COPEing with publication ethics issues – notes from the European Seminar

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The Biology and Medical Editors recently attended the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) European Seminar, held at Charles Darwin House, London. The theme of the seminar was “Publication ethics from student to professional”, and the talks ranged from the role of institutions in investigating research misconduct to plagiarism at the student level.

Professor Pieter Drenth, Honorary President of the All European Academies, provided an in-depth discussion of institutional responses to violations of research integrity. We Editors rely heavily on institutional support in dealing with issues such as authorship disputes and allegations of research misconduct. It was useful to gain an insight into the guidance available for institutions, including for funding agencies and academies of science in addition to universities and research institutes.

Gill Rowell, Academic Advisor at Turnitin, presented an interesting perspective on student plagiarism, emphasising the need to educate rather than simply punish individuals. She told us about some practical measures used by Turnitin to communicate the message; these include, but are not limited to, talking heads, quizzes, animated guides and a self-test facility.

Irene Hames, COPE Council Member, announced the launch of COPE’s Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers, which complement our own journal-specific guidelines. She briefly discussed the reasoning behind the project, citing a lack of generic guidelines for peer reviewers across different disciplines. Irene explained that in addition to setting out “the basic principles and standards to which all peer reviewers should adhere”, the document also provides guidance on specific issues, such as the involvement of junior researchers in the review process, reviewing work from authors for whom English is not their first language and Editors acting as referees on manuscript they are handling. The reviewer guidelines will now be disseminated widely, and we are sure will be most welcome.

Following breakout sessions where we discussed anonymised COPE cases, Ginny Barbour, COPE Chair, brought the meeting to a close with debate on how Editors should respond to anonymous whistle-blowers. It was an informative and interesting day that provided opportunities for us to catch up with old and new acquaintances from the publishing world and keep abreast of developments. We look forward to next year’s seminar.