What we often perceive as independent quality certificates of publishing ethics are sometimes apparently nothing more than a fig leaf. This is especially true for journals self-registering with the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). Yet most strikingly, even official paying members of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) are not really bound to follow the rules of good editorial practice this organization advices. This happens with open consent of COPE, as the examples of Frontiers and also Nature Publishing Group demonstrate. In fact, the COPE council even appears partially managed by the very publisher which openly admits to ignoring its publication ethics guidelines: Frontiers.
After the Swiss publisher Frontiers was listed by Jeffrey Beall as a potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publisher, the Frontiers Communications Office provided a comment under the relevant news article in Nature. It argued against Beall’s listing by mentioning the awards Frontiers received and the Frontiers membership on the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). In fact, Frontiers writes on their website, under the heading Publication Ethics and Malpractice:
“Frontiers endeavors to follow the guidelines and best practice recommendations published by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). […] Frontiers follows the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) guidelines including its recommended authorship criteria. Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine is listed as a journal following ICMJE recommendations on its website.”
So how can a publisher, which journals obviously received the approval of such highly respected publishing ethics organizations as ICMJE and COPE, find itself on Beall’s list? One clue might be: because both ICMJE and COPE leave it to their subscribers as whether to actually follow their recommendations. Publishers, who choose to ignore the ICMJE and COPE advice on publication ethics, are neither requested to comply, nor are they banished if they don’t.
As a reminder, the editorial conflict at Frontiers arose because medical chief editors felt they had little influence on which papers were accepted for publication in their journals and on which criteria. They also perceived the publisher-imposed rules, which strongly discourage manuscript rejection, as hurdles to their editorial duties to prevent the publication of seriously flawed medical papers. Yet in a reply to the editorial Manifesto, Frontiers wrote:
“Frontiers practices abide by these guidelines [ICMJE and COPE]. We are now formalizing this by officially registering our journals with these associations. Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine, for example, is listed by ICMJE as a journal that complies to their guidelines”.
Right after the sacking of almost all medical chief editors, Frontiers biomedical and neuroscience journals were indeed enlisted en masse as “following the ICMJE Recommendations”, including Frontiers in Medicine and Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine, which did not even have their accountable chief editors anymore. Interestingly, a section of ICMJE recommendations concerns “journal owners and editorial freedom”. On the latter, it says:
“The ICMJE adopts the World Association of Medical Editors’ [WAME] definition of editorial freedom, which holds that editors-in-chief have full authority over the entire editorial content of their journal and the timing of publication of that content. Journal owners should not interfere in the evaluation, selection, scheduling, or editing of individual articles either directly or by creating an environment that strongly influences decisions. Editors should base editorial decisions on the validity of the work and its importance to the journal’s readers, not on the commercial implications for the journal, and editors should be free to express critical but responsible views about all aspects of medicine without fear of retribution, even if these views conflict with the commercial goals of the publisher”.
I have contacted ICMJE with an inquiry, how the journals of a publisher, which seems to openly oppose the ICMJE and WAME-defined editorial independence, could become listed as following these very recommendations. This was the unsigned reply I received:
“The list includes journals whose editors or publishers have contacted the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) to request listing. We are not able to confirm the actual editorial practices of non-ICMJE journals. As is noted at our website: The ICMJE cannot verify the completeness or accuracy of this list”.
My understanding was therefore, that just because a journal has itself listed as “following the ICMJE Recommendations”, it does not necessarily mean that this journal or its publisher are also required to actually implement these. The self-accomplished ICMJE listing is obviously not really attached to the actual act or even intent of “following the ICMJE Recommendations”.
Indeed, the ICMJE Journal Listing Request Form seems to allow anyone to self-enlist as “Following the ICMJE Recommendations”, apparently without further proceedings attached to it. Also, as Darren Taichman, Secretary of ICMJE, wrote in his follow-up email to me: “ICMJE does not collect fees from or certify anyone. And, Frontiers is not a member of ICMJE”. Therefore, in the case of ICMJE one should always make a distinction in publishing ethics expectations between its proper members such as The BMJ, JAMA or The Lancet on the one hand and the “Journals Following the ICMJE Recommendations” on the other.
With the Frontiers involvement with COPE however, it is different. Frontiers COPE membership is official and it costs. Even though the Swiss publisher enlisted only 50 of its 54 journals (thus also reducing its annual membership fee from £5,353 to £3,275), it still is one of the larger contributors to the COPE budget (COPE is legally a charity and thus likely relies on membership fees and donations).
Frontiers joined COPE in January 2015. Exactly one year before, the COPE council member Mirjam Curno, joined Frontiers in her main professional occupation as journal manager. Virginia Barbour, Chair of COPE, has specified in her email to me and in comment on my earlier Frontiers article:
“Mirjam Curno is a member of COPE council – a position she was elected to when she was employed at the Journal of the International AIDS Society in 2012 and which continued (with the agreement of the COPE Council and on becoming an Associate Member of COPE) after she moved to Frontiers; she is now also a trustee of COPE.”
As aside, Curno is not the only COPE council member primarily employed by a commercial for-profit publisher, who is also simultaneously COPE member. Treasurer Chris Leonard is Head of academic and journals publishing at Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation. Former Treasurer and now Co-Vice-Chair Chris Graf works as associate editorial director at Wiley-Blackwell.
It proved rather difficult to engage with Curno on the matter of editorial ethics in regard to her current main employer, Frontiers. In August 2015, I wrote Curno an email, addressing her explicitly in her function as COPE council member (for lack of other options I used Curno’s contact email @frontiersin.org). My inquiry was about the shortfall of editorial independence at Frontiers, as perceived by the former medical editors and detailed in their editorial Manifesto. My specific concern presented to the COPE council member Curno was, that this situation might be in conflict with the Code of Conduct for Publishers as issued by COPE. The Code namely stipulates that publishers should ”foster editorial independence” and that they
“should work with journal editors to set journal policies appropriately and aim to meet those policies, particularly with respect to:
– Editorial independence
– Research ethics, including confidentiality, consent, and the special requirements for human and animal research
– Transparency and integrity (for example, conflicts of interest, research funding, reporting standards – Peer review and the role of the editorial team beyond that of the journal editor”
Yet these were exactly the demands which the Frontiers medical editors have issued in their manifesto and for which they were collectively sacked by Fenter on behalf of the publisher.
