Scientific Misconduct, Expressions of Concern, and Retraction

Scientific misconduct includes but is not necessarily limited to data fabrication; data falsification including deceptive manipulation of images; and plagiarism Some people consider failure to publish the results of clinical trials and other human studies a form of scientific misconduct. While each of these practices is problematic, they are not equivalent. Each situation requires individual assessment by relevant stakeholders. When scientific misconduct is alleged, or concerns are otherwise raised about the conduct or integrity of work described in submitted or published papers, the editor should initiate appropriate procedures detailed by such committees such as the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and may choose to publish an expression of concern pending the outcomes of those procedures. If the procedures involve an investigation at the authors’ institution, the editor should seek to discover the outcome of that investigation, notify readers of the outcome if appropriate, and if the investigation proves scientific misconduct, publish a retraction of the article. There may be circumstances in which no misconduct is proven, but an exchange of letters to the editor could be published to highlight matters of debate to readers.

Expressions of concern and retractions should not simply be a letter to the editor. Rather, they should be prominently labelled, appear on an electronic or numbered print page that is included in an electronic or a print Table of Contents to ensure proper indexing, and include in their heading the title of the original article. Online, the retraction and original article should be linked in both directions and the retracted article should be clearly labelled as retracted in all its forms (Abstract, full text, PDF). Ideally, the authors of the retraction should be the same as those of the article, but if they are unwilling or unable the editor may under certain circumstances accept retractions by other responsible persons, or the editor may be the sole author of the retraction or expression of concern. The text of the retraction should explain why the article is being retracted and include a complete citation reference to that article. Retracted articles should remain in the public domain and be clearly labelled as retracted.

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 other work published in their journals, or they may 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.

The integrity of research may also be compromised by inappropriate methodology that could lead to retraction.

See COPE flowcharts for further guidance on retractions and expressions of concern. See Section IV.g.i. for guidance about avoiding referencing retracted articles.


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