Academic Publishing

Join the Committee, ignore Publication Ethics

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.

piggy bank

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  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 (

89 comments on “Join the Committee, ignore Publication Ethics

  1. Klaas van Dijk

    Copy/pasted from :

    “What does COPE expect from you?
    Presenter of the concern/issue will:
    – maintain a polite and collegial tone at all times
    – understand that COPE’s role is educational, it is not a regulatory or statutory body
    – read and acknowledge COPE’s remit: COPE does not undertake investigations into cases but reviews the steps the journal took in reaching its decision
    – not discuss the case on social media or blogging sites while the case is being reviewed”

    Copy/pasted from :

    “Is it fair that the authors of dodgy research articles/papers, or the journals that publish those articles/papers, can blog and comment on those articles/research to their hearts’ content in newspapers or on the internet whilst those raising concerns about them cannot? And if offending journals/authors wanted to try to prevent COPE investigating their misdemeanours and imposing a sanction all they would need to do is to provoke those with a complaint against them into tweeting or blogging in reply to their own posts, OR alternatively create a fake blog themselves. The perpetrators would be able to post exactly what they wanted, whilst those raising concerns would be effectively silenced if they wanted a COPE complaint case to proceed. This, of course, is a ludicrous situation and COPE may as well disband their ‘Facilitation and Integrity Subcommittee’ now, or immediately change its rules, because it cannot possibly act fairly under these newly imposed restrictions.”


  2. Klaas van Dijk states: “COPE recommends that journals have an ombudsman (independent of the editor) to hear complaints about journal policies or processes. We therefore felt it was appropriate to have an ombudsman for COPE to hear complaints against the organization and to resolve disputes between members (eg if one member brings a complaint against another).” is an archived copy of the Ombudsperson of COPE who was in duty until the beginning of 2016. (published on 23 March 2016) and (published on 20 April 2016) and (published on 10 June 2016) show that COPE was recruiting a new Ombudsperson. provides the details and was published on 23 May 2016. Information about the tasks of the Ombudsman used to be listed at (see for an archived copy dated 20 September 2016 with these details). and reveal at the moment no details about the current Ombudsperson.

    Is it correct to state that the removal of the information about the COPE Ombudsperson at implies that COPE has decided to abolish to have an Ombudsperson?


  3. Klaas van Dijk

    A complaint (called a ‘concern’ by COPE) was filed in the end of 2017 to the Facilitation and Integrity Subcommittee of COPE about the persistent refusal of their member Taylor & Francis to provide us with a retraction note of the fraudulent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler in a TF journal. See for details the report “Final investigation on serious allegations of fabricated and/or falsified data in Al-Sheikhly et al. (2013, 2015)” at

    This report is since 1 July 2016 in the possession of publisher Taylor & Francis. See for backgrounds also and

    This complaint was filed through the online form atr on 28 November 2017. A response from COPE was received on the same day:

    “Thank you for submitting your concern or issue to the Facilitation and Integrity Subcommittee. Your concern will be reviewed initially by the Facilitation and Integrity Officer who will proceed according to . We will provide an update to you every 4 weeks or, when an update is available, sooner.”

    It is right now 1 March 2018 and I have until now not received a single update. Is Leonid aware of others with similar experiences?


    • Klaas van Dijk

      It is right now 4 April 2018 and I have until now not received a single update.

      A project with reviews / comments from experts (within this field of research) who rebut / refute any of the findings of the report “Final investigation on serious allegations of fabricated and/or falsified data in Al-Sheikhly et al. (2013, 2015) – 1 July 2016” has been created at OSFat on 1 April 2018.


  4. Klaas van Dijk

    Three complaints against publisher Taylor & Francis (TF) were filed to COPE in the first half of July 2015 when it turned out that TF was refusing to retract a fraudulent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler in a TF journal (Al-Sheikhly et al. 2013, 2015).

    COPE informed us on 26 July 2015 to start with processing our complaints. TF would be requested for comments on our concerns, we would be copied in this correspondence and COPE would act as a facilitator of a dialogue with the publisher. It turned out in September 2015 that COPE was unwilling to work together with us. This became evident after COPE received a comment from Dr. Burton, one of the 14 authors of Porter et al. (2015a,b). Dr. Burton wrote in an e-mail to COPE and dated 6 September 2015: ‘a summary of the whole affair, but concentrating on the Academia cover up in Nature?’. COPE informed us on 13 July 2016 that the processing of the complaints was terminated. There was not yet a dialogue with the publisher and the correspondence was never received. Questions would not be answered.