Since that email two months ago, I never received any reply at all from my direct addressee Curno. Instead, soon afterwards, an email from Frederick Fenter, Frontiers Executive Editor arrived:
“I have learned that you have been in contact with my colleague Dr. Curno with another round of questions. I remain your contact here at Frontiers for any such requests”.
In his follow-up email, Fenter stated the following:
“Please do not confuse COPE’s business with Frontiers’ business. If you have queries for COPE, please use their well-established procedures. Questions concerning Frontiers should be addressed to me. There is absolutely no conflict between our way of operating and the COPE guidelines. The processes we have implemented are fully compliant, which is obvious to those who read publicly available information”.
Fenter then proceeded on to explain the Frontiers principles, most of which I have already relayed in a comment to the relevant article. While I am very grateful to Dr. Fenter for addressing all my concerns rapidly and in detailed and extensive manner, he could hardly help me understand the side of “COPE’s business” in regard to Frontiers, for which I specifically have contacted Dr. Curno.
In fact, I was somewhat surprised that a COPE trustee is, for some reason, not able to correspond on her own about the implementations of COPE guidelines by its publisher members. I was left confused as to whether Dr. Curno is a dedicated academic, appointed as COPE trustee against her numerous highly qualified competitors for her engagement and contributions to publication ethics, or if she is currently rather a non-autonomous COPE delegate of her main employer, the publishing house Frontiers. The fact that all communication regarding Curno’s role at COPE happened through her employer at Frontiers, Fenter, as well as the COPE Chair, Barbour, might be interpreted as evidence for the latter.
Regarding concerns about Frontiers editorial process, Barbour (who is also one of the founding editors and formal editorial director of PLOS Medicine), wrote in her email to me and in the COPE public statement:
“We note that there have been vigorous discussions about, and some editors are uncomfortable with, the editorial processes at Frontiers. However, the processes are declared clearly on the publisher’s site and we do not believe there is any attempt to deceive either editors or authors about these processes. Publishing is evolving rapidly and new models are being tried out. At this point we have no concerns about Frontiers being a COPE member and are happy to work with them as they explore these new models”.
However, Frontiers is not the only recent COPE publisher member which seems to openly take a stance which might be interpreted as contradicting COPE guidelines. Another such example is the much bigger Nature Publishing Group (which mother company, the German publisher Holtzbrinck, also partially owns Frontiers). NPG also has recently joined COPE, with 123 of its journals, including the flagship Nature and other Nature family journals.
Shortly before this, the journal Nature Communications has retracted a paper, with apparently the sole argument being that of authors’ disagreement over the approval of publication. I have reported on this conflict involving Jan Ellenberg, head of research unit at EMBL in Heidelberg, and his former postdoctoral scientist, Aïcha Metchat, for Laborjournal, in German. In such cases, where “there is no reason to doubt the validity of the findings”, COPE retraction guidelines advise the editors to consider a correction, instead of retraction. Even Nature’s own website is quite in agreement with COPE and refers to retractions solely as “notification of invalid results”, which “are judged according to whether the main conclusion of the paper no longer holds or is seriously undermined”. Otherwise, the NPG retraction policies give no mention of authors’ conflicts over the publication of otherwise valid data.
Yet Alice Henchley, Head of Press at NPG, has forwarded me this statement by the Chief Life Sciences Editor at Nature Communications, Niki Scaplehorn:
“Since the publication of the retraction, we have indeed become members of COPE, which provides guidance on publication ethics. The COPE guidelines do not, however, replace our editorial policies, which remain in effect as they were when the decision to retract the paper was made and are clearly detailed on our website”.
Thus, COPE members are not really that bound to precisely follow COPE guidelines. Originally, COPE was founded as “a forum for its members”, and beyond this: “COPE provides advice to editors and publishers on all aspects of publication ethics and, in particular, how to handle cases of research and publication misconduct”. The COPE website also insists: “All COPE members are expected to follow the Code of Conduct for Journal Editors”. Yet this very Code advises that “editors should follow the COPE guidelines on retractions”, which Nature Communications did not. Also, in several instances the Code unmistakably stipulates the demand for editorial independence, the deficit of which Frontiers has been accused of. Understandably, as a discussion and advisory forum COPE is in no position to enforce the adherence of its members to the guidelines they have voluntarily subscribed to. But even then, do such journals and publishers have to be welcomed or tolerated by COPE as its members?
One could argue that it is a wiser approach to engage uncooperative publishers as COPE members, with the expectation that they would little by little eventually adjust their editorial practices to the COPE guidelines on publication ethics. This might be one very enticing future outcome. Another, less desirable one, could be that the new COPE members, likely together with their financially dependent representatives on the COPE council, could simply write a new set of publication ethics guidelines, which may be very different from the current one. Indeed, COPE is a constantly developing discussion forum, and the currently valid guidelines for editors and publishers were formulated by the earlier COPE members’ circle. Who knows, if in the future COPE code of conduct, a demand for editorial independence might actually be deemed as editorial misconduct. After all, there are not many industries where such high profits are being made as in academic publishing.
02.11.2015: The PLOS affiliation of Dr. Barbour has been corrected as a former one, according to her own feedback (s. below). I apologise for using outdated information from the PLOS website (http://blogs.plos.org/speakingofmedicine/author/virginia_barbour/).
See below for some preliminary information about the way how COPE is currently funded. The information was retrieved from the internet at around 15 September 2015. It is thus well possible that details are outdated.
(1): Total incoming resources: 278,176 GBP (2013). Incoming resources from subscriptions: 263,525 GBP (2013). Source: http://publicationethics.org/files/u7140/Signed_2013_Financial_StatementsFINAL.pdf
(2): Company membership subscription rates 2015.
No of journals. Cost per annum:
2001-2500: 54,579 GBP.
1501-2000: 44,113 GBP.
1001-1500: 31,520 GBP.
501-1000: 18,405 GBP.
251-500: 10,538 GBP.
101-250: 9,540 GBP.
51-100: 5,353 GBP.
26-50: 3,275 GBP.
11-25: 1,443 GBP.
5-10: 682 GBP.
(3): List with the number of journals of some major publishers who are currently member of COPE:
http://www.elsevier.com/journals/title/all “Showing 1 – 20 of 3159 Journals”
http://www.springer.com/gp/eproducts/springer-journals “The SpringerLink online journal collection includes more than 2.200 English-language journals.”
http://olabout.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-406089.html “Wiley offers an exceptional portfolio of over 4 million articles from 1,500 journals.”
http://www.hindawi.com/ “Hindawi is a rapidly growing academic publisher with 437 peer-reviewed, open access journals”
http://www.mdpi.com/about “MDPI publishes over 120 diverse open access electronic journals”
https://www.plos.org/publications/ “The PLOS Suite of Journals: PLOS ONE, PLOS Biology, PLOS Medicine, PLOS Genetics, PLOS Computational Biology, PLOS Pathogens, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.”
