The journal submitting this case to COPE sent a paper [paper 1] to a reviewer who wrote this in the review: “…That apart, this manuscript seems to be another report of the already published **** trial, looking at the data from a slightly different angle. I am not convinced, however, that the data is worthy of so many submissions.”
And, in a separate email to the handling editor: “Just by chance, I have already reviewed a paper [paper 2] by the same group involving the same study for xxxx journal recently. I do not know the outcome of the refereeing process at that journal, but it does seem to me that the two papers are similar in many respects, and too similar to be both published. I have taken the unusual step of attaching the paper [paper 2] I was asked to review by that journal so you can decide whether or not you really wish me to comment on the one submitted to you. If you think this is "inappropriate", just ignore the attachment, let me know, and I will review your paper tomorrow. Sorry for this convoluted message, but I thought you ought to be aware of the situation.”
The handling editor felt that paper 2 did not overlap too much and when the editorial team discussed paper 1, paper 2 was included in the pack of reading material and read by all or most of the editors, the external editorial adviser and the statistician.
At the meeting, the team discussed the ethical problem raised by this and decided that:
The reviewer should have said “I know about this other paper - would you like to see it (not “here it is, tear it up if you like”)?”
The editors should have contacted the authors and said “the reviewer’s told us you have another similar paper - you should have mentioned this in your cover letter, can you tell us about it now?”
The editors should not have read paper 2 without the author’s permission because it was being considered in confidence at another journal.
Outcome so far:
The editorial team discussed paper 1 on its merits and rejected it because the research question was only indirectly answered with an over technical analysis and because the paper did not add enough to previously published work, including the author’s own.
The editors did not mention to the authors that they had seen paper 2.
The editors agreed to ask COPE’s advice on whether to take the ethical problem further.
Questions for COPE:
(1) Should the editors tell the authors all the above now, apologising, and explaining again that there were standalone reasons for rejecting paper 1?
(2) Doing so would unblind the reviewer of paper 2: this journal uses open (signed) peer review but the other journal doesn’t. Should the editors seek the reviewer’s permission before contacting the authors?
As there were standalone reasons for rejecting paper 1, the Forum agreed that contacting the authors would serve no purpose. The advice was to contact the reviewer and explain that he should not have sent paper 2 to the editor, breaching confidentiality. The reviewer should have raised the issue with the editor stating that he had concerns regarding the paper but should not have shared confidential information. All agreed that the reviewer should be made aware of his mistake so as to prevent the occurrence of such an incident in the future.
The editor concerned has found this a useful learning experience. The reviewer was contacted (very tactfully but making it clear that he too had slipped up). No reply has been received to date.
The editors of this journal check all articles against Medline for possible redundant publications. Two very similar articles from an author were retrieved when the name of the author was searched. The titles were very similar, except for the name of the disease. The abstracts had almost 50% identical wording. The two articles were not related to the article submitted to the editors, but as they came up with such similarity, the editors looked them up, interested more as scientists and colleagues from the same university.
The editors found that the control groups were identical, but there was no cross referencing between the two articles, although they were published more than two years apart. The same controls were used for two different diseases, one more prevalent in women, the other in men. Finally, although the main point of the articles was measuring concentration of a substance in healthy subjects and patients, there was not a single value of the measurement. The only numbers provided in the tables were the results of the Mann–Whitney statistical test.
Surprised by such data presentation, especially because one of the journals was a respected journal from the editors’ country, the editors wrote to the editors of the two journals in question, and then to the head of the institution, explaining how they had learned about the problem, and asking for an explanation. The journals never replied. The institution head replied in quite a rude way, enclosing a letter from the authors, who wrote that they saw no problem because the papers had been through a peer review in respected journals. They stated that they originally submitted real numbers, but the reviewers asked for simplification of the tables (ie, taking out the actual values of the measured variables). The editors wrote to the journals again (twice), asking them to clarify this, but still did not get any answer.
The editors would like COPE’s advice on how to proceed?
As the papers in question were not from the editor’s own journal, the Forum reasoned that really the editor is in the position of whistleblower. The advice from the Forum was to submit a letter detailing the issues. In this way, even if it is rejected for publication, the editor will have to respond in some way and the matter will be in the editorial system. If the letter is rejected, then the editor can decide to appeal. If the editor still feels dissatisfied with the editor’s response, another suggestion was to contact the editorial board of the journals and then the publishers.
