248 B.K. Redman and J.F. Merz
articles are at once the scientist’s primary means for communicat-
ing with peers, the primary mechanism for peer review, and,
when misconduct occurs, a source of potential error in science.
Indeed, a recent study has shown that retracted studies continue
to be cited (Budd et al., 1999). It is thus critical that journals have
policies for dealing with allegations of misconduct.
Both the International Commission of Medical Journal Edi-
tors (ICMJE) and the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)
(U.K.) provide consensus standards for the responsibility of jour-
nal editors if research misconduct is suspected or confirmed in
submitted or published manuscripts. In 2000, the U.S. Office of
Research Integrity (ORI) provided guidance for editors manag-
ing allegations of scientific misconduct (see Table 1), particularly
about procedures for handling suspect manuscripts, responding
to ORI request for assistance, and correcting the literature.
The purposes of this study are to examine whether high-
impact biomedical journals have adopted misconduct policies
and to describe the policies that are in place.
The Journal Citation Report (Science Edition) is a bibliometric
analysis of science journals in the Information Sciences Institutes
database. Impact factor is defined as the average number of times
articles in a specific journal appearing in a two year time period
(2001–2002) were cited in the Journal Citation Report the follow-
ing year (2003). It was created to help evaluate a journal’s relative
impact on the field. Table 2 identifies the fifty highest impact bio-
medical journals and the fields from which they were
drawn.(Journal Citation Reports, 2004).
Each journal Web site or the first issue of 2005 were searched
by one of us (B. K. Redman) in February of 2005 for Instructions
for Authors and other documents that described journal policies
toward research misconduct (Web site addresses may be found in
Table 3). These policies were then content-analyzed to describe
the definition of research misconduct and the process by which
an allegation was addressed. Editors of these journals were con-
tacted by e-mail with telephone follow-up to verify the existence
of a policy, why one was adopted or whether adoption was being
considered, and the definition of research misconduct; the
Policies on Research Misconduct 249
TABLE 1 Suggested journal policies for research misconduct
“If substantial doubts arise about the honesty or integrity of work either
submitted or published, it is the editor’s responsibility to ensure that the
question is appropriately pursued, usually by the author’s sponsoring
institution. However, it is not ordinarily the task of editors to conduct a full
investigation or to make a determination; that responsibility lies with the
institution where the work was done or with the funding agency. . . . If this
method of investigation does not result in a satisfactory conclusion, the editor
may choose to conduct his or her own investigation . . . ”
International Committee of Medical Journal Editors: Uniform Requirements
for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Writing and Editing for Bio-
medical Publication, updated October 2004.
“ . . . Editors should not simply reject papers that raise questions of misconduct.
They are ethically obligated to pursue the case . . . COPE is always willing to
advise, but for legal reasons, can only advise on anonymised cases. It is for the
editor to decide what action to take . . . Editors must take all allegations and
suspicions of misconduct seriously, but they must recognize that they do not
usually have either the legal legitimacy or the means to conduct investigations
into serious cases. The editor must decide when to alert the employers of the
accused author(s). Some evidence is required, but if employers have a process
for investigating accusations—as they are increasingly required to do—then
editors do not need to assemble a complete case. Indeed, it may be ethically
unsound for editors to do so, because such action usually means consulting
experts, so spreading abroad serious questions about the author(s). If editors
are presented with convincing evidence—perhaps by reviewers—of serious
misconduct, they should immediately pass this on to the employers, notifying
the author(s) that they are doing so. If accusations of serious misconduct are
not accompanied by convincing evidence, then editors should confidentially
seek expert advice. If the experts raise serious questions about the research,
then editors should notify the employers . . . ”
Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE): Guidelines on Good Publication
“Instructions to authors should state that the authors, by submitting a
manuscript to the journal, will abide by the journal’s policy and procedures for
notifying the author’s institution or ORI. This notification should also state that
authors agree to cooperate with an institution or ORI in investigating an
allegation of scientific misconduct involving their manuscript or article.
Developing procedures for handling suspect manuscripts will guide
the editorial staff and reviewers.”
Office of Research Integrity: Managing Allegations of Scientific Misconduct;
A Guidance Document for Editors, 2000.
254 B.K. Redman and J.F. Merz
number of cases alleged or confirmed in the past year; and how
they were identified, investigated, and resolved.
IRB approval was obtained from the Wayne State University
Human Investigation Committee.
Written policies were located for seven of the fifty journals
(Annals of Internal Medicine, Endocrine Review, Gastroenterology, Journal
of Clinical Investigation, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Nature,
Physiological Reviews; one is based in the U.K. and six in the U.S.).
Five (all U.S.–based) used a definition similar to that of the U.S.
Office of Research Integrity (ORI): Research misconduct is fabrica-
tion, falsification or plagiarism (FFP) in proposing, conducting or
reporting research. (42 CFR, Section 93.103). The remaining two
did not provide a definition. Notably, three of the five expanded
the definition to include one or more of the following criteria:
duplicate publication; misrepresentation of author contributions;
failure to disclose conflict of interest; violation of federal, state,
and institutional rules; honorary authorship; and animal or clini-
cal research without IRB approval.
Most (6 of 7) written policies described the process used to
deal with evidence or allegations of research misconduct. The
Journal of the National Cancer Institute’s policy is unique in noting
that if the author had been sanctioned by ORI, the manuscript
would be returned unless a cover letter affirmed that the research
was unrelated to the matter for which the author was sanctioned.