(4): the subscription rates for 2015 for some of the members of COPE:
Elsevier: 54,579 GBP for 2015 (+ 18,405 GBP for 2015?).
Taylor and Francis: 54,579 GBP for 2015.
Springer: 54,579 GBP for 2015.
Wiley: 44,113 GBP for 2015 (or 31,520 GBP for 2015?).
Hindawi: 10,538 GBP for 2015.
MDPI: 9,540 GBP for 2015.
PLOS: no member.
The ‘Conflict of interest form’ for members of the council of COPE state: “While COIs will be reviewed annually, they must also be specifically declared at the beginning of each Council or Forum meeting or before participation in any complaints processes. COIs are posted on COPE’s website.”
The COI of Council member Mirjam Curno was undated when it was retrieved from the site of COPE at around 15 September 2015. It lists:
* “Journal Name (if editor): Journal of the International AIDS Society.”
* “Publisher: International AIDS Society.”
This COI statement of Mirjam Curno does not provide any details about her activities at Frontiers.
LS states: “Frontiers joined COPE in January 2015. Exactly one year before, the COPE council member Mirjam Curno, joined Frontiers in her main professional occupation as journal manager.”
One might therefore conclude that the COI statement of Mirjam Curno was outdated when retrieved from the site of COPE at around 15 September 2015. One might also conclude that Mirjam Curno has not attended a meeting of the Council of COPE and/or a Forum meeting and/or was participant in any complaint process for already a quite long period of time.
Dr Schneider seems to be implying that there is some sort of conspiracy about how COPE is run, its aims, and how publishers or journals become members. I’m responding to explain what COPE does and where it sits in the entire landscape of publication ethics.
COPE is a membership organisation, not a statutory or regulatory one, and everything that we do is driven by that. Our structure, governance, and finance are all laid out on our website http://publicationethics.org/about/governance – including the process for election of officers and trustees by the council at the AGM and of council members who are elected by the general membership.
To be elected to COPE Council the nominee must be a member of COPE as per our Articles of Association (http://publicationethics.org/files/Articles_%20of_%20Association_9September2015.pdf). As such, it is inevitable that all of the council members and trustees are either working at journals or publishers or have other expertise relating to publication ethics – that is what makes them effective COPE council members and trustees.
It is of note that the vast majority of the general membership of COPE – of which there are more than 10,000 – are Editors-in-Chief of journals, with only a relatively few memberships being held directly by representatives of publishers. Of those Editors-in-Chief, the majority are academics who choose to use their time to run their respective journals. Mirroring that reality, COPE Council has a mix of professionals employed by their respective journals or publishers and academic editors.
We all have different perspectives (for example, I’m well known as someone who works for open access) as do the organisations we work for (and we certainly do work to promote publication ethics at the places we work) but we don’t allow these perspectives to bias what advice we give. We have stringent processes in place to recuse ourselves if there are competing interests. Mirjam Curno, as I have already stated, had no part in the decision at COPE as to whether Frontiers became a member. The positions of officers, trustees and council members are voluntary and unpaid and council members and trustees work very hard on their own time to produce the guidance and resources we offer. We have one permanent member of staff (our Executive Officer) plus a small freelance team, who are paid.
COPE started as a very small discussion group among editors and our major discussions – still called forums – happen 4 times per year and are where we discuss and advise, but don’t dictate, how members could handle the cases they bring. As a membership organisation, our primary aims are to provide advice, support and education to our members, to be part of discussions on publication ethics more widely and, as the need arises, to help develop responses to novel issues that arise (eg the recent fake peer reviewer issues). We aim to do all this in a professional way in an area that we know that can lead to highly charged debates. The style of COPE is both educational, rather than quasi-legal, and collegial.
COPE has never expected to be the only organisation who has an opinion or guidelines in this area. All of our resources (except for an online course and an audit tool) are freely available on our site and we know they are used by many groups who are not members. We encourage other organisations to have their own guidelines and to draw on ours if they wish and we have provided input into the development of some of these if asked.
There are some factual inaccuracies in this piece that need to be corrected. I was one of the founding editors of PLOS Medicine, the journal, not PLOS, the organisation. I don’t work there now, I now work for the Australasian Open Access Support Group. COPE, as a charity and membership organization, receives annual fees from its members and has never received independent donations.
You suggest that “new COPE members, likely together with their financially dependent representatives on the COPE council, could simply write a new set of publication ethics guidelines, which may be very different from the current one.” Our guidelines will certainly evolve over time as needed but we have processes in place to consult widely on them and the suggestion that editorial independence would be considered misconduct is frankly absurd. No one group dominates our discussions and we welcome wide input. The very fact that our current guidelines are so widely used by diverse groups points to their relevance across a wide variety of journals and publishers and even institutions.
Publishing is a rapidly evolving ecosystem of different models. Publication ethics – entwined as it is with pressure to publish, and the other incentives and rewards in academia – is also becoming more complex. We know that there is a wide range of opinions on how journals and publishers should respond to issues that arise, especially new ones, and there are no easy answers – even to what seem like simple issues. The new models of publishing also throw up specific new challenges and we believe that these challenges need the many different groups involved to have robust discussions – but it does also need these discussions to happen in a constructive way.
On a personal note, chairing COPE is one of the hardest but most rewarding positions I’ve ever had and I’m immensely grateful for colleagues and staff at COPE, as well as COPE members, who are prepared to engage in this important area.
Dear Dr. Barbour, many thanks for your feedback and my apologies for using outdated information on your affiliation with PLOS (which is now corrected).
At this stage, I have named two recent COPE members (one large, Frontiers, and one very large, NPG) which apparently chose to place internal guidelines over those of COPE recommendations. In fact, you do not disagree that this has been the case, and do not indicate that COPE would officially oppose these strategies of the new COPE publisher members.
These new members are as such in fact likely invited to contribute to future discussions and COPE guideline development (which, as you yourself stated, are not static).
As in regard to COPE council member Dr. Curno, I am still puzzled why my inquiry to her about COPE policies on editorial independence was answered at that time exclusively by Dr. Fenter of Frontiers, and not by Dr. Curno herself (or any other senior COPE representative).
