Scientific research has to go through various stages starting from appropriate study design to ethical approval, study execution, data collection, data analysis and finally publication in journals, newsletters, books, etc. While going through these steps, a researcher has to face several hurdles if unaware about ‘publication ethics’ and the ethical code of conduct. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) is an international forum for editors and publishers of peer-reviewed journals that provide the ‘code of conduct’ and ‘best practice guidelines’ that define publication ethics and advises editors on how to handle cases of research and publication misconduct. In this editorial, we highlight the ‘points to be pondered by researchers’ not only related to ‘publication ethics’ and its components but also related to ‘plagiarism’ and ‘intellectual property rights (IPR)’.
WHAT IS ‘PUBLICATION ETHICS’?
The word ‘ethics’ is derived from the Latin word ethos, which means character. Ethics are activity. In simpler words, ethics are nothing but the set of rules which deals with what is right or wrong, good practice or bad, moral or immoral, etc. Publication ethics are rules of conduct generally agreed upon when publishing results of scientific research or other scholarly work. In other words, publication ethics are a standard that protects intellectual property. It forbids the plagiarism of another’s efforts/re-publication of another’s work without proper credit. So it is important for all concerned in the act of publishing (the author, the journal editor, the peer reviewer, and the publisher) to follow the standards of expected ethical behaviour. Most journals follow the COPE’s Best Practice Guidelines. COPE’s Guidelines has clearly mentioned the ethical issues and duties of editors, reviewers, and authors.
COMPONENTS OF PUBLICATION ETHICS
Scientific research has to go through various stages maintaining the guidelines. The various stages and issues related to them (if any) are considered as components of publication ethics, for example, study design and ethical approval, data analysis, authorship, conflicts of interest, peer review, redundant publication, plagiarism, duties of editors, advertising, etc. The researcher must be aware of all these issues.
Study design and ethical approval
A research study should be well justified, well planned, appropriately designed, and ethically approved. The author should also be aware of the guidelines provided by the International Conference on Harmonization Good Clinical Practice and the tenets of the Declaration of Helsinki.
Data analysis should be done very honestly. Fabrication (making up research data and results, and recording or reporting them) and falsification (manipulating research materials, images, data, equipment, or processes) of data constitute misconduct known as research fraud.
An ‘author’ is generally considered to be an individual who has made a significant intellectual contribution to the study. Deliberately misrepresenting a scientist’s relationship to their work is considered to be a form of misconduct that undermines confidence in the reporting of the work itself and such authorship is unacceptable. Unacceptable authorships can be ghost authors where authors contribute substantially but are not acknowledged (often paid by commercial sponsors) and guest authors where authors make no/negligible contributions, but are listed to help increase the chances of publication.
Conflicts of interest
Relationships which may not be fully apparent and which may influence the judgment of author, reviewers, and editors in any form, for example, personal, commercial, political, academic, or financial. It must be declared to editors by researchers, authors, and reviewers. Editors should also disclose relevant conflicts of interest to their readers.
The duty of confidentiality in the assessment of a manuscript must be maintained by expert reviewers. Reviewers should provide speedy, accurate, courteous, unbiased, and justifiable reports. If reviewers suspect misconduct, they should write in confidence to the editor.
Duties of editors
The decisions to accept or reject a paper for publication should be based only on the paper’s importance, originality, and clarity as well as the study’s relevance. The studies should be peer reviewed before publication, taking into full account possible bias due to related or conflicting interests. Editors can also follow the guidelines laid by the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME).
Editorial decisions must not be influenced by advertising revenue or reprint potential. Advertisements that mislead must be refused. Reprints should be published as they appear in the journal unless a correction is to be added.
PLAGIARISM AND ETHICAL MISCONDUCT
Plagiarism is derived from the Latin word plagiarius which means ‘kidnapper’, that is, someone who abducts the child. It is an act of forgery, piracy, and fraud and is stated to be a serious crime of academia. Unreferenced use of others’ published and unpublished ideas, including research grant applications to submission under ‘new’ authorship is plagiarism. All sources should be disclosed, and if large amounts of other people’s written or illustrative material are to be used, permission must be sought.