Although this case did not directly concern the editor’s journal, the editor felt is was necessary to pursue the issue because of its importantce to the scientific community in his country.
After several inquires, the editor received a response from the authors who stated that the reviewers asked them to remove data and only give statistics. The editor asked the editors of the two journals to provide him with the reviews but a reply was never received from the editors of either of the journals. As all of the authors are from the editor’s country and and one of the journals is an international journal from the same country, the editor has asked advice from the National Board for Ethics in Science and Higher Education, which has a mandate to investigate cases and give opinions to the Minsitry of Science, Education and Sports. The editor is currently awaiting their response.
May 2008 The National Board for Ethics in Science advised the editor to send the case to the University Ethics Board, as this is the next step after his appeal to the deans of the Medical and Dental Schools. The editor did not get the formal letter from the National Board for Ethics, but their decision is available online, in the annual report of the Board to the Parliament. The editor plans to follow the advice from the National Board for Ethics. The case continues.
August 2008 The editor received a reply from the National Board for Ethics in Science that he has to first bring this case to the University Ethics Council, before they (the Board) can give their opinion. The editor then sent the case to the University Ethics Council. The editor is awaiting their answer.
A paper was submitted to this journal and sent out to be refereed. The paper had five authors, all from the same institution and department. The bulk of the data were contained in four tables. One of the reviewers pointed out that these four tables were identical (verbatim) to those published recently in a paper by the same five authors in another journal.
The paper was rejected for publication (the other reviewer recommended rejection for other reasons).
The Instructions to Authors states clearly:
“Submission of a paper implies that it reports unpublished work and that it is not under consideration for publication elsewhere.”
I wrote to all of the authors by email explaining the decision and asking for an explanation. I received no reply. After a suitable period I wrote again asking for an immediate response. Again, I have heard nothing.
My inclination is to disqualify the five authors from submitting anything to the journal for a period of 3 years, and to write to their departmental dean informing him of this decision and of the reasons for it. I would also inform the editor of the journal in which the data were published already, because even though duplication has been avoided on this occasion, I feel that others should be alerted to possible future practices by these authors.
Before proceeding with this course of action, I would welcome the views and advice of COPE.
The committee wondered if it was possible that this was a misunderstanding, or that perhaps junior authors were involved who were unfamiliar with publication practices. The editor however thought that this was unlikely. The advice was to contact the authors a third time to give them the opportunity to present a legitimate reason. The authors should be given a deadline in which to respond, and obtaining a receipt that the email actually reached the authors was considered a good idea. In general, COPE is not in favour of banning authors because of the legal difficulties this may cause. The committee questioned whether it was fair to ban all of the authors or just the corresponding author, as often the other authors are unaware of the misconduct. Informing the editor of the journal in which the data were published already was thought to be a good idea.
After the advice from COPE, the editor did some searches on the first author and noticed two papers with similar titles, one of which was published in the editor’s journal in 2006. Both papers had the same four authors, all of whom were authors of the paper in question (which had a fifth author). On closer inspection the editor discovered that approximately 90% of the data in these two papers were the same. The text was also very similar and the references were the same. The editor informed the editors of the other journal, who noticed that some of the additions made on revision to their paper had appeared in the paper in question. The two papers had been submitted less than two months apart.
The editor emailed and wrote to all of the authors and received a reply only from the first author.
The letter from the first author stated that he was very sorry for the unethical issue raised about the articles but that the mistake was not intentional. He explained that the studies published in the editor’s journal were part of an experiment of which some of the results had been published in another journal. But as it took a long time to analyse all of the results and the results were not available when the first paper was submitted, the authors decided to publish the new results alone. When all of the results were compiled, the authors then decided to publish the previous results together with the new results in a new paper.
The author added that the results published in two of the journals had only one experiment in common. The author promised not to repeat this behaviour in the future.
Discussions with the editors of the other journal have continued and it has been decided that both of these papers should be retracted, having been improperly submitted. The editor has written to the authors to inform them of the action that has been taken and of the decision to bar them from submitting to the journal for the next three years. The editor has also informed their Faculty Dean by letter of this action and the reason for it, detailing both the case of attempted duplicate publication and the case of “successful” duplicate publication. The journal will be publishing a note of retraction, which will state the reason for it.