Further to Klaas’ comments above: the UK Charity Commission forms don’t list individual remuneration but the outlay for “wages and salaries” was GBP 51,644 in 2014 and there was one employee. That’s a decent full-time income and a nice little earner if it’s in addition to another job, but we don’t know who the employee is.
Dr Barbour is also Executive Officer of The Australian Open Access Support Group (AOASG); I cannot find much information on that organization. It doesn’t seem to be registered as an Australian charity, and is “supported by” about 17 Australian and NZ universities. It does pay Dr Barbour a (part time?) salary, as per her COI statement (http://publicationethics.org/files/u7141/Virginia%20Barbour%20COIs%20September%202015.pdf).
My thoughts on COPE are outlined in this blog post… http://www.psblab.org/?p=410
These thoughts stem mostly from this incident…http://www.psblab.org/?p=334
Overall, I am not too impressed with the ability of COPE to wield any sort of power to change underlying journal practices. The wording of the guidelines contains a brief statement to the effect that “if a solution cannot be reached, the journal/publisher will be asked to reconsider their continued membership” I can’t remember the exact wording, but I do not believe there is a single documented example of the journal/publisher ever being thrown out. So, either everyone is very compliant (unlikely given what we now know), or the “threat” of dismissal is an empty one.
As is (unfortunately) the case also for the US Office of Research Integrity, the consequences or sanctions for misbehavior are rather weak, which provides little incentive for anyone to change their ways, even when caught doing things wrongly.
COPE is currently processing three complaints which I have filed against publisher Taylor & Francis. These complaints were filed on 6, 8 and 10 July 2015. They focus around the refusal of publisher Taylor & Francis to retract a paper, and a comment, loaded with fabricated data.
COPE wrote to me on 26 July 2015: “Your concerns have been reviewed by the COPE subcommittee that handles complaints and they have established that COPE will be pursuing the case as a complaint. (…) COPE will contact the publisher and request their comments on the concerns raised. COPE will copy you in the correspondence to the publisher, we will aim to do the same in any future correspondence with the publisher unless issues come to light which should be handled confidentially.”
I received until now not a single piece of the correspondence of COPE with publisher Taylor & Francis.
I am working closely together with a large bunch of ornithologists and conservationalists. At least three of the co-authors of the comment of Porter et al http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09397140.2015.1023424#.VfBBh9LtlHx are EiC of an ornihological journal (or hold a position which is more or less equal to EiC). All three journals are very well respected within the community. None these journals is member of COPE.
See https://pubpeer.com/publications/7DA806A8062EF9474F1A53717B9D1D#fb36200 for more details.
I would like to note that I have received until now not a single piece of the correspondence of COPE with publisher Taylor & Francis. I am therefore already waiting 198 days to get these correspondence. I have contacted a large variety of relevant parties / allies of COPE about this lack of response from the side of COPE. This was until now also unsuccesful. I do have loads and loads of auto-replies. Anyone any idea what to do next?
I recommend a thorough reading of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” (or if you are Francophone, “En attendant Godot”.
You can then, like the rest of us, apply to play Estagon, as we have a lot of experience!
I would like to note that I have until now, Thursday 7 September 2017, not received a single piece of this correspondence of COPE with publisher Taylor & Francis. The promise ‘COPE will contact the publisher and request their comments on the concerns raised. COPE will copy you in the correspondence to the publisher’ of 26 July 2015, so over 2 years ago, was made by Iratxe Puebla, in her capacity as consultant for COPE.
Iratxe Puebla is the Managing Editor of the journal PLOS ONE. Recent contacts with several members of the staff of PLOS with requests to get this correspondence between Iratxe Puebla and publisher Taylor & Francis yielded a response from PLOS, dated 28 August 2017, in which it was stated: ‘Given that the matters about which you are complaining concern another publisher, PLOS has no comment on them.’ So no confirmation from the side of PLOS that this correspondence exists.
See https://www.researchgate.net/project/Retracting-fraudulent-articles-on-the-breeding-biology-of-the-Basra-Reed-Warbler-Acrocephalus-griseldis and https://www.academia.edu/33827046 for backgrounds, and don’t hesitate to join the debate, over here or elsewhere.
Craig Hassapakis is the EiC of Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (ARC, http://amphibian-reptile-conservation.org/ ). This journal is also not member of COPE (at least according to http://publicationethics.org/members ).
Craig Hassapakis did not hesitate to retract very quickly a paper with data on the occurrence of salamanders in Iraq when he received a message that the first author, Omar Al-Sheikhly from Iraq, had incorporated in this paper unpublished data from an ongoing PhD project of a PhD student of Ege University (Turkey). Craig Hassapakis told me that he had done an internship with PLOS in San Francisco and thus knew how to handle when he received an e-mail from the PhD student. This e-mail was received on 2 August 2013 and the paper was retracted in August 2013 (see http://amphibian-reptile-conservation.org/archive.html for details, Neurergus (No. 12) | Volume 6, Number 4).
Cureus ( http://www.cureus.com/ ) is another example of a journal which is not member of COPE (at least according to http://publicationethics.org/members ). From http://www.cureus.com/author_guide :
“Publication Ethics and COPE. Cureus adheres to the COPE Code of Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines. Cureus EICs follow recommended COPE procedures whenever alerted to an issue requiring investigation. Cureus is committed and adheres to the prevailing industry standards and procedures for investigating publication ethics. Cureus does not tolerate plagiarism, data or figure manipulation, knowingly providing incorrect information, copyright infringement, inaccurate author attributions, attempts to inappropriately manipulate the peer review process, failures to declare conflicts of interest, fraud and libel. This list should not be considered exhaustive – those with additional questions should investigate additional resources found at the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME), the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) or the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE).”
From http://www.cureus.com/faq :
“Who is individually responsible for the scientific quality of publications?
1. Professor John R. Adler, Stanford University.
2. Professor Alexander Muacevic, Munich University.
3. The Cureus Editorial Board of more than 300 accomplished scholars and clinical leaders.
4. The Cureus Academic Council — a select group of world-renowned academics and past presidents from leading institutions including Stanford University, the Salk Institute, the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, the National University of Singapore and the American Medical Association”.
Such an individual responsibility for the scientific quality is, at least towards my opinion, fully in line with for example “The Netherlands Code of Conduct for Academic Practice” ( http://www.rug.nl/about-us/organization/rules-and-regulations/algemeen/gedragscodes-nederlandse-universiteiten/code-wetenschapsbeoefening-14-en.pdf and http://www.rug.nl/about-us/organization/rules-and-regulations/algemeen/gedragscodes-nederlandse-universiteiten/wetenschappelijke-integriteit-12-en.pdf ). Some relevant quotes:
* “the generally accepted standards for the execution of professional academic research must be met at all times.”