HOW TO DEAL WITH ETHICAL MISCONDUCT?
Ethical misconduct can be dealt by investigating the misconduct and followed by action and sanctions.
Editors should not simply reject papers that raise questions of misconduct but should rather investigate thoroughly and they are ethically obliged to pursue the case. In case of misconduct, it is for the editor to decide on the course of action.
Action for serious misconduct
Editors must take all allegations and suspicions of misconduct seriously and they must recognise that they do not usually have either the legal legitimacy or the means to conduct investigations into serious cases. Authors should be given the opportunity to respond to accusations of serious misconduct.
A letter of explanation (and education) to the authors, where there appears to be a genuine misunderstanding of principles. A letter of warning to the author and also a formal letter to the relevant head of institution or funding body should be given for proper investigation and action.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY—WHAT IS IT?
It is the collective name for ownership of the results of a human’s creative mind, referring to inventions, literary and artistic works, as well as different signs of distinction, that is, product design and titles that serve commercial purposes. The owners of such properties have been given certain rights for its protection, known as ‘intellectual property rights (IPR)’. The IPR is governed by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which was established by the WIPO Convention in 1967. WIPO harmonises global policy and protects IPR across borders. IPR help to protect creations of the mind, which include inventions, literary or artistic work, images, symbols, etc. In other words, it protects the unfair use of one’s creation (e.g., a product, a book, or a new drug) by others. There are two main types of IPR: copyrights and industrial property rights.
It gives authors the right to protect their work, for example, databases, reference works, computer programs, architecture, books, technical drawings, and others. By copyrighting, others cannot use it without the authors’ permission.
Industrial property rights
It gives inventors/researchers the right to protect their inventions/research product, for example, trademarks, patents, geographical indications, and industrial designs.
Publication ethics and IPR are important components of scientific publications. Editors, reviewers and authors should follow COPE’s guidelines to avoid adverse consequences. As a researcher, one can rely on the published work to create a new hypothesis or to support their findings. One should, therefore, ensure that there is no infringement of the copyright of the owner or author of the published work (images, extracts, figures, and data).
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
1. Wager E. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE): Objectives and achievements 1997-2012 Presse Med. 2012;41:861–6
2. Sengupta S, Honavar SG. Publication ethics Indian J Ophthalmol. 2017;65:429–32
3. Doherty M, Van De Putte LB. Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines on good publication practice Ann Rheum Dis. 2000;59:403–4
4. Pawar CSYadab WK, Gorai J. Publication Ethics & Misconducts Research and Publication.. 20211st ed. Chennai Notion Press:30–3
5. Gasparyan AY, Yessirkepov M, Voronov AA, Gorin SV, Koroleva AM, Kitas GD. Statement on publication ethics for editors and publishers J Korean Med Sci. 2016;31:1351–4
6. Gerrets R. Morals, morale, and motivations in data fabrication: Medical research fieldworkers’ views and practices in two sub-Saharan African contexts Soc Sci Med. 2016;166:150–9
7. Carlson RV, Boyd KM, Webb DJ. The revision of the Declaration of Helsinki: Past, present and future Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2004;57:695–713
8. World Association of Medical Editors. Recommendations of Publication Ethics Policies for Medical Journals.Last accessed on 27 Nov 2022 Available from: https://wame.org/recommendations-on-publication-ethics-policies-for-medical-journals
9. Aronson JK. Plagiarism: Please don’t copy Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2007;64:403–5
10. Dhammi IK, Ul Haq R. What is plagiarism and how to avoid it? Indian J Orthop. 2016;50:581–3
11. Handa S. Plagiarism and publication ethics: Dos and don’ts Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2008;74:301–3
12. World Intellectual Property Organization. What Is Intellectual Property?.Last accessed on 27 Nov 2022 Available from: https://www.wipo.int/about-ip/en/
13. Lucchi NLucchi N. Digital media & intellectual property Management of Rights and Consumer Protection in a Comparative Analysis. 2006 New York Springer:171