    Some people who bear responsibilities at COPE are affiliated to Australian universities. They therefore must act according to the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (ACRCR, at ). The ACRCR states that ‘wilful concealment or facilitation of research misconduct by others’ is regarded as scientific misconduct. Australian universities were therefore contacted after it turned out that the behaviour of these people fulfilled the criteria (a) ‘intent and deliberation / persistent negligence’, and (b) ‘false information on the public record’, and (c) ‘an alleged breach of this Code’ (in this case ‘wilful concealment or facilitation of research misconduct by others’).

    The ‘false information on the public record’ is documented in the report ‘Final investigation on serious allegations of fabricated and/or falsified data in Al-Sheikhly et al. (2013, 2015)’ at This report is since 1 July 2016 in the possession of COPE (and in the possession of all other stakeholders).

    My experiences with contacting these Australian universities were used to make comments on a draft of the new version of the ACRCR during a public consultation in the beginning of 2017 (see ). My comment was submitted on 28 February 2017. It was received in good order. It is stated that all comments will be published on the internet. This has until now not happened. I have therefore decided to make a project at OSF with the full version of my comments on the new version of the ACRCR, see

    I have informed the organisation of the public consultation about this step. I quickly received a response (‘Thank you for your email to NHMRC and your ongoing interest in the review of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007).’).


  5. Klaas van Dijk

    Publisher Taylor & Francis (TF) is still refusing to retract the fraudulent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler in a TF journal, see the report “Final investigation on serious allegations of fabricated and/or falsified data in Al-Sheikhly et al. (2013, 2015)” at for details.

    This report is since 1 July 2016 in the possession of TF. TF is a member of COPE. COPE is also since 1 July 2016 in the possession of this report. No one has until today refuted / rebutted any of the findings of this report.

    COPE is since mid September 2015 refusing to work together with us to ensure that this fraudulent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler is retracted. COPE is until today also refusing to punish their member TF for the persistent refusal of TF to retract this fraudulent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler in a TF journal. This implies that there are solid grounds to argue that COPE is facilitating research misconduct, because COPE has the power to terminate the membership of TF. Some members of the council of COPE are affiliated to universities. These members of the council of COPE thus must adhere at all times to the Code of Conduct of their university, and thus also when acting on behalf of COPE. Michael Wise is a long-term member of the council of COPE and he is currently one of the Trustees of COPE. Michael Wise has a fixed position at UWA, the University of Western Australia,

    Michael Wise thus must work at all times and always for the full 100% (and thus also when acting on behalf of COPE) according to the 2007 version of the Australian Code of the Responsible Conduct of Research (ACRCR) (at ). Contacts with members of the staff of UWA about the refusal of Michael Wise to work together with us to ensure that the fraudulent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler will get retracted, and as soon as possible, exist for already well over 1 year. Michael Wise has not changed his acting. So Michael Wise is still unwilling to work together with us to ensure that the fraudulent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler gets retracted.

    The ACRCR states at page 10.2 that “wilful concealment or facilitation of research misconduct by others” is regarded as scientific misconduct, but only (see page 10.1) when it also involves “intent and deliberation, recklessness or gross and persistent negligence”, and, “serious consequences, such as false information on the public record, or adverse effects on research participants, animals or the environment.”

    The “false information on the public record” is documented in the report “Final investigation on serious allegations of fabricated and/or falsified data in Al-Sheikhly et al. (2013, 2015)”. Michael Wise has never refuted / rebutted any of the findings of this report. The authors of Porter et al. (2015 a & b, see and and others have also never got access to the raw research data of the fraudulent study.

    The “intent and deliberation, recklessness or gross and persistent negligence” is cleary the case for Michael Wise, as Michael Wise is very persistently refusing to work together with us, and already for a very prolonged period of time, to ensure that this fraudulent study gets retracted. The efforts of members of the staff of UWA, and others, to persuade Michael Wise to change his behaviour were thus unsuccessful, as Michael Wise has not changed his acting.

    As a consequence of this long-term acting of Michael Wise, a formal complaint with serious allegations of research misconduct by UWA employee Michael Wise (“wilful concealment or facilitation of research misconduct by others”, because it also involves “intent and deliberation, recklessness or gross and persistent negligence”, and, “serious consequences, such as false information on the public record “) was filed today through

    An automatic response from the server of UWA was received. This response stated that this formal complaint against Michael Wise was received in good order by the server of UWA.