Author X recently published a paper in Journal Y and has asked for the paper to be retracted. The reason given is that part of the data presented in the paper was published without the permission of a colleague, who is not listed as an author of the paper (and probably does not qualify for full authorship). This colleague is now seeking to publish the data in another journal and it is implied that Author X is also a co-author on the second paper (which has been submitted, not yet accepted). During correspondence with Journal Y, Author X has confirmed that the data presented in the published paper are 'accurate and reproducible in all respects' and the conclusions of the paper are not affected. Author X acknowledges that this is a dispute regarding the use of data without permission, and understands that retraction is a serious matter. However rather than publish a correction, Author X prefers to retract the published paper in order to maintain a good relationship with colleagues. The decision to retract was reached through discussion with the researchers involved, and has not been requested by the authors' institution. As far as Journal Y knows, the institution has not been involved. Can and should Journal X refuse to publish a retraction on these grounds?
As the author has clearly stated that the data are correct, and the only dispute is a small section of the paper that was published without permission, the committee felt that a retraction is not necessary. As the degree of overlap is so small, this is unlikely to constitute duplicate submission. The second paper could cite the first paper and make a note that the data were published previously in error. The journal could publish a correction or an acknowledgement but the committee felt that the editor should hold firm and not agree to a retraction. The committee felt that contacting the author’s institution was not necessary in this instance.
The editor wrote to Author X and explained that COPE committee members had agreed that there were insufficient grounds to retract the paper published by Journal Y. Instead the editor recommended that Journal Y publish a correction to the paper acknowledging the input of the colleague who generated the data in question. The editor also noted that it should be made very clear to the editors of the other journal that the data had been previously published in Journal Y. Author X passed this recommendation onto his colleagues who then agreed to publication of a correction rather than retraction of the paper. Author X expressed appreciation to us and to COPE for helping to resolve this matter.
An article was submitted simultaneously to our journal and another journal (who is a member of COPE) on the same date. Both journals received letters saying that the article had not been submitted to another journal. When they received a favourable response from the other journal, and the article was published, we were informed by the authors that they wished to withdraw the paper from our journal. The authors claim that this was a result of a misunderstanding and poor communication between the authors.
I believe this is a poor excuse and I am not sure that I believe the authors. What do the committee think would be a proper reaction?
The advice from committee was to write to the author’s institution, reporting the behaviour of the authors. The committee agreed with the editor that it is most likely that the authors mislead the editors on this occasion as they must have signed two letters on the same day stating that the article had not been submitted to another journal.
The editor wrote to the authors but received a very unsatisfactory reply. The editor reported back to the editorial board. The editor has decided not to accept any submissions from these authors for the next two years.
An article by a Far Eastern group was published in our journal in November 2005. We were later alerted by an interested reader that the same article, slightly changed, was published in an American journal. I contacted the American journal and the article will now be officially retracted from that journal. Part of the explanation could be poor communication between the authors, but I am not sure this is the whole truth. Two of the authors accept guilt but are now asking that the others not be “punished”.
I would appreciate the committee’s advice on this matter as I have no experience regarding how to react to such situations. What is “the accepted way to react/punish”?
The committee agreed with the editor that it is unlikely that this was “an honest mistake” or misunderstanding on the part of the authors. It is most likely that the two papers were submitted for publication at the same time. The advice was to contact the author’s head of department informing him of the situation and asking him to consider investigating the case. Other advice offered was to contact the American journal and ask them if the authors had stated in a letter that the paper had not been published previously.
The editor received a very profuse apology from the authors who stated that the misunderstanding arose because of lack of communication between the authors. Those authors who thought that the paper had been rejected started a process with the American journal (where the paper was published 6 months later). The editor contacted the chief editor of the American journal and informed him of the situation. The article was officially retracted from the American journal. The editor has decided not to pursue the matter any further.
This case came to light when the editors of two journals (J1 and J2) established that the same manuscript (MsA) had been submitted to both journals simultaneously. On bringing this information to the attention of the author, stating the seriousness with which this action was viewed and requesting an explanation, the author apologised and withdrew the manuscript from both journals without offering an explanation.
The editor of J1 then brought this matter to the attention of all of the editors within this field in case they had also received the manuscript. The extent of the matter was then discovered, involving a number of different manuscripts and over half the journals in the field. It was felt that this was not an accident or misunderstanding of the rules of publishing. J1 have told the author that they will not consider a manuscript for publication for five years. Several journals, which currently have manuscripts from this author under consideration, are wondering what they should do.
To summarise the findings in order of discovery.