* “rules governing that correct exercise of duties should be established in writing to provide a shared frame of reference and, if necessary, a basis for calling each other to account.”
* “every academic practitioner must be able to explain and motivate if – and if so, to what extent and why – they are at variance with the elaborations of the Code of Conduct (the rule of ‘apply or explain’).”
* “In assessing the performance of others (peer review of research and manuscripts), academic practitioners are led by scientific or scholarly arguments, and they refrain from assessing a manuscript if there could be any doubt about the impartiality of their opinion.”
* “every academic practitioner affiliated with a university provides an up-todate and complete list of their relevant ancillary activities on the university website.”
* “raw research data are stored for at least ten years. These data are made available to other academic practitioners upon request, unless legal provisions dictate otherwise.”
* “all those involved in academic teaching and research are personally responsible for preventing and drawing attention to academic misconduct.”
Dr Curno is listed as chair of the Subcommittee “Outreach and Events” ( http://publicationethics.org/about/subcommittees ). One of the objectives of this Subcommittee of COPE is “to increase awareness of COPE and to attract new members.” I still don’t understand why Dr Curno did not respond on queries from the side of LS.
John R. Adler, the EiC of Cureus, responds on queries from the side of for example Retraction Watch and provides as well insight in his handling. See http://retractionwatch.com/2015/11/02/sex-addiction-article-retracted-republished/ and http://scholarlyoa.com/2015/08/20/some-strange-goings-on-at-cureus/
“We note that there have been vigorous discussions about, and some editors are uncomfortable with, the editorial processes at Frontiers. However, the processes are declared clearly on the publisher’s site and we do not believe there is any attempt to deceive either editors or authors about these processes. Publishing is evolving rapidly and new models are being tried out. At this point we have no concerns about Frontiers being a COPE member and are happy to work with them as they explore these new models”.
If you can’t answer the question you’re being asked, change the question. The issue is not whether there is “any attempt to deceive editors or authors about the process” on the part of Frontiers, nor whether they are “exploring new models,” but whether “the process” is violating guidelines they are claiming to uphold. Are the editors “uncomfortable” because the “processes” are violating ethical guidelines, or because they’re confused Luddites?
Does Dr. Barbour think a. Frontiers are violating the guidelines, b. Frontiers are not violating the guidelines c. Frontiers are kind of in violation of the guidelines d. It doesn’t really matter whether or not Frontiers are violating the guidelines; e. The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain?
I don’t know how frequent this is, but I can offer two clear instances where Frontiers assigned articles to editors who were not remotely competent in the subject matter of the article.
(The first example, moreover, is an article published in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience in November 2015 that is essentially a repeat of an article published by Frontiers in Psychology in July 2015 (and, before that in PNAS in 2011.) (Not sure where COPE stands on this issue, but according to standards developed at the Second World Conference on Research Integrity, “Researchers should adhere to publication requirements that submitted work is original, is not plagiarised, and has not been published elsewhere.” (Wager E & Kleinert S (2011) Responsible research publication: international standards for authors. A position statement developed at the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity, Singapore, July 22-24, 2010. Chapter 50 in: Mayer T & Steneck N (eds) Promoting Research Integrity in a Global Environment. Imperial College Press / World Scientific Publishing, Singapore (pp 309-16). (ISBN 978-981-4340-97-7))
The article is Perception and Reality: Why a wholly empirical paradigm is needed to understand vision (Purves, Morgenster & Wojtach, 2015) in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience. The editor is C.A. Antoniades. According to her web page, she studies “brain diseases [that] affect various types of bodily movements, either producing unwanted movements such as tremors or reducing movement by making the patient stiff and slow, or sometimes both.” Her relationship to vision science is via studies of the oculomotor system. I suppose that, given that the article had already been published twice, once in PNAS, she felt reasonably safe in her decision. I’m looking forward to the next Frontiers version of this paper, because readers who don’t happen to visit the home pages of Frontiers in Sys.Neurosci. and Frontiers in Psych can locate it (oh, wait…). (Btw, I have posted numerous analytical comments on the Frontiers in Psychology version on PP and PubMed Commons (to which the authors briefly and inadequately responded), and will compose a more organised review of this latest version. (I also addressed the PNAA version in a recent editorial in Peception.)
The second example involves a comment I submitted in response to an article in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience by Tseng, Gobell and Sperling (2015). The topic relates to shape and slant perception, and the editor was a child psychologist whose work had no connection to visual perception, and who rejected the article without offering any rationale. (I have since published my observations (to which the authors responded) on PP and PMC).
I’m sure there are many such cases. How ironic that Frontiers innovative transparency policy (publishing editors’ names) should end up revealing that they are corrupting corruptible editors…
Replying to myself – Given that the first version included R.B. Lotto as co-author, should we view his work as having been plagiarised – at least by the new co-author (what was his role, grammar-check)?Why did they need a new third co-author? Why not just keep the two original ones, and leave it at that?
The term shell-game comes to mind, for some reason that is not completely clear to me.
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I would like to report some findings about the COI statement of Dr Curno, downloaded on 10 September 2015 from COPE’s website. The link to this COI statement at the bio of Dr Curno indicated on 10 September 2015: “The competing interest statement for Mirjam Curno for 2012 can be downloaded here (PDF 216kb)”.
This COI statement of Dr Curno is undated. It lists: “Journal Name (if editor): Journal of the International AIDS Society. Publisher: International AIDS Society.” I am unable to find any details about Frontiers in this undated COI statement of Dr Curno. The bottom of the form states: “While COIs will be reviewed annually, they must also be specifically declared at the beginning of each Council or Forum meeting or before participation in any complaints processes. COIs are posted on COPE’s website.”
Dr Scheiner wrote: “Frontiers joined COPE in January 2015. Exactly one year before, the COPE council member Mirjam Curno, joined Frontiers in her main professional occupation as journal manager.”
It seems therefore that Dr Curno has not attended any “Council of Forum meeting” for already at least one and a half year. It seems as well that Dr Curno was not in involved in any “complaints processes” since she moved to Frontiers.
I am hereby inviting to Dr Curno to confirm that she has not attended any forum meeting or council meeting of COPE for at least this period of time (the whole of 2014 and 2015 until 10 September). I am hereby inviting as well to Dr Curno to confirm that she was not involved in any complaints process at COPE for the same period of time.