  6. Klaas van Dijk

    COPE-Trustee Michael Wise is still refusing to work together with us to ensure that the fraudulent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler in a Taylor & Francis (TF) journal will be retracted. Michael Wise is still refusing to punish COPE-member TF for the persistent refusal of TF to retract this fraudulent study (see for backgrounds the report “Final investigation on serious allegations of fabricated and/or falsified data in Al-Sheikhly et al. (2013, 2015)” at ).

    Michael Wise is an employee of the University of Western Australia (UWA). I have therefore contacted Simone Hewett, Jess Reid, David Stacey and Rhys Woolf, members of the staff of the Media Team of UWA, see , about this behaviour of UWA employee Michael Wise.

    I would like to inform the readers of this topic that there is right now a formal approval from these four members of the Media Team of UWA that Michael Wise is at the moment facilitating research misconduct.

    I have informed yesterday Dawn Freshwater, the vice-chancellor of UWA, about this new development. I have told Dawn Freshwater that the current acting of Michael Wise is of course damaging the good name of UWA, and that this damaging of the good name of UWA by Michael Wise will continue when Michael Wise does not change his behaviour. I have informed Dawn Freshwater that I expect that she will soon be able to convince Michael Wise to change his behaviour and that she thus will be able to convince Michael Wise to start with working together with us to ensure that the fraudulent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler in a TF journal (Al-Sheikhly et al. 2013, 2015) will be retracted.


  7. I recently got an invitation to join a symposium in The Netherlands which is related to the implementation of the new Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity. This symposium will take place on 2 October and it is hosted by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).

    I have accepted the invitation as it will offer great opportunities to have discussions with various parties about our long-term efforts to get retracted a fraudulent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler in a Taylor & Francis journal, backgrounds at

    I got the same day a confirmation e-mail from KNAW which was also the admission ticket. I got from KNAW a reminder a few days ago with the final version of the programm of that day. It was stated in this reminder: ‘We are looking forward to welcoming you.’

    I received yesterday an e-mail from Mieke Zaanen of KNAW in which it was stated that I was not anymore allowed to join this symposium and that KNAW would call the police when I would show up.

    I am a biologist with extensive experiences in the field of nature conservation. I am therefore used to various threats from people who are involved in for example the illegal killing of raptors, etc. I am working together with lots of others in this field who have similar experiences.

    So KNAW (‘the forum, conscience, and voice of the arts and sciences in the Netherlands’, source ) prohibits me to discuss with others at this symposium about about our long-term efforts to retract this fraudulent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler.

    Anyone any idea what to do now?


  8. See for another example of the acting of Iratxe Puebla (now in her capacity as managing editor of PLOS ONE) on a formal request to retract a fraudulent study from PLOS ONE.


  9. Klaas van Dijk

    I am being informed that our long-term efforts to retract a fraudulent study on the Endangered Basra Reed Warbler in a Taylor & Francis journal, see , will be discussed during one of the symposia at the 6th World Conference on Research Integrity ( ).

    I did not get an invitation to attend this conference and/or to join the debate about this topic.

    I am also being informed that it is likely that a position paper about COPE / Virginia Barbour at will be part of this discussion.

    The unknown authors of this position paper about COPE / Virginia Barbour have not explained why they do not refer to the long-term requests to get access to the full set of raw research data of Al-Sheikhly et al.. See for example below for an e-mail to COPE and dated 15 July 2015.

    “From: Richard Porter; To: Iratxe Puebla (COPE); Cc: Klaas van Dijk; Sent: Wednesday, July 15, 2015 3:54 PM; Subject: Taylor & Francis and the COPE Code of Conduct for journal publishers

    Dear Iratxe

    I thought it would be helpful to those members of COPE examining this matter to have this further input from me.

    I would personally be satisfied if Taylor & Francis were able to:

    Provide convincing evidence that the study in Al-Sheikhly (2013) was actually undertaken. In this respect the detailed background material I have provided about his ‘movements,’ the quoted first draft (the ‘Susie Alwash’ paper)and evidence of his previous ‘form’ are important exhibits. It would also be useful, I feel, to consult Eden Again: Hope in the Marshes of Iraq (2013) by Suzanne Alwash. In this Al-Sheikhly (Omar) is extensively quoted, including on Basra Reed Warbler, but surprisingly makes no mention of the study: Al-Sheikhly et al (2013).