Three journals used committees or consultants for advice. Nature
editors may seek advice about submitted papers not only from
technical referees but also on any aspect of an article that raises
concerns. Advice may include ethical issues or issues of data or
Policies of five journals indicated the allegation should be
reported to the author’s institution. A sixth asked the complainant
to do so and a seventh indicated the funding agency and the
author should be notified. Policies of two journals specified that
authors should be notified of the complaint. Only one (Physiological
Reviews) explicitly included a right of appeal by the author, to the
publication committee of The American Physiological Society
(which publishes the journal). Thus, most policies do not provide
Policies on Research Misconduct 255
for investigation of alleged misconduct by the journal, usually
because journals have neither the capacity to perform an investiga-
tion nor an employment relationship with the author. This finding
is congruent with ICMJE and COPE recommendations.
Four journals published policies about sanctions, including
rejection of the manuscript; publication of errata, retraction, letter
of reprimand, requirement that the author publish an apology to
correct the record, banning future submissions, dismissal from
the society with which the journal is affiliated, and written notifica-
tion to other professional societies, institutions and funding agen-
cies. Errata, corrections, and retractions may be accomplished by
editorial comment drawing attention to the infraction.
Although not available on Journal of the American Medical
Association’s (JAMA’s) Web site, the American Medical Associa-
tion’s Manual of Style (1998) provides general information about
research misconduct and refers to ICMJE’s policy recommenda-
tions and to JAMA’s policy on retraction, which may occur
because of research misconduct (Iverson, 1998).
In summary, for only seven of the top fifty high impact bio-
medical journals could publicly available policies be located.
When a definition of misconduct is provided, core infractions of
falsification, fabrication, or plagiarism are frequently expanded
to include duplicate publications, failure to disclose conflicts of
interest, and in some cases failure to secure IRB or Institutional
Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) approval.
Nine of fifty editors (18% response rate) responded to an
e-mail questionnaire or follow-up phone call interview seeking:
verification of existence of a written policy on research miscon-
duct, what precipitated adoption of such a policy or why one was
currently being considered; and number of allegations or con-
firmed research misconduct they had experienced in the past
year, how they were identified, and how they were resolved. Two
reported having a policy on research misconduct; these responses
were congruent with findings of the search for publicly available
While twenty-six of the fifty journals are review journals, only
two of the seven journals for which written policies were retrieved
were review journals (Fisher’s exact test p>.18). Informal comments
and refusals to complete the questionnaire came from editors of
these journals with the note that research misconduct is not
256 B.K. Redman and J.F. Merz
applicable to them since they do not publish primary research
and the reviews they publish are frequently invited from specific
authors. One of the three editors considering adoption of a policy
on research misconduct was from a review journal.
Seven of the nine editors reported they had a total of 18
(range 1–4, mean 2.6) allegations of research misconduct in
manuscripts under review or published by their journal in the
past year. Potential cases were identified by readers, other
authors, peer reviewers, internal review or contact by ORI. The
journals’ investigations included asking the author for an expla-
nation, and if required, referring the matter to the author’s
employing institution (2 instances). Retraction of the article was
perceived to be a rare event (1 instance reported). Correction
was more common (4 instances) because the investigation found
an innocent error or as one editor phrased it, “beautification,”
rather than misconduct. Two editors without written policies
reported that allegations were resolved on a case-by-case basis.
Since publications are the main currency of a scientific career,
journals, especially high impact ones, are in a strong position to
deter research misconduct. Yet, despite calls for development of
journal policies for managing allegations of misconduct, few have
adopted them. Although review journals (about half of the sample
studied here) would seem less likely to encounter fabrication or
falsification, plagiarism could be a problem for all journals. Policies
that do exist rarely address all relevant issues: a definition of
research misconduct; a process including notification of relevant
parties and use of committees/consultants, and right of appeal;
and a set of sanctions commensurate with the possible infraction.
Some innovative practices by which journals can deal with
research misconduct have begun. Editors are starting to use
software to identify plagiarism (Taking on the Cheats, 2005). For
example, a consortium of otolaryngology, head, and neck journals
have agreed to share information about relevant incidents and
in egregious cases (after an appropriate deliberative process) may
elect to limit the author’s privilege to publish in those journals
for a specified period of time. This agreement is expected to limit
opportunity for authors who have engaged in unethical practices
Policies on Research Misconduct 257
to simply resubmit their work to another specialty journal where
the questionable practices might go undetected (Benninger
et al., 2005). One other method that may help deter this practice
is requiring authors to submit, along with a manuscript, copies of
any previous peer review received on the article.
It is reasonable to believe that journals’ adoption of explicit pol-
icies is much preferable to taking a case-by-case approach for dealing
with allegations of research misconduct. Publicly available policies
may have a deterrent effect and can prevent arbitrariness. A decade
ago, analysis of handling of a prominent case involving Bernard
Fisher precipitated reforms in notification of journals about research
misconduct. Problems with some data in the huge multisite trial
were not communicated for three years to the New England Journal of
Medicine, which published the original article (Anderson, 1994).
Journals have an important role to play, but they must ensure that
they manage allegations fairly and consistently. Formal adoption of
standards, with explicit protection of the rights of whistleblowers and
accused scientists, is the best way for journals to proceed.
This study has important limitations. Relevant policies may
have been missed on Web sites or in journals. The response rate
by editors was low. Nonetheless, our data strongly suggests that
the leading biomedical journals have not yet adopted policies for
managing allegations of misconduct involving manuscripts or
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