Cases from COPE - fabrications and falsifications of data, managing retractions and corrections
AHMEN: Session 1
Cases from COPE:
fabrications and falsifications of data;
managing retractions and corrections
Immediate past Chair, COPE
Advisor, Office of Research Ethics and Integrity, QUT
COPE cases show trends in publication ethics
Irene Hames, at 7th International Congress on
Peer Review, 8–10 September 2013, Chicago,
Cases relevant to data and correction of the
literature 1997- 2012
• Over 16yr - fabrication 17%, selective/misleading
• 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%
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
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
• 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
• 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.
Questions from the journal
What action should the editor now take to resolve this
• 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.
• 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
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
• 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
• 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
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
When is an expression of concern appropriate?
Journal editors should consider issuing an expression of
• 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
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)
Despite clear guidance
Elizabeth Wager, Virginia Barbour, Steven Yentis, Sabine Kleinert on behalf of COPE
“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
..the main purpose of retractions is to correct the literature and
ensure its integrity rather than to punish authors.”
We could probably do better
“our current system
…does not encourage
researchers to engage
in consistent post-
COPE - Publication ethics resources
Amending Published Articles: Time To Rethink Retractions And Corrections?