The work that journal editors and publishers do together with research authors, universities, and research institutions is important. It ensures the trustworthiness of the world's research and earns evidence the place it deserves as “the bedrock of public policy and the solutions to our most urgent problems, from protecting public health to mitigating climate change.” At the heart of this work is international collaboration. In the words of Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) Chair Dr. Ginny Barbour: “We need a culture of responsibility for the integrity of the literature, and it is not just the job of editors.” This report shares critical insights from the Chinese and international experts who spoke at the recent COPE China Seminar, The Pillars of Publication Ethics. The Seminar was attended by more than 120 delegates from across China and around the world in Beijing on March 26, 2017.
SIMPLE, OR NOT SIMPLE? RESEARCH AUTHORSHIP
What does good authorship practice look like? Dr. Siu-Wai Leung (assistant professor, University of Macau, Macao SAR, China) and Professor Mark Israel (senior consultant, Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services, Perth, WA, Australia) reminded us. “Good authorship practice looks simple,” said Leung. He stressed that it “looks simple” to people who are not experienced in research publishing, but the closer you look, the more complex it becomes. Leung emphasized the conjunctive “and” that lies between each of the four International Committee of Medical Journal Editors criteria which are used by many leading medical journals to define research authorship: research authorship requires (1) design or data collection/analysis/interpretation AND (2) writing/revising AND (3) final approval AND (4) accountability.
The definition of authorship, Leung said, needs to be made clear to research authors by journals and editors. The same would apply for practices adopted and taught at research institutions, promoted in national guidelines, as well as those used by the editorial service companies that assist researchers. Israel, the author of “Research Ethics and Integrity for Social Scientists: Beyond Regulatory Compliance,” followed with a question: “If you ask a child what it means to be an author, he/she would say it was simple. So what's our problem?”
Israel explained how research authorship is used for credit, career advancement, and research assessment, while sharing the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) five-step code: “Authors should be authors: (1) Do not engage ghost writers. (2) Submit your work yourself. (3) Revise your paper yourself; if you need, work with editing companies to proofread and refine the language but not the intellectual content. (4) Do not falsify names or identities of peer reviewers you suggest and do not manipulate the peer-review process. (5) Do not violate ethical standards, including that all authors must agree on what is being published, and all authors must have contributed substantially.” The publisher Elsevier has promoted the CAST guidelines, to spread the CAST recommendations internationally.
For journals and editors, Israel agreed with Leung that writing authorship definitions into journal instructions for authors is important. Israel went further to suggest that applying those guidelines in practice is the next step: “Apply it, don’t just say it in your author instructions. Poor standards in research authorship turn nonexperts into experts.”
The discussion paper “What constitutes authorship,” Chinese version, is one of the authorship resources that COPE provides as a reference for journals, institutions and universities, and researchers internationally. It presents and discusses authorship practices across research disciplines.
KNOWLEDGE CREATION AND PEER REVIEW
Research publishing may be changing fast, but peer review is still critical in knowledge creation. Dr. Yongmao Jiang (director, Publishing Group of the Chinese Medical Association) and COPE Trustee and Treasurer, Dr. Deborah Poff discussed peer review.
Poff argued that universities and research assessments should recognize peer review as a legitimate research and academic activity: “The economic and social capital that is contributed voluntarily to the creation of knowledge needs to be recognized and valued to encourage accountable and responsible behavior.” She argued for incentives that respect peer review as an important step in knowledge creation.
Jiang discussed the pace of change in peer review and publishing [Figure 1]. Traditionally, Jiang explained, an editor alone made the final decision. Editors at the Chinese Medical Journal, however, now use peer-review reports differently to make the final decision: “In our process, a group of experts does it. We have frank and meaningful discussions.” Jiang explained how peer-review practice among his journals also focuses more on integrity and ethics. “Reviewers know it is important. Now they need our help to do it.”
Poff agreed: “Times are changing and so are critical attitudes toward peer evaluation. Predatory journals with fake peer review are creating chaos, particularly among junior academics trying to find legitimate venues for publishing their research.”
For journals and institutions, the messages were reward peer review and promote tools that help researchers find reliable journals to publish their work, like “Think. Check. Submit.”
“Ethical guidelines for peer reviewers,” Chinese version, is one of the peer-review resources that COPE provides as a reference for journals, institutions and universities, and researchers.
PLAGIARISM: INTENT AND EXTENT
Whether naïve and accidental, or deceptive and deliberate, presenting someone else's work as your own is a problem. Assessing “intent” is key for editors and institutions when they decide how to deal with it. Yuehong (Helen) Zhang (chief editor, Journal of Zhejiang University-SCIENCE A/B and FITEE) and Associate Professor Tracey Bretag (director, UniSA Business School Office of Academic Integrity, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia) talked about plagiarism.
Zhang, the author of “Against Plagiarism,” presented her classification of the nine types of plagiarism and the nine remedies she recommends in her journal's antiplagiarism policy. She quoted Professor Nelson Kiang of Harvard and MIT: “Simple copying of words or phrases is easily uncovered by computer programs but appropriation of ideas is impossible to even define, much less expose or punish”[9: p150].
Bretag, editor in chief of International Journal for Educational Integrity, emphasized this complexity. “It is about intent and extent, not just a text-matching score,” she said. Interpretation is a key. Bretag concluded: “Plagiarism is a serious threat to the integrity of published research, but not all plagiarism is deliberate misconduct, and not all plagiarism requires a punitive response.” She argued that authors whose intent is benign need support, certainly in their workplace from their institution and colleagues and perhaps also from editors as mentors. She does this herself. “For over 2 years, I helped a junior academic from a developing country work on their paper before they published it. It was life-changing for them.”
The flowchart “What to do if you suspect plagiarism,” Chinese version, is one of the flowcharts that COPE provides to help journals, institutions and universities, and researchers work through the problems they are facing. COPE has published 18 flowcharts in 9 languages.
MAKING ABSTRACT CONCEPTS REAL: CASE WORKSHOP
The expert speakers illustrated the concepts they presented with their own experiences. COPE Council Member Dr. Trevor Lane (education director and senior publishing consultant, Edanz Group, Japan) went further and led delegates through an interactive case workshop which was structured around authorship, peer review, and plagiarism. Lane took inspiration from six cases from the COPE case database:
- Author disagreement blocks submission
- Requesting authorship after publication
- Compromised peer-review system in published papers
- Author requests permission to publish review comments
- What extent of plagiarism demands a retraction versus correction?
YOU CAN LEARN MORE
All the presentations from the seminar are available and free to access online.
CG works for Wiley and benefits from the company's commercial success. CG receives no form of compensation from COPE for his voluntary role with COPE.