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Cases from COPE - fabrications and falsifications of data, managing retractions and corrections


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Presentation from Virginia Barbour, Australian Open Access Strategy Group, to the AHMEN meeting on 19 June 2017 in Sydney, Australia

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Cases from COPE - fabrications and falsifications of data, managing retractions and corrections

  1. 1. AHMEN: Session 1 Cases from COPE: fabrications and falsifications of data; managing retractions and corrections Virginia Barbour Director, AOASG Immediate past Chair, COPE Advisor, Office of Research Ethics and Integrity, QUT ORCID: 0000-0002-2358-2440 @ginnybarbour
  2. 2. COPE cases show trends in publication ethics Irene Hames, at 7th International Congress on Peer Review, 8–10 September 2013, Chicago, USA
  3. 3. Cases relevant to data and correction of the literature 1997- 2012 Data • Over 16yr - fabrication 17%, selective/misleading reporting/interpretation 13%; • High (new) 2009 -12 – unauthorized use & image manipulation Correction of the literature • Over 16yr - retractions 47%, corrections 27%, expressions of concern 11%, disputes 9%, corrigenda & errata 6%
  4. 4. Diversity of data issues
  5. 5. Diversity of correction issues
  6. 6. Cases can be complex
  7. 7. …and take many years to resolve…
  8. 8. Tensions: Institutions want data to be managed Journals want data to be available Institutions have responsibilities other than correction of the literature Journals want swift corrections
  9. 9. Illustrative examples of cases • Data manipulation and institute’s internal review • Handling self-admissions of fraud • Concerns about the reliability of findings following re-analysis of a dataset from a published article
  10. 10. • A journal received an enquiry from a reader stating that they had found some discrepancies in the spectra published in the electronic supporting information for a published paper. They suggested that the discrepancies would be consistent with the spectra being manually ‘cleaned’. If this were true, the characterisation and purity of the compounds reported in the paper would be called into question. • The editor checked the spectra in close detail and verified that the discrepancies that the reader had identified were a reasonable cause for concern. When they contacted the lead author to discuss the concerns, they explained that ‘cleaning’ spectra to remove impurity peaks was not a practice that was carried out by their research group, and they did not believe that it had occurred in this instance. However, the researcher who had carried out the analysis had now left the group and the original data files were no longer available. • An independent expert confirmed that there was clear evidence that the spectra had been altered. • The journal contacted the director of the institute to request their assistance in determining whether the spectra had in fact been altered. They confirmed that it was not possible to locate the original data due to a limitation of their archival system. They stated that their internal review had not found any ‘intentional altering of the spectra and that the papers should not be suspected and be allowed to stand. Case description
  11. 11. Questions from the journal What action should the editor now take to resolve this matter? • accept the research institute’s recommendation that without evidence to prove deliberate manipulation of the data no further action should be taken. • publish an expression of concern notice on each of the affected articles stating that discrepancies in the spectra were identified, the institute was asked to investigate, but that the original data were not available and they found no evidence of deliberate manipulation of the spectra. NB: The editor also checked the author’s related papers in the journal and identified a total of four papers that were affected by similar discrepancies in the spectra.
  12. 12. • The first author of a decade old paper in our journal and a 15-year- old paper from another journal informed us that he faked the data in two figure panels in the paper in our journal and one figure panel in the paper in the other journal. • We informed the corresponding author that we had received self- admission of fraud from the first author and asked the corresponding author to retrieve original raw data for the figures in question and provide them to us. The corresponding author did not believe that the first author had faked the data. The matter was referred to the institution. • The first author provided both us and an investigating committee of the institution with data that he said was contemporaneously produced and showed a different result from what was published • The institute’s report concluded that no further action is warranted was based on the fact that there was no recorded falsification in the laboratory notebook. Case description
  13. 13. Questions from the journal • What is the journal’s responsibility when one author self proclaims fraud and another author says no fraud occurred? • What is the responsibility of the journal if the journal thinks an institutional investigation was not evidence based?
  14. 14. • A reader posted a comment raising some questions about the data analysis in a published study and the availability of the dataset. The dataset involves genetic information from potentially identifiable patients and as a result the authors indicated that the deposition of the data was not possible due to patient privacy concerns. The authors (eventually) made the dataset available to the editors and the reader. • The reader has re-analyzed the datasets provided by the authors and he indicates that his results do not support the conclusions reported in the article. • We asked the authors to provide a response to the results of the re-analysis and we indicated that, in the light of the concerns raised, it may be necessary to consider retraction of the article. The authors have replied and offered to collaborate with the reader in further analyses, however they suggest that the differences in the results may be due to the different methodologies employed for the analyses and they have not formally agreed to retract the article. • We have offered the reader to submit his re-analysis for publication but he is not interested in doing this; he is however willing for us to make his re-analysis publicly available via a public notification on the published article if we decide that such a notification is necessary Case description
  15. 15. • In the light of the concerns raised about the study, should we post a formal public notification on the article in order to alert readers of the concerns about the validity of the findings? • If so, would it be appropriate to proceed with a retraction or given that the authors have not agreed to this, consider instead the publication of an expression of concern? Questions from the journal
  16. 16. When is a retraction appropriate? Journal editors should consider retracting a publication if: • they have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g. data fabrication) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error) • the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper cross-referencing, permission or justification (i.e. cases of redundant publication) • it constitutes plagiarism • it reports unethical research
  17. 17. When is an expression of concern appropriate? Journal editors should consider issuing an expression of concern if: • they receive inconclusive evidence of research or publication misconduct by the authors • there is evidence that the findings are unreliable but the authors’ institution will not investigate the case • they believe that an investigation into alleged misconduct related to the publication either has not been, or would not be, fair and impartial or conclusive • an investigation is underway but a judgement will not be available for a considerable time
  18. 18. When is a correction appropriate? Journal editors should consider issuing a correction if: • a small portion of an otherwise reliable publication proves to be misleading (especially because of honest error) • the author / contributor list is incorrect (i.e. a deserving author has been omitted or somebody who does not meet authorship criteria has been included)
  19. 19. Despite clear guidance September 2009 Elizabeth Wager, Virginia Barbour, Steven Yentis, Sabine Kleinert on behalf of COPE Council “Retraction is a mechanism for correcting the literature and alerting readers to publications that contain such seriously flawed or erroneous data that their findings and conclusions cannot be relied upon… ..the main purpose of retractions is to correct the literature and ensure its integrity rather than to punish authors.”
  20. 20. We could probably do better “our current system …does not encourage researchers to engage in consistent post- publication changes”
  21. 21. References COPE - Publication ethics resources Cases Retraction Guidelines Amending Published Articles: Time To Rethink Retractions And Corrections?