I am realizing myself that I had already posted details about the COI statement of Dr Curno on 1 November 2015. There is until now no response from Dr Curno. You were also wondering why Dr Curno did not respond on queries from your side. I tend to interprete this ‘no response’ as intentional and as worrisome. There are of course valid motives (sick and/or on leave and/or for a prolonged period of time at a site without connection to the internet) which might explain why Dr Curno has until now not responded. I offer my deep apologies to Dr Curno when there are indeed such valid motives.
I would also like to inform you about details in the biography of Dr Barbour, chair of COPE, which were present on the website of COPE on 10 September 2015. It is stated in this biography: “She has a long history of working in open access publishing, having joined PLOS in 2004 as one of the three founding editors of PLOS Medicine, finally becoming Medicine and Biological Editor Director of PLOS in 2014.”
Her COI statement (also downloaded on 10 September 2015) was dated 20 January 2013. It states: “I am Chief Editor of PLOS Medicine and Medicine Editorial Director, PLOS, and thus employed by PLOS (the Public Library of Science)”.
This form (the COI statement of Dr Barbour) states as well: “While COIs will be reviewed annually, they must also be specifically declared at the beginning of each Council or Forum meeting or before participation in any complaints processes. COIs are posted on COPE’s website.”
So what do you think? Does this information imply that Dr Barbour was attending meetings of COPE and/or was Dr Barbour involved in complaints processes with an outdated COI statement? Or does this imply that Dr Barbour has not been involved in any of these activities at COPE for already a prolonged period of time?
I am of course also inviting Dr. Barbour to join the debate at this blog about the details of 10 September 2015 in her biography and in her COI Statement and to provide the readers of this blog with her points of view.
Klaas van Dijk
regarding the the role of Dr. Curno at COPE:
since no further information has arrived, neither from Frontiers, nor from COPE, nor in fact from Dr. Curno herself, it is safe to assume that she indeed is installed at COPE solely as a Frontiers representative and has no independent function at COPE outside of this.
Frontiers seems to have a rather strict hierarchy (https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/Reviews/Frontiers-Reviews-E690862.htm), and this might explain why Dr. Curno was not allowed to reply to me and why my inquiry to her was answered by Dr. Fenter only.
Thanks alot for your kind and friendly response. I still fail to understand that it seems to me that it is not allowed for Dr Curno to contact you without an approval from Dr Fenter and/or without an approval from Dr Barbour.
So what will happen when you are at a scientific meeting about for example publication ethics and/ or open access, etc, and you will meet Dr Curno at such a meeting? Does my assumption about an approval of Dr. Fenter and/or an approval of Dr Barbour implies that Dr Curno is not allowed to communicate with you when there is no approval from Dr Fenter and/or from Dr Barbour and/or that Dr Curno will first need to contact Dr Fenter and/or Dr Barbour for feed-back before she is allowed to communicate with you?
Excuse me very much, but such a situation is very, very uncommon in my field of research. Invariably, all people are always allowed to ask questions to and/or to communicate with all people who are at such a meeting. Recently, I was for example attending a lecture of Dr Frans de Waal at RUG in Groningen, see http://sggroningen.nl/nl/evenement/frans-de-waal for the details of this lecture. This lecture was on the evening of 9 November 2015. There were around 800 people, including loads and loads of students. Afterwards, Dr de Waal was sitting on a chair, alongside a temporary counter of the local bookseller. Dr de Waal was sighing books people had bought, but all could also ask Dr de Waal questions about his lecture. No problem at all, any one was allowed to ask any question (of course including for example science journalists, etc.), and Dr de Waal was very willing to answer all these questions.
I had an experience in June 2008 in the night train between Ashgabat and Dashogus (Turkmenistan) where I and other Dutch citizens were ordered by the staff of the train that it was not anymore allowed for us to communicate with the Turkmeni citizens in this night train. The staff of this night train forced us to go back to our part of the night train, and afterwards locked the doors of our part of the night train. I had another experience in late 2009 in Sanaa (the capital of Yemen) where it turned out that it was impossible for me and for other Dutch citizens to talk with a female student over there. Both experiences were while I was visiting these countries as a tourist. The tour leader of our trip to Yemen had visited Yemen several times. She was a lady in her 60ies and had met this female student during one of her earlier trips, and was thus very well aware that this female student liked it very much to communicate with foreigners.
I can also recall that it was not allowed for almost all Sovjet Union scientists in the 1970s and in the 1980s to have contacts with scientists in Western Europe. It was in those days also impossible for scientists in Western Europe to conduct field work in the Russian Arctic. Quite a few migratory birds species using the international Wadden Sea for refuelling are breeding in the Russian Arctic. Some of these species are even exclusively breeding in the Russian Arctic. No way anyone doing research on these birds in Western Europe was able in those days to visit the breeding areas in the Russian Arctic and to conduct studies over there.
I was one of the participants of the 3th International Swan Symposium in Oxford (UK). This symposium was held from 9-13 December 1989. This was one of the very first times that many Russian scientists were able to visit Western Europe, and that they were free to speak with anyone. Their level of English was very low (or nil), so there were even translators. Some of the Russian scientists gave amazing talks about their research. The year 1989 was also the very first year when it was possible for Western scientists to visit the Russian Arctic. Among them were several Germans, and their stories were amazing. I was one of the participants of a joint Dutch-Russian international expedition to the Taimyr peninsula in the summer of 1993. No problem at all to talk with anyone.
It is very sad that Dr. Curno is not allowed to communicate with you. I see many similarities with the situation in the 1970s and in the 1980s in the Sovjet Union. I also see many similarities with my experience in the night train in Turkmenistan while crossing the Karakum desert. You are a journalist, so I don’t need to tell you about the level of the freedom of press in Turkmenistan in those days. It seems indeed that you are right that Dr. Curno has some sort of ceremonial function at COPE. I once was confronted with a member of the editorial board of a scientific journal who also turned out to be a ceremonial member of the editorial board of this journal. Lateron, she got removed from the editorial board of this journal.
I still fail to understand that this can happen within COPE. I am hereby inviting Dr Curno for a response and please accept my apologies when there are errors and/or mistakes in my statements and/or assumptions.
