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  • 1. Editorial misconduct: time to act Richard Smith Editor, BMJ www.bmj.com/talks
  • 2. What I want to talk about
    • Cases of editorial misconduct
    • How common is the problem?
    • Why does it happen?
    • How should we respond?
  • 3.  
  • 4. Sir Cyril Burt: the classic case
    • Founded the British Journal of Statistical Psychology and was its editor
    • Published 63 of his own articles
    • Often altered the work of others without permission, sometimes adding favourable references to his own work
    • Once he published a letter he wrote himself under a pseudonym and a response he also wrote himself under another pseudonym in order to attack a colleague
  • 5.  
  • 6. Hans Eysenck
    • A pupil of Cyril Burt
    • Produced unbelievable and unrepeated work that suggested that personality was the main determinant of whether people developed cancer or vascular disease
    • Much of this work was published in two journals-- Behaviour Research and Therapy and Personality and Individual Differences --which he founded and edited
  • 7. Question
    • Should editors publish original research in their own journals?
  • 8.  
  • 9. Malcolm Pearce and Geoffrey Chamberlain
    • Malcolm Pearce was the author of two fraudulent papers in one issue of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
    • He was an assistant editor on the journal
    • The editor, Geoffrey Chamberlain, was an author one one of the papers
    • He was also the head of department in which Pearce worked and president of the RCOG
  • 10. Malcolm Pearce and Geoffrey Chamberlain
    • Pearce was found guilty of serious professional misconduct, and several other papers of his were retracted
    • Chamberlain--who had been a “guest author”--had to resign from all his positions
  • 11. Independent inquiry of the RCOG
    • Made a great many recommendations on how journals should work
    • An important step in professionalising the editing of specialist journals
    • Minutes should be kept of editorial meetings
    • Editors should be appointed by competition after open advertisement
    • Editors should not have other major commitments
  • 12.  
  • 13. George Lundberg
    • Fired for speeding up the publication of a small study showing that many students did not think that oral sex was sex
    • Speeded it up because it was relevant to the impeachment of the president over the Monica Lewinsky case
    • Was this misconduct?
  • 14.  
  • 15. Nicole Suciu-Foca
    • She is the editor of Human Immunology
    • Invited Antonio Arnaiz-Villena, head of the immunology department at a large public hospital in Madrid and professor of immunology and cell biology at Madrid's Complutense University, to be the guest editor of a theme issue on anthropology and genetic markers
    • The guest editor was given little or no guidance on what was expected
  • 16. Nicole Suciu-Foca
    • Arnaiz-Villena's keynote paper concluded that Jews and Palestinians are genetically very close and that their "rivalry is based on cultural and religious, but not genetic, differences”
    • These and other “political” phrases caused uproar
    • The guest editor was fired from the editorial board
    • Article retracted
    • Subscribers urged "to physically remove the pages"
  • 17. Nicole Suciu-Foca
    • But did the problems arise from lapses in translation and editing rather than political intent--and was the guest editor scapegoated?
    • The editor did not face any judgement, but should she have done?
  • 18. Three more cases
    • Three cases from Doug Altman, Iain Chalmers, and Andrew Herxheimer
    • To be described in a moment
    • Altman DG, Chalmers I, Herxheimer A. Is there a case for an International Medical Scientific Press Council? JAMA 1994; 272: 166-7.
  • 19. Some COPE cases: caveats
    • COPE hears only one side of stories
    • It isn’t possible to check all the facts
    • There is undoubtedly another side to each of the stories
  • 20. COPE case I
    • An assistant editor discovered that the editor-in-chief had written a letter saying that he had accepted a paper when the assistant editor had rejected it
    • The paper was a guideline on a common medical condition and recommended a new expensive drug as the best treatment
    • Reviews had been mixed, but the meeting of scientific editors had decided to reject the paper
  • 21. COPE case I
    • The editor-in-chief spoke to the principal author of the paper at length and asked for a third review
    • Despite this being unfavourable the editor-in-chief had accepted the paper
    • The next event in this story was that the association that owned the journal stipulated that any editorial material published in the journal must have an elected official as an author
  • 22. COPE case I
    • Then the CEO of the association announced that the journal could not publish any letters critical of the association
    • The editor-in-chief said that he would protest, but the journal never did publish any more critical letters
    • Has the editor made a Faustian bargain with the CEO?
    • The assistant editor was fired
  • 23. COPE case II
    • A journal published an editorial that had already been published elsewhere without disclosing the fact—despite the editors discovering the previous publication during the peer review process
    • Nor had the editors sought copyright permission
    • When it was later pointed out that the two articles were essentially the same the editors agreed that they had been at fault and published a notice of duplicate publication
  • 24. COPE case III
    • An editor was accused of publication bias because he had invited the same trainee in radiology to write 14 commentaries in five years
    • The most recent commentary covered the same ground as previous commentaries and cited mostly the trainee and the accused editor
    • The editor was failing to let other authors and viewpoints come through
    • Journal’s ombudsman dismissed the case
  • 25. WAME case
    • An editor rejected a series of papers--essays, not research studies--that he had already agreed to publish
    • The case was described on the WAME website
    • All those commenting thought this unacceptable behaviour
  • 26. Editor confesses...
    • “ I am that wicked editor….”
  • 27.  
  • 28. How common is editorial misconduct?
    • We have virtually no idea
    • We begin to have crude data on the prevalence of misconduct among authors
    • But with editors we have only stories--and usually incomplete ones
  • 29. Why does editorial misconduct happen?
    • Why wouldn’t it happen? It happens in all human activities
    • We don’t know what misconduct is unless we debate and define it
    • Editors are peculiarly unaccountable--largely perhaps because of traditions of “editorial freedom”
    • There are no bodies that attempt to regulate medical and scientific editors
  • 30. How should we respond to editorial misconduct?
    • Owners might improve systems of accountability
    • Bodies of editors--like COPE and WAME--should introduce self regulation
  • 31. A code for COPE
    • Derived from the code of conduct of the Press Complaints Commission and the WAME statement on editorial responsibility
    • Covers accuracy and correcting the record, ethics committee approval, protecting the confidentiality of human subjects, pursuing misconduct, relationship to publishers, owners, and the economics of journals, conflict of interest, and ways to complain
  • 32. Living by the code
    • All editors in COPE sign up and agree to abide by the code
    • Complaints can be made to COPE
    • The chair of the COPE council would attempt conciliation
    • Otherwise, the COPE council would consider the case in writing with full disclosure to complainant and the defending editor
    • If the council found against the editor he or she would be required to publish the full judgement
    • COPE might also in serious cases report the editor to the owners
  • 33. Conclusion
    • Editorial misconduct occurs
    • We have cases that illustrate the forms of misconduct
    • We have no idea how common it is
    • We can only speculate on why it happens
    • No group of editors has tried to develop self-regulation
    • COPE is at the very beginning of doing so