    Make available a copy of the research data that was collected in the field for such a monumental and ground-breaking study. That is a very reasonable request that hitherto has been refused by the authors of the paper and the editor of Zoology in the Middle East.

    Demonstrate that it is possible to undertake such a highly detailed study of polygyny – essentially in two years – of a mobile and secretive organism without any method of marking individual birds or identifying males and females in the field. In this respect please draw their attention to the following that was published in Zoology in the Middle East by Porter et al ( ):

    “Al-Sheikhly et al. (2013) reported figures and drew conclusions that, in our opinion, are impossible to achieve without undertaking a long-term trapping and colour-ringing programme to allow identification of individual male and female birds. They claim inter alia that ‘971 nests of Basra Reed Warbler were studied’, most over the two-year period 2006 to 2007, and that ‘males are often polygynous (42.9%, n= 317 observed males).’ There is however almost no mention in the paper of the methods and resources employed to gather such data. Furthermore, Al-Sheikhly et al. claimed that “the identification of male and female Basra Reed Warblers was unmistakable in the field,” which we contest is impossible, given that the species like all other Western Palearctic Acrocephalus cannot be sexed visually, only through in-hand examination and perhaps biometric data, which the authors of the study did not attempt. Neither is there any explanation of how counts were carried out and extrapolated to population figures given for Iraq’s major marshland areas. Following questioning, the authors admit ‘that the occurrence of polygyny needs to be confirmed by a more comprehensive study.’ If their precise figures as originally presented lack credibility, then it draws into question any of the paper’s other results.”

    Finally, may I put this call for COPE’s intervention into context? This is a ground-breaking paper and one of the most important to be published on bird ecology and populations in the Middle East – and probably the most important ever in Iraq. It involves a globally Endangered species – and a threatened wetland complex – the most important in the Middle East.

    Poor or fraudulent science will help neither the species, its habitat nor Middle East ornithology and conservation. That is why we wish this complaint to be taken very seriously.

    I hope this helps / Kindest regards / Richard Porter”

    It is not excluded that readers of this blog will attend the 6th World Conference on Research Integrity, and/or will attend this symposium. I would be delighted if they might be able to sort out why this position paper about COPE / Virginia Barbour does not refer to the long-term requests to get access to the full set of raw research data of Al-Sheikhly et al. (2013).


  10. Klaas van Dijk

    The long-term efforts to retract a fraudulent Basra Reed-warbler study from a TF journal were extensively discussed during a recent research integrity conference of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (Royal KNAW, ).

    I was not invited to join this conference. Science journalist Maurice Timmermans did not contact me for his publications about this topic in several university newspapers. Maurice Timmermans did not respond as well on e-mails send to him on 1 and 5 and 25 December 2019.

    My views about this topic are listed at (in Dutch).

    The author of this interview with me, Pepijn van Erp, is a member of the council of the Dutch NGO Skepsis (note that the blog Kloptdatwel is an activity which is independent from Skepsis).

    This interview also contains some views about COPE.

    “Vrij vlot werd duidelijk dat de uitgever niet wenste samen te werken en toen hebben wij COPE benaderd. Zo van ’Beste COPE, dit zijn volgens ons de argumenten dat het allemaal niet klopt. En de uitgever, lid van jullie club, weigert met ons samen te werken. Daarom dienen wij een klacht bij jullie in.’ Dat is toen vrij snel in de soep gelopen, omdat COPE weigerde op een inhoudelijke manier naar onze kritiek te kijken en weigerde iets te doen met ons verzoek om inzage te krijgen in de data. Ze gingen mij wel dreigbrieven sturen.”

    “COPE heeft een probleem om door te pakken tegen Taylor & Francis. Je kunt gewoon nazoeken dat die uitgever zo’n 50.000 pond per jaar moet betalen om lid te zijn. Hoe meer tijdschriften een uitgever uitgeeft, hoe meer geld die moet betalen. Dus als COPE zou zeggen tegen Taylor & Francis ‘we gaan jullie bestraffen’ dan stoppen die gewoon met betalen. Ik kan niet bewijzen dat het zo werkt, maar het is wel zo dat er veel meer voorbeelden zijn van mensen die bij COPE hebben aangeklopt en gewoon met een kluitje in het riet worden gestuurd.”


  11. Klaas van Dijk

    The interview by Pepijn van Erp which was published in Dutch at has in the meanwhile been translated into English and can be read at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: