On the following pages, PJEST provides practical guidance to Journal Editors and Society & Publishing Partners which helps manage the repercussions potentially arising from publishing work that could be in breach of the codes of conduct.
Researchers should conduct their research – from research proposal to publication – in line with best practices and codes of conduct of relevant professional bodies and/or national and international regulatory bodies. In rare cases it is possible that ethical issues or misconduct could be encountered in your journal when research is submitted for publication.
Important! We advise you to contact your PJEST Publishing Editor if you are dealing with a (potential) case of publishing misconduct.
PJEST and the Committee on Publication Ethics
PJEST is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and subscribes to its principles on how to deal with acts of misconduct. PJEST strongly recommends journal editors to join COPE and thereby adhere to the principles of COPE, committing to investigate allegations of misconduct and to ensure the integrity of research.
For joining please contact your PJEST Publishing Editor.
Developing a publishing ethics policy for your journal
Almost every step in the publishing process involves important ethical principles. Having clear statements on these issues can encourage responsible publication practices.
COPE has designed guidelines that can be used to audit your journal in order to define which of the processes and practices require attention.
A clear description of ethical principles will help manage author expectations and will help manage situations that may arise if these statements have not been adhered to by authors. Below you will find a few of the most important ethical principles
- Clear guidelines on submission of the work
- What type of content is or is not acceptable for publication
- Guidelines on what constitutes authorship and how proposed changes to authorship are handled
- Description of the peer review process
- Inclusion of the necessary ethical statements if required
Ethical issues and what to do when you are encountering possible misconduct?
It should be noted there are two distinct situations: serious scientific fraud or errors. Errors could be due to negligence (for example statistical errors) or honest errors which are part of the normal course of doing research. It is therefore important to treat potential cases with care as academic careers could be at risk.
Five steps to follow when encountering possible misconduct:
- Remain a neutral player and treat all potential misconduct cases confidentially
- Keep records of written communication including the allegation and the evidence of the complainant
- Raise the issue with the accused (co-)author in a timely manner
- Assess what exactly has happened (fact finding) and be transparent and final about decisions
- In case of potential media attention (e.g. as soon as the media is aware) or legal questions please contact your PJEST Publishing Editor who will liaise with PJEST Nature’s Communications department and/or the Legal Department.
Six fundamental ethical issues have been defined, and procedures for responding to misconduct have been outlined below. Please note that these guidelines are not intended to provide or substitute legal advice. Each ethical issue is followed by recommended actions as advised by COPE for Journal Editors and when available additional reading has been added. Clicking on the link will give you a flowchart with the actions stipulated. Please note that flowcharts are making a distinction between ethical issues in a submitted manuscript and published article.
For follow-up actions by PJEST on how to correct the literature upon discovery of misconduct or changes to articles that affect the interpretation and conclusion of the article, but do not fully invalidate the article after publication; see ‘How to correct the literature’?
Note! Always contact your PJEST Publishing Editor if you are confronted with an ethical issue.
Data fabrication / data falsification
Data fabrication: This concerns the making up of research findings.
Data falsification: Manipulating research data with the intention of giving a false impression. This includes manipulating images (e.g. micrographs, gels, radiological images), removing outliers or “inconvenient” results, changing, adding or omitting data points, etc.
With regard to image manipulation it is allowed to technically improve images for readability. Proper technical manipulation refers to adjusting the contrast and/or brightness or color balance if it is applied to the complete digital image (and not parts of the image). Any technical manipulation by the author should be notified in the cover letter to the Journal Editor upon submission. Improper technical manipulation refers to obscuring, enhancing, deleting and/or introducing new elements into an image. Generally, if an author’s figures are questionable, it is suggested to request the original data from the authors.
Duplicate submission / publication and redundant publication
Duplicate submission / publication: This refers to the practice of submitting the same study to two journals or publishing more or less the same study in two journals. These submissions/publications can be nearly simultaneous or years later.
Redundant publication (also described as ‘salami publishing’): this refers to the situation that one study is split into several parts and submitted to two or more journals. Or the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper cross-referencing, permission or justification. “Self-plagiarism” is considered a form of redundant publication. It concerns recycling or borrowing content from previous work without citation. This practice is widespread and might be unintentional. Transparency by the author on the use of previously published work usually provides the necessary information to make an assessment on whether it is deliberate or unintentional.
Note! Translations of articles without proper permission or notification and resubmission of previously published Open Access articles are considered duplications.
Duplication of text and/or figures (plagiarism)
Plagiarism occurs when someone presents the work of others (data, text, or theories) as if it was his/her own without proper acknowledgment. There are different degrees of plagiarism.
The severity is dependent on various factors: extent of copied material, originality of copied material, position/context/type of material and referencing/attribution of the material used.
Every case is different and therefore decisions will vary per case. Ask yourself the following question: Does it concern an honest mistake or is there an intentional deviation from the scientific norm? Please note there are many grey areas between honest, questionable and fraudulent practices.
Whilst reviewing the case consider the following factors:
- Author seniority. Junior authors may be asked to paraphrase the copied text if it is believed that they are genuinely not aware that copying phrases is inappropriate. It is expected that a senior author should know better
- Cultural background could be an indication for potentially different behaviors concerning the amount of copying which could be seen as plagiarism
The following listing is designed to make you aware of the various possibilities concerning plagiarism:
- Verbatim copying of another’s work and submitting it as one’s own.
- Verbatim copying of significant portions of text from a single source.
- Mixing verbatim copied material from multiple sources (“patchwork copying”). This could range from 1 or 2 paragraphs to significant portions consisting of several paragraphs.
- Changing key words and phrases but retaining the essential content of the source as a framework.
- Rephrasing of the text’s original wording and/or structure and submitting it as one’s own.
- Mixing slightly rephrased material from multiple sources and presenting what has been published already as new.
- The work is cited, but the cited portions are not clearly identified. This can be combined with copied parts of text without citation.
However, for review papers the above is not directly applicable. Review papers are expected to give a summary of existing literature. Authors should use their own words with exception of properly quoted and/or cited texts and the work should include a new interpretation.
COPE has written an article with advice on how to spot potential authorship problems. Most authorship problems have to do with authorship without the author’s knowledge and unacknowledged authorship. For more information on authorship.
Undeclared conflict of interest (CoI)
A conflict of interest is a situation in which financial or other personal considerations from authors or reviewers have the potential to compromise or bias professional judgment and objectivity. Authors and reviewers should declare all conflicts of interest relevant to the work under consideration (i.e. relationships, both financial and personal, that might interfere with the interpretation of the work) to avoid the potential for bias.
What to do when misconduct is beyond the means of Journal Editors to investigate?
If allegations of scientific misconduct cannot be resolved or if the response received from the parties involved is unsatisfactory or if the misconduct is beyond the means of the Journal Editor and Board to investigate (often occurring in cases of data fabrication/falsification, stolen data, and author disputes amongst others), you are advised to refer the case to the author’s institution (or employer or other regulatory body) and request an investigation.
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