Editors must assume initially that authors are reporting work based on honest observations. Nevertheless, two types of difficulty may arise.
First, errors may be noted in published articles that require the publication of a correction or erratum on part of the work. The corrections should appear on a numbered page, be listed in the Table of Contents, include the complete original citation, and link to the original article and vice versa if online. It is conceivable that an error could be so serious as to vitiate the entire body of the work, but this is unlikely and should be addressed by editors and authors on an individual basis. Such an error should not be confused with inadequacies exposed by the emergence of new scientific information in the normal course of research. The latter requires no corrections or withdrawals.
The second type of difficulty is scientific fraud. If substantial doubt arises 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 authors’ sponsoring institution. Ordinarily, it is not the responsibility of the editor 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. The editor should be promptly informed of the final decision, and if a fraudulent paper has been published, the journal must print a retraction. If this method of investigation does not result in a satisfactory conclusion, the editor may choose to conduct his or her own investigation. As an alternative to retraction, the editor may choose to publish an expression of concern about aspects of the conduct or integrity of the work.
The retraction or expression of concern, so labeled, should appear on a numbered page in a prominent section of the print journal as well as in the online version, be listed in the Table of Contents page, and include in its heading the title of the original article. It should not simply be a letter to the editor. Ideally, the first author of the retraction should be the same as that of the article, although under certain circumstances the editor may accept retractions by other responsible persons. The text of the retraction should explain why the article is being retracted and include a complete citation reference to that article.
The validity of previous work by the author of a fraudulent paper cannot be assumed. Editors may ask the author’s institution to assure them of the validity of earlier work published in their journals or to retract it. If this is not done, editors may choose to publish an announcement expressing concern that the validity of previously published work is uncertain.
Editors who have questions related to editorial or scientific misconduct may find it useful to consult the excellent flow charts that the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has developed (http://www.publicationethics.org.uk). COPE, which was formed in 1997, is a forum in which editors of peer-reviewed journals can discuss issues related to the integrity of the scientific record; it supports and encourages editors to report, catalogue, and instigate investigations into ethical problems in the publication process. COPE’s major objective is to provide a sounding board for editors struggling with how best to deal with possible breaches in research and publication ethics.
Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts (URM)
- Statement of Purpose
- Ethical Considerations
- Authorship and Contributorship
- Peer Review
- Conflicts of Interest
- Privacy and Confidentiality
- Protection of Human Subjects and Animals in Research
- Publishing and Editorial Issues
- Obligation to Publish Negative Studies
- Corrections, Retractions, and "Expressions of Concern"
- Overlapping Publications
- Supplements, Theme Issues, and Special Series
- Electronic Publishing
- Medical Journals and the General Media
- Obligation to Register Clinical Trials
- Manuscript Preparation