Ethics and peer review

by Jennifer Eve Appleton

When a paper has been submitted and the ethics surrounding the peer review process come under scrutiny what happens? Where do the authors and reviewers battle it out?

The answer is COPE.

A registered charity, COPE (committee on publication ethics) is run by a group of editors. They smooth out problems of an ethical nature providing advice to editors and publishers on all areas of ethics and how to cope with cases of research and publication misconduct. Created in 1977 due to the occurrence of a number of high profile scandals COPE has a number of aims:

1) To advise on cases brought by editors
2) Publish an annual report
3) Publish guidance on the ethics of publishing
3) Promote research into publication ethics
4) Offer teaching an training

One such example of a case that COPE has to deal with is named “An unbelievable surgical series”

A surgeon has sutured the superficial temporal artery of 1200 patients that suffer from migraines. The surgery miraculously cured them all.
The problem was the was that there was:

“No ethics committee approval. No clear diagnostic criteria. No controls. No evidence of consent”

A Complaint was made to the hospital however no action was taken. COPE was then informed in order to resolve the dispute.

The process that a reader takes if they suspect undisclosed conflict of interest (Col) in a published article….

An archive of the cases dealt with over the years are easily accessed on the committees website, naming and shaming scientists that stray away from the code of conduct they should adhere to when publishing work!


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