I would like to note that I have until now (Sunday 3 January 2016) not received a single piece of the correspondence of Iratxe Puebla with publisher Taylor & Francis about a faulty paper on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler (see my earlier posting over here). Iratxe Puebla from COPE had promised this to me for the first time on 26 July 2015 (161 days ago). Iratxe Puebla is as well the Managing Editor of PLOS and I have therefore contacted PLOS. I have until now received loads and loads of auto-replies from PLOS (all of them with a case #), but nothing about the activities of Iratxe Puebla to help me with getting retracted this faulty paper on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler in a TF journal. Iratxe Puebla simply does not respond.
I also would like to remind you to an entry at Pubpeer about a very nice paper in a PLOS journal with Virginia Barbour, the chair of COPE, as one of the authors (“Ten Simple Rules for Building and Maintaining a Scientific Reputation”, see http://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002108 ). Once again, no response from the side of Virginia Barbour, and as well from all other parties, on my queries ( https://pubpeer.com/publications/1C6B56C6600F850C0320D4161278E8#fb43193 ).
Klaas van Dijk / Groningen / The Netherlands / https://scholar.google.es/citations?user=hmhMcScAAAAJ&hl=en
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Please join in the debate on COPE’s increasing lack of accountability and inability to hold its members, who pay money for “membership”, to be held accountable. Specific case studies involving COPE member journals and publishers should be listed with an objective description of the problem, when the response has been tardy, or counter to basic principles of transparency, or accountability.
As a first step, the lack of accountability and transparency by the COPE leadership must be exposed. Thereafter, once we realize that we are in fact dealing with a leadership that practices and implements multiple levels of ethical posturing, and thus has no moral ground to educate others, then the scientific community should expose each case, one by one. I dare say that the lists, if everyone contributes to one failed case involving a COPE member, will be longer than the lists of “predatory” OA journals on Jeffrey Beall’s web-site. s first evidence, 21 unresolved cases of Melo/Esteller involving COPE member journals:
Following the unprecedented rise of Dr. Elizabeth Wager in the rank and file of the COPE power structure, first as COPE board member from 2006-2009, then as COPE Chair from 2009-2012, and now as Honorary member, doing promotional stunts such as the following presentation advertising the benefits of COPE at UC Davis in early February 2016 , members of the science community decided to examine some of Dr. Wager’s publishing record, out of curiosity.
Those who are familiar with COPE will also know that Dr. Wager, who is one of the most prominent and central players in the world of science publishing ethics, a lauded leader and advocate of publishing ethics, was also the key author of the current COPE guidelines for authors that sets out a comprehensive set of guiding principles for scientists, editors and publishers, and the seminal document based on which COPE sells its image and thus garners membership fees.
One would thus assume that the individuals and institutes that established these rules, or guidelines as they are known, would also abide by them. That is almost without saying. And one of the rules in these guidelines refers to conflicts of interest, or COIs, that could be seen to influence the outcome of a manuscript, the chance of its publication, or any relationships that could be seen to influence the content, the ability to have that paper accepted, and thus published. COIs are not only financial links, they may extend into convenient partnerships in industry, in publishers, among editors, or among colleagues who also hold power in powerful positions that could influence the positive outcome of a paper, its results, or its publication. A COI does not have to be evident. It can be potential, and that is why COIs are so extremely important on a scientific paper. Even when there are no COIs, this should be fully declared. This is a rule that scientists have to abide by, especially when submitting to a COPE member journal.
These are the principles that have been espoused by COPE, created and authored, and then widely “sold” and advertised by COPE, and very actively by Dr. Wager. One would thus think, automatically, that these strict rules that apply to the scientific community, would also apply to COPE board members, trustees and last but not least, Dr. Wager herself.
After all, as documented to some extent at Retraction Watch, the declaration of a false or incomplete COI, or the lack of a COI when there should have been once, is a serious ethical offense, and can be met with a fatal destiny: a retraction .
Dr. Wager is undoubtedly a public figure, even if she has no Wikipedia page. In fact, she is much more than that. She is now an official watchdog, as clearly defined at UC Davis , in defense of science’s integrity. This implies that, given her pinnacle position in publishing ethics, that we, the public, expect her to have an impeccable academic and publishing record. I repeat, impeccable.
It is precisely because I discovered something quite shocking recently that I have felt compelled to come forward publicly to share my concerns. I have discovered an as yet unknown number of papers authored by Dr. Wager that:
a) fail to declare a COI; or
b) fail to declare a full and comprehensive COI, in particular the multiple complex links to industry, publishing, ethics, and COPE.
Here is one classic example.
Defining and responding to plagiarism
Elizabeth Wager, Learned Publishing (2014)
The discussion on that PubPeer page is fascinating. A chronological assessment may help to understand this better (also because comments tend to just disappear from PubPeer, on occasion, so this serves as an alternative respository):
1) A claim is made on February 3, 2016 by an unregistered commentator that no COI statement exists in this paper.
2) On February 9, 2016, Dr. Wager responds “This article clearly states “Note: this article is adapted from the COPE discussion document ‘How should editors respond to plagiarism?’ which was first published at http://publicationethics.org/files/Discussion%20document.pdf in April 2011″ therefore the link to COPE is obvious.”
3) On the same day, an unregistered commentator states “Just because something may appear to be obvious to the author, does not mean that it must not be officially described as a written COI in the paper. A COI statement is missing. One of the potential COIs here is that you were perhaps given an unfair advantage, given your position and standing, to have an easier pathway to publication. The only way to remove doubt from independent readers is for the editor to show the peer reports publicly, and for an official COI to be written. Why does Dr. Wager get a special treatment but other authors who publish in Learned Publishing have to follow the established rules?”
4) On February 10, a peer states “I agree with the original poster that a disclaimer showing the temporary official link of the author to the topic being discussed would have been fit. Otherwise it feels a bit like merchandising of the company.”
5) On the same day, Dr. Wager states that “OK, I will raise this with the editor of Learned Publishing and see if the journal wants to add a statement clarifying that when I wrote this article, I was Chair of COPE.”, and confirms, in a separate statement, that she has already contacted the editor.
The Editor of Learned Publishing is Pippa Smart. This journal is the official journal of the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers, published in collaboration with the Society for Scholarly Publishing, which is, for those with some broader insight, the owner of the blog, The Publishing Kitchen [3, 4].
So, who is Pippa Smart, relative to Elizabeth Wager? Well, these two share a rich history, more recently which can be seen in a celebration in Dubai, in August, 2015, where Dr. Wager represents as the Director, The Asian Council of Science Editors .
Why is it that such a high-ranking position is not listed on her company’s (SideView) list of appointments ?
Most importantly, in this focus on the lack of declared COIs, is the fact that Dr. Wager and Dr. Smart, share positions as editors of Science Editing .