2006 Manuscript A (MsA): MsA was simultaneously submitted to J1, J2, and J5 after being simultaneously submitted to and rejected by J3 and J4. Author withdrew Ms from J1 and J2 after being asked for an explanation which was not provided.
Manuscript B (MsB): MsB was simultaneously submitted to J1, J3, J6, and J8; submissions dates were staggered and overlap occurred between at least two journals at any one time but not quite all four at once as J1 was the last one submitted, to the day after rejection by J3.
Author letters for three of the journals indicated that the Ms was not under consideration elsewhere. The author withdrew Ms from J6 without explanation. MsB is currently submitted to J7 with outcome pending this investigation. MsB was also submitted to J5 but the dates are not known and the author withdrew the Ms from this journal.
Manuscript C (MsC): MsC was simultaneously submitted to J3, J4, J6, and J8 (and possibly J5—no dates given). MsC was withdrawn from J6, J8, J5, and J4 without explanation. MsC was accepted and published as a letter by J3 in January 2006 online and in May 2006 in print. MsC was also possibly published as a full paper in J9 in June 2006. The abstract from the article in J9 is identical, apart from two sentences, to some of the text in the letter in J3 (the full paper was not available). The data presented in the abstract and letter are identical. It is suspected that this is a redundant publication.
2004/2005 Manuscript D (MsD): MsD was simultaneously submitted to J8, J2, and J7. J2 contacted J8 about possible duplicate submission. J8 rejected MsD based on reviewer reports and also added a note to the author informing them that there had been a report of possible duplicate submission with their Ms.
The abstract of MsD has been found to be identical to the abstract of an article published in June 2005 in J10 with the exception of two additional observations that occur in MsD. Are the authors seeking to publish a redundant publication?
The editors of all of the journals concerned would like advice on how this situation should be handled and what action should be taken. Although one journal has already chosen to ban the author from their journal for five years, is this a suitable course of action?
The committee agreed that the authors clearly knew what they were doing and could not plead ignorance. It was felt that sanctions based on submissions alone could be difficult as the authors could claim that they just wanted to submit their paper (rather than have them published) to several journals, even though the instructions to authors clearly state that duplicate submission is not acceptable. However, the committee was happy to back sanctions for those journals involved in duplicate publication of the papers.
The committee agreed that it was not sufficient to simply not publish the paper. Advice offered was to write to the authors, presenting all of the evidence, and stating that they had repeatedly been asked not to persist with this type of misconduct. The authors’ institutions should also be approached and the situation explained. It might be useful to ask the institution for an assurance that if the authors submit another paper to a journal that it has not been submitted elsewhere. The editor should also write to the authors informing them that he has written to their institutions.
The editors of the journals involved met to discuss this case. The consensus of the group was that this case definitely required action. Research by one of the journal editors had determined that there was no official institution and hence no head of department to write to concerning this matter. It was felt that a letter from all the journals that wished to participate would still be very beneficial as this would help to reinforce the fact that journals and editors do not operate in isolation. The draft letter that was taken to the meeting is to be modified and circulated. In order to prevent over reporting of a singular case, it was agreed that an editorial in all journals that wished to do so on duplicate submission, redundant publication, publishing procedures and ethics in general would be very beneficial.
Author X contacted the editor of Journal A to enquire whether the journal would be interested in a review of a new concept in the treatment of a disease, written by author X and two co-authors. Author X said that his co-authors had suggested writing the paper for another journal but he had convinced them to submit the paper to Journal A. The editor invited submission and, after peer review, the paper was published. Soon after the review was published by Journal A, a member of the editorial team noticed a review on the same topic by the same three authors published in a recent issue of Journal B. Neither article cited the other.
Comparison of the two articles revealed that some sections were very similar despite rewording. The general structure and order in which the ideas were presented in the two articles was much the same. Both reviews contained three figures reproduced from another article (as well as two different figures). Two thirds of the references were the same. There were some differences between the articles: some concepts had been explained in more detail in the article in Journal B, whereas Journal A’s article contained sections on basic science that were only briefly mentioned in Journal B. The concluding sections of the two articles were quite different.
The editor of Journal A contacted the corresponding author (Author Y) to ask for an explanation. Author Y was very apologetic and explained that they had been asked initially by Journal B, a new journal that had yet to publish its first issue, to write a review on this topic. They wrote the review, which was an academic article focusing on the basic science underlying this new concept and its therapeutic implications. When the first issues of Journal B were published, the authors realised that the article they had written was not suited to the intended readership of Journal B, which was oriented to the more general practitioner. They then decided to submit the review they had written to Journal A and write a more clinically focused review for Journal B. Author Y said it never occurred to him to mention the article they were writing for Journal B because the two articles were intended for different audiences and the orientation was different. Each review did not cite the other, he said, as neither had been accepted when the other was submitted.
