Journals are aware of the need to correct flawed papers, but more guidance is needed on when to retract, a publication ethics expert has said.
Irene Hames, an editorial and publishing consultant, told the Committee on Publication Ethics’ European Seminar in Brussels last week that correcting literature was among the categories of cases where journal editors have increasingly sought its advice over recent years.
Cope writes up such cases anonymously and publishes them on its website. Dr Hames and three colleagues have now reclassified nearly 500 cases submitted since the committee was launched in 1997.
She told the conference that there were four categories in which the number of cases had risen in the most recent period examined, from 2009 to 2012.
First, regarding correcting the literature, she said editors’ awareness of the issue had been raised by websites such as Retraction Watch, as well as from being contacted by increasing numbers of whistleblowers, who can now carry out analyses of large numbers of papers as a result of the digitisation of journals.
“Editors know they have to correct but don’t know whether to issue a retraction, correction or expression of concern,” she said. “There are cases where a journal has retracted and people have called for the retraction to be retracted because the journal has [made a decision] too quickly.”
She hoped Cope would develop more guidance on the topic.
Another increasing area of concern was the process and editorial decisions arising from peer review. The growth was largely a result of several recent examples of authors, such as South Korean plant scientist Hyung-In Moon, who fraudulently submitted reviews of their own papers.
A third growing category was data, comprising unauthorised use and image manipulation. Dr Hames said typical cases involved researchers publishing papers without collaborators’ consent, or disputes with commercial partners about what use could be made of jointly generated data.
She said the problem was exacerbated by the increasingly collaborative nature of research and wide variations in disciplinary and national norms.
The fourth expanding category of concern was “misconduct/questionable behaviour”. However, Dr Hames emphasised that Cope took no view on whether misconduct had actually occurred, so it would be false to conclude it was increasing.
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