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Year : 2012  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 102-103

Why has the committee on publication ethics developed guidelines for cooperation between journals and research institutions?

Publications Consultant, Sideview, Princes Risborough, UK Chair, Committee on Publication Ethics (March 2009 - 2012), United Kingdom

Correspondence Address:
Elizabeth Wager
Publications Consultant, Sideview, Princes Risborough, UK Chair, Committee on Publication Ethics (March 2009 - 2012)
United Kingdom
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1658-354X.97018

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Date of Web Publication8-Jun-2012

How to cite this article:
Wager E. Why has the committee on publication ethics developed guidelines for cooperation between journals and research institutions?. Saudi J Anaesth 2012;6:102-3

How to cite this URL:
Wager E. Why has the committee on publication ethics developed guidelines for cooperation between journals and research institutions?. Saudi J Anaesth [serial online] 2012 [cited 2023 Feb 5];6:102-3. Available from:

The primary role of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) is to provide advice and guidance to journal editors and publishers on ethical issues. COPE also expects its member journals to follow its Code of Conduct. [1] The Code emphasizes that editors have a duty to pursue cases of suspected misconduct, but makes it clear that such cases should be investigated by the researchers' institutions, and not by the journal.

The COPE therefore recognizes the responsibility of research institutions (e.g., universities and hospitals) to investigate cases of suspected research or publication misconduct, such as, data fabrication or plagiarism. The COPE also emphasizes that journal editors should take responsibility for everything published in their journals, and recognizes that this often requires liaison with institutions, especially in cases of suspected or alleged misconduct.

Although journals should not generally attempt to investigate cases of suspected misconduct, editors are often the first people to become aware of possible problems. Suspicion of misconduct, or of honest errors, may surface during peer review or be raised by readers. When this happens, editors often need to refer the matter to the authors' institution(s) and request an investigation or clarification. Similarly, if an institutional investigation reveals problems in a published study, the editors need to respond appropriately, for example by issuing a retraction or correction.

Even when serious misconduct is not suspected, editors may seek clarification or arbitration from institutions, for example, in cases of disputed authorship or if questions arise about the ethical review or conduct of research. Therefore, it is important that journals and institutions have effective channels of communication and the ability to cooperate.

However, despite the importance of journals and institutions working together, COPE is aware that such cooperation does not always exist. The COPE member journals can bring challenging cases to its quarterly Forum meetings to seek advice from other members. The anonymized cases are entered into a database, which can be searched from the COPE website. Such cases cannot give an indication of the true frequency of problems, because editors probably bring only their most difficult cases to the COPE. Nevertheless, an analysis of cases in which the editors have tried to work with institutions show a worrying number of problems, ranging from unclear communications to institutions not responding at all. [2] Other sources have also suggested that journals do not always respond appropriately when contacted by institutions. [3]

Therefore, in the light of these findings, COPE has decided to develop guidelines on the cooperation between journals and research institutions on research integrity cases. [4] This document is based on the COPE's experience of the problems editors may face, and on wide consultation with institutions throughout the world, and those responsible for research integrity and investigating cases of suspected misconduct.

The key assumption underlying the guidelines is that, while journals should be responsible for the reliability of everything they publish, institutions should be responsible for the conduct of their researchers. In cases of proven serious misconduct, such as data fabrication or major plagiarism, journal and institutional policies are usually well-aligned. For example, in such cases, the institution would normally require researchers to retract their published articles and editors would also wish to do this, to prevent readers from being misled by unreliable publications. However, the guidelines make an important point that the editors' responsibility to safeguard readers means that they may use definitions of misconduct (or inappropriate publication activities) that are stricter than those used by institutions. Problems can therefore arise if a journal asks an institution to investigate behaviors such as duplicate publication, which clearly breaches the journal's policies and may mislead readers (and break copyright rules), yet these are not considered to be serious misconducts by an institution. In such cases, some junior researchers might be found not guilty of misconduct by their institution, but the journal may seek to retract the second publication. On account of the different responsibilities of journals and institutions, and recognizing that they may, quite legitimately, use different definitions of misconduct, the guidelines do not attempt to define misconduct, but focus instead, on the need to correct or retract publications that are unreliable, whatever the cause (including honest error).

The guidelines focus on how journals and institutions should respond to cases of suspected misconduct, as we felt little or no guidance was available on this topic. However, although not addressed in the current guidelines, COPE also recognizes the importance of education, training, and other processes aimed at preventing misconduct or detecting problems at an early stage.

The guidelines not only stress the need for effective communication between journals and institutions, but also recognize the need for confidentiality in certain circumstances or at certain stages of an investigation. One recommendation we particularly hope that institutions will follow is to identify a senior staff member (or team), who can be given the responsibility for research integrity. COPE believes this will greatly facilitate communication between journals and institutions and also encourage researchers to seek guidance about their own study and come forward with suspicions of misconduct or poor practices within the institution.

The COPE hopes that journals will promote and publicize the new guidelines, and appreciates the efforts of the Saudi Journal of Anesthesia in doing this. We also hope that researchers will discuss the guidelines in their institutions and work to incorporate them into institutional policies on research integrity. We also welcome comments and will review and revise the document as required. We hope that these guidelines represent a first step in a closer collaboration and cooperation between journals and research institutions, which may lead to a better understanding, and ultimately, to higher levels of research and publication integrity, and a swifter, more efficient resolution of misconduct cases.

  References Top

1.COPE Code of Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines for Journal Editors. Available from: of conduct for journal editors_0.pdf [last accessed on 2012 Mar 23].  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Wager E. Coping with misconduct. BMJ 2011;343:d6586 (also available at available from: [Last accessed on 2012 Mar 23].  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Sox HC, Rennie D. Research misconduct, retraction, and cleansing the medical literature. Lessons from the Poehlman case. Ann Intern Med 2006;144:609-13.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Wager E, Kleinert S on behalf of COPE Council. Cooperation between research institutions and journals on reseach integrity cases: Guidance from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Available from: and published in this issue …. (add cross reference) [Last accessed on 2012 Mar 23].  Back to cited text no. 4


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