. They responded promptly and indicated that they “object (to) the use of the term plagiarism in this context”. Although the “stated facts are correct (the author has) copied and pasted sentences and whole paragraphs from (journal X) 2003 papers in (journal Y’s) 2004 paper and (Journal Z’s) 2006 paper… all three papers were no (sic) original articles, but invited reviews”. The author also noted that “(journal Y’s) paper duly cited the prior (journal X) paper… so that nothing was ever concealed”. The author goes on to say that “as an author I have the factual and intellectual responsibility for the content of my papers, and if I want to express the same thoughts and say the same things, I am almost obliged to use the same words, unless I find better ones, and this is exactly what I have done in good faith without plagiarizing anyone… I have been invited for updated reviews, and therefore I have updated what needed to be updated and left what was still true. I am not aware that I have violated anyone’s rights or rules. I have never signed a copyright release form that would prevent me from using my very own words again”. He copied in the Dean of Research Affairs at his institution, who we have not approached for a response, and who has also not commented on the situation.
We would be grateful for the Forum’s advice on whether to pursue this as we would an original article case of self-plagiarism (ie, retract the paper) or whether it would suggest an alternative course of action(s). We have not investigated the allegation made about journal Z as it is outside of our remit.
The view of Forum was that this was a case of duplicate publication and the paper should be retracted. The editor had been deceived, and if he had known about the previous publication he would not have published the paper. However, some members of the Forum thought that this response was too rigid as the paper was a review article and not original research. Some argued that if we take a hard line on self-plagiarism there will be no new reviews. It can be difficult for authors to produce new reviews without repeating previous work. The Forum suggested that the term “self-plagiarism” is unhelpful and we should use the term “text recycling” or “redundant publication” instead, to clearly distinguish this from true plagiarism.
The Forum agreed that this type of behaviour may have been widespread when the paper was originally published several years ago, but since that time ethical standards have improved. Perhaps the editor should write an editorial on this issue. A suggestion was for the editor to look at the instructions to authors and commissioning letter that the journal sends out and make sure that it clearly states that the journal should be informed of any previous publications on the same topic. Another suggestion was to issue a notice of duplicate publication rather than retract the paper, and in doing so it would make the point that reviewers should not publish the same review more than once.
The journal is looking at taking the path suggested by the majority of the COPE Forum (ie, a notice of duplicate publication (not retraction)) and changes to their review article invitation letter. The editor is awaiting confirmed wording from the journal’s legal department before proceeding.
A manuscript was submitted to our journal and, on running a routine CrossCheck report, we found that it contained a 68% match (over 5000 words) to a report from a funded project by the authors that had recently been published online. Because the similarity match was so high, we rejected the manuscript.
The author is now contesting the rejection, arguing that the funded project had demanded the full copy of the submitted manuscript as part of a mandatory annual report to maintain the funding, and published the full report on their website without his approval.
Are we wrong to consider this previous publication?
Several members commented that publication of a PhD thesis, for example, would not prevent publication of a journal article, provided there was full acknowledgement in both sources and permission had been sought from the university. Most agreed that this is a similar situation. It is not the same as publication in another journal. But the Forum agreed that the editor’s decision does depend on journal policy. Does the journal allow pre-print publication (ie posting of non-peer-reviewed findings) or are these considered ‘prior publication’ (journals vary on their policies on this)? Whatever the policy, the editor should also ensure there are no copyright issues. Otherwise, all agreed that the paper could be published. There are no overriding ethical issues as long as the dual publication is transparent and cross referenced. A suggestion was to contact the funding body and discuss a policy for future reference, perhaps agreeing to simultaneous publication.
The editors in chief of journal A and journal B, both owned by society C, received a letter from the last ‘senior’ author, also the corresponding author on one of the papers (author D), concerning separate papers published in both journals (paper E published in journal A and paper F published in journal B), informing them that one of the co-authors on both papers is under investigation for scientific fraud. The results of the investigation are expected to take a further 6 months to complete. The case has, however, attracted some press attention and there is a danger that the journals will be brought into disrepute by association. Author D listed the figures in both papers E and F which the other co-authors had determined, on subsequent examination, to be fraudulently manipulated and/or duplicated and asked for advice on further action. Figures had been duplicated from a third publication, journal G. Author D is a member of the editorial board of journal A. The letter sent by author D was co-signed by all authors except the author accused of fraud. The accused author was the corresponding author on one of the papers.
The editors in chief of both journals also received a letter to the editor from an independent observer of the case, criticising the editorial process that led to the papers being accepted and published.
The society and editors in chief naturally wished to respond rapidly to author D and to avoid any damage to the reputations of the journals through association. Following standard society policy and procedure, and consulting the COPE guidelines, the editors in chief referred the case to the society’s independent publication ethics committee.
The editors in chief also instigated a review of the editorial processes for the two papers to be conducted by (1) a former editor of both journals who was familiar with the subject area covered by the papers and (2) the chair of the society’s publications committee.
The publications ethics committee investigated and confirmed the figure duplication and manipulation described by author D and recommended:
(1) that author D should be asked to retract the papers (2) that all authors should be banned from submitting to either journal for 1 year, as is standard practice, on the grounds that all authors take joint responsibility for the content of submitted papers (3) the third journal, journal G, should be informed of the actions being taken (4) that author D be asked to resign as an editor of journal A to avoid bringing the journal into disrepute by association.
The outcome of the internal review of the editorial process leading to the publication of the papers is incomplete at the time of submission. Findings will be fed back to the editorial boards at meetings in July for discussion and action.
The society and editors in chief seek a second opinion on the recommendations of the publications ethics committee and advice on improving the editorial process to avoid similar cases in future. We would also like advice on:
(a) what opportunity to reply must be afforded to the author, who is effectively accused prior to a public notice by the journals; (b) in light of the COPE guidelines and the COPE definition of 'author', should the nature of response depend on whether the corresponding or another author notifies the publisher/journal of a potential problem.
COPE never recommends banning authors because of the legal implications involved. The Forum agreed that author D acted honourably by acting quickly and co-ordinating the retraction but agreed that the journal’s response should not depend on whether the corresponding or another author notifies the journal of a potential problem. The Forum was told that the editor has contacted the accused author and given him the opportunity to respond. He has not responded to date. The Forum agreed that the editor can go ahead with the retractions, even if the accused author does not respond. The Forum suggested contacting all of the authors and giving them the opportunity to respond.
However, some suggested that if the editor is in doubt about any aspects of the case, he should wait for the results of the investigation before proceeding.
In view of the general interest in the case and further accusations of lax editing, and in order to preserve the reputation of the journals, the editors-in-chief decided to retract the papers, with the agreement of all authors, except for the author accused of misconduct, without waiting for the outcome of the external investigation. The society is continuing to review editorial procedures to heighten awareness of figure manipulation and duplication among reviewers and editors. The practice of banning authors will be reviewed.