This case in itself is fascinating because it reveals the following:
1) This paper was published in a journal published by Wiley, a former employee of Dr. Wager. COI #1. Unstated and undeclared.
2) This paper was published while Dr. Wager was COPE Chair. COI #2. Unstated and undeclared.
3) This paper was published by her “friend” and long-term “professional colleague”, Dr. Pippa Smart, and supposedly the “editor” that Dr. Wager claims to have contacted to issue a correction. This is COI #3. Unstated and undeclared.
These are three shockingly and deeply conflicted relationships that have not been declared.
How many other undeclared COIs exist? In how many more papers? There is now serious doubt, loss of trust, and deep concern. Under any normal circumstance, the failure by any “regular” scientist who would submit and publish a paper in a Wiley journal, which is a paying COPE member, would result in a retraction. No questions about it.
However, will we witness, before our eyes, an incredible case of ethical cronyism and exceptionalism? Perhaps the answer to this question may be known in the following days.
I claim that the basis on which Dr. Schneider established this blog was that there was opacity, duplicity and lack of accountability by COPE and/or COPE members and/or COPE seniority. I have thus decided to post my analysis of this case here on his blog .
In the light of this very serious situation, the logo on Dr. Wager’s company page “A new angle on writing and publications” may have some curious, and unintended, interpretations.
Dr. Wager is invited to respond to these claims publicly as her authored policies on publishing ethics – and which she does not appear to be respecting herself – are currently being imposed on the entire scientific authorship. Perhaps Dr. Schneider could serve as a moderator?
I think that COPE is used as a fig leaf and distracting from the underlying problems. I point out that Science has not retracted any of its three Voinnet articles. If Science and Nature do not strive for purity, which journal will? And where else can we have a gold standard for level/purity?
COPE rules corrupt the process because they make a very weird combination of thoughts from the judicial system and collegiality. COPE rules say: (1) An involved party, either the journal or preferably the institute, should lead the investigation in regard to possible article retraction, which is a thought fully foreign to the judicial system which relies on independent judges; but (2) from the judicial system it takes “guilty only if on purpose”, whereas in science the burden of evidence should be opposite and the trustworthyness of the article should be the main issue and independent from the fact whether the authors were silly, sly, confused, drunk or plain evil.
Based on COPE rules, journals hide behind institutional investigations, investigations which do (based on COPE rules) do not distinguish well between whether an article is sufficiently trustworthy and how the authors should be judged.
The very logical solution is that a group of (independent) peers should judge the article, and that the institute should only judge the authors. An argument that only the institute can request insights in the ground data is absolute nonsense and comes from this corrupted partial copying from the judicial system. The committee of peers only has to judge whether the article is trustworthy, and the burden of evidence for that lies fully with the authors. Such committee doesn’t have to prove that the author was wrong, which is where COPE rules focus on, with the automatic effect that COPE rules focus on the role of the institute.
Such “the institute is responsible for the decision” attitude is of course very convenient for the journals, which at least puts some suspicion on COPE that their rules were not inspired by improving science alone.
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Johannes, a fair argument. So, then why do they pay COPE money? It’s like paying for a flawed product, or for a service they don’t really use, or respect. They can’t claim to be a watchdog in public, and then show no teeth. That’s a chihuahua! That brings both institutions into disrepute: COPE, for receiving handouts, and the ethically superior COPE members, who have free reign to do anything they want, with a mere slap on the wrist. If and only if they are caught.
The only way to hold them accountable now is by calling them out in public. COPE has lost much trust, and its leadership has shown gaffe after gaffe. Even though they repaired the errors, the fact they existed shows that there were serious problems that they should have detected, but didn’t. And none of their 10,850+ members said a thing.
The perfect example above: Dr. Wager. I’m waiting to see what mega spin the “ethics” community is going to give in defense of Dr. Wager, and COPE. They’re all in each others’ pockets, it’s as simple as that.
If we, as scientists, are given a zero tolerance policy that we have to respect, and are severely penalized when we fail those rules, e.g. retractions, then why is this zero tolerance not reciprocal? It’s called ethical exceptionalism:
These rules (i.e., COPE guidelines) are simply one part of the “socially responsible business model”: if the publisher looks like its ethically responsible, even though its paying for the same ethical rules, it’s just making a circus of ethics. We are the joke of the party. And ultimately, we are the victims unless we protest this farce.
Look, don’t get me wrong. The COPE PDFs are useful, but does COPE really need to receive an estimated several hundred thousand GB pounds in “membership fees” to put up its PDF files. I am sure that Elsevier could spare a loose 1 million US$ for the scientific community and make all advice and PDF files open access. Heck, it takes a free WordPress page to provide the suitable platform, not much more.
Buying ethics, in essence which is what is happening, marketed and promoted at meetings as Dr. Wager is going, is unethical. If no money was involved, my rhetoric would likely evaporate.
I am not in favor of a rigid retraction system, since people do make mistakes which can be fixed with corrections. But what we currently have is that many journals seem to try to stretch that pool of reasonable leniency from the scientific community to a point where it becomes pure idiocy. I don’t even think that the journals benefit from that, I just think that it is just in the DNA of the people involved, they came so far in their career because they handled problems in a certain way and just continue to do so now they are at the top. Anyway, it is only logical that modern science ended up with a majority of cancer research papers not being reproducible. The main reason for this, in my opinion, is that we let the judging of the system and its flaws do by people who benefit from the system and have a stake in those flaws. COPE is actively supporting that.
Theoretically, COPE is not the problem, as they define themselves as an advisory organ for journals and do not claim a role beyond. However, because there are no other organs, everybody looks at COPE as if they should watchdog science integrity. That is where the public thinking gets confused and processes delayed and muddled, and I can’t help but feel that many journals and some scientists are very happy with this distracting role of COPE.
Basically, we need a judging system for papers independent of judging of the authors, done by knowing scientists without a stake in the matter.
It is also a mistake of COPE to portray articles as if property of the journals, as if it were your daily newspaper. Scientific articles are the end product, and often only product, of a large investment by governments. Not only that, articles take a lot of professional reading time from highly governmental paid individuals, and have the ability to seed wrong concepts and hopeless experiments.
I can’t see science fix itself, as too many “top” people are only there because of their talent and inclination to navigate the system. I hope that industry, which also loses a lot of money because of bad publications, will force some changes for the better.
I can’t see much wrong in the individual COPE members or their publications, but I would appreciate it if they as an organization could grow some teeth and a better concept.
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