The two articles do seem to be aimed at different audiences; however, the similarities between the two articles are obvious. Journal A feels that the authors should have been more open about the article’s history and informed the editors about the article they were writing for Journal B.
How should the editors proceed now?
The committee raised the point that this form of duplicate publication occurs frequently, in that authors feel that they can submit a paper to two different journals as they believe that the audiences are different. However, this is not acceptable, even in the case of review articles, unless the original paper is cited and the editor is informed. In this case, the committee felt that there was a lack of openness on the part of the authors.
The advice was to write to the authors saying that what they did was wrong, as outlined in the instructions to authors. Other advice was to ask the authors to insert a note in the review stating that a similar but not duplicate review has been published, and cite the other paper. It the authors are unwilling to do this, the journal should publish such a statement. Another suggestion was to raise the issue in an editorial.
Following COPE’s advice, the editor wrote a stern letter to the author, outlining the options considered at the COPE meeting (retraction of the paper, publishing an erratum, etc) but stating that it had been decided to take no further action. The author was told that a lack of openness can damage the trust between authors and editors. S/he was also told that the journal is considering changing the information for authors to request that for review articles authors notify them of any in press articles, similar in content to the paper under consideration.
Paper A appeared in a foreign language journal, together with an English abstract. Paper B was submitted to us, and one of our referees alerted us to the similar content.
Closer inspection, including retrieval of the original foreign language manuscript and review by a deputy editor with a working knowledge of that language, and inspection of the tables by the editor and another editor, indicated that the two papers contained largely identical data and had a similar content. The foreign language version included slightly more detail on the research setting, methods, and results compared with the English version, while in the English version there were some additional analyses and minor changes in the title and organisation of the content. Despite these differences, the text of the two versions was similar and the main messages and conclusions were the same.
On submission to us, paper B did not make reference to, acknowledge, or cite the previous foreign language publication. The covering letter to the journal stated: “Please note that neither the entire paper nor any part of its content has been published or accepted by another journal. The paper is not being submitted to any other journal”. When asked to supply the earlier paper, the authors included a covering note pointing to some differences (which we believe to be minor) and acknowledged “the possibility of an overlap between the foreign language paper and the submitted manuscript”.
We believe that parallel publication is quite common and acceptable when the purpose is to disseminate data from a foreign language-only paper more widely, but wonder whether the authors should have been more forthcoming or accurate in their citations and covering letter.
We would be grateful if COPE could advise us on the correct course of action in this case, and also provide more general guidance about the acceptability of publishing similar material in multiple languages.
The committee agreed that it was entirely acceptable to publish a paper in a foreign language journal and then in an English journal provided the first paper is cited in the second journal, and it is made clear to the editor at submission. Both journals should give consent as the first journal has copyright. Although in the case of this particular journal there was no explicit advice on this subject in the instructions to authors, it was felt that this advice is freely available and widely acknowledged.
The committee felt that the authors had deliberately misled the editor. One piece of advice was to write a strongly worded letter to the authors saying that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. Some members of the committee thought that stronger action was required to reflect the seriousness of the matter, and that the authors’ institutions should be informed.
It was suggested that the instructions to authors of the journal should be updated to explicitly state that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. The could be further highlighted in an accompanying editorial.
An email was received from a reader indicating a possible duplicate publication of an article that appeared in the journal in 2004, and a similar publication that appeared in another journal in 2003. The Editor immediately wrote to the author, and to the editor of the other journal, expressing his concerns. The author responded five days later saying that he did not believe that the papers were duplicates. The articles were sent to the COPE Chair (HM), who felt that the subsequent article, published in 2004, falls within the definition of duplicate publication, as the database, methods, and conclusion were the same in both papers. Moreover the authors did not refer to their previous paper when submitting the article.
What should the Editor do now?
It was suggested that the editor might like to first consult with members of the editorial board before making any final decision, but it was felt that ultimately he had no other choice than to retract the paper that appeared in his journal in 2004. It was also suggested that he should contact the editor of the other journal, as there may be copyright issues to resolve, and to also contact author’s institution informing them of the decision.