Ethics and Malpractice Policy

The relevant COPE policies and procedures can be found at: https://publicationethics.org/

COPE Guidelines: https://publicationethics.org/guidance/Guidelines

COPE Flowcharts: https://publicationethics.org/guidance/Flowcharts

Handling of possible misconduct

  • Reviewers and Editors have a duty to act if they suspect misconduct.
  • This duty extends to both published and unpublished papers.
  • Reviewers and Editors should not simply reject papers that raise concerns about possible misconduct. They are ethically obliged to pursue alleged cases.
  • If reviewers encounter any irregularities concerning research and publication ethics, they have a responsibility to inform the handling editor. For example, reviewers may have concerns that misconduct occurred during either the research or the writing and submission of the manuscript or may notice substantial similarity between the manuscript and a concurrent submission to another journal or a published article.
  • In the case of these or any other ethical concerns, the handling editor should be contacted directly, and the reviewers should not attempt to investigate on their own. It is appropriate for the reviewer to cooperate, in confidence, with the journal, but not to personally investigate further unless the journal asks for additional information or advice.
  • Editors should first seek a response from those accused.
  • If they are not satisfied with the response, they should ask the relevant employers, relevant regulatory bodies or national research integrity organization to investigate.
  • For research performed in South Africa, the guidelines provided by the National Department of Health Guidelines “Ethics in Health Research: Principles, Processes and Structures” (2nd Edition, 2019) identifies the National Health Research Ethics Council (NHREC) as the regulatory authority in terms of section 72 of the National Health Act (NHA).
  • In terms of this act, NHREC Must refer matters concerning violations of ethical or professional rules to the relevant health professions council (e.g. HPCSA) and recommend disciplinary action against persons found to have violated the norms and standards set for the responsible and ethical conduct of health research.
  • Editors should make all reasonable efforts to ensure that a proper investigation is conducted; if this does not happen, Editors should make all reasonable attempts to persist in obtaining a resolution to the problem. This is an onerous but important duty.
  • Section editors are required to report all possible misconduct to the Editor-in-Chief and should follow the COPE flowcharts where applicable. These can be accessed: https://publicationethics.org/guidance/Flowcharts

 

a. Editors’ responsibilities: Ethics and malpractice

Adapted from the COPE Code of Conduct for Journal Editors. The full document can be accessed at: https://publicationethics.org/files/Code_of_conduct_for_journal_editors_Mar11.pdf ]

In accordance with the Code of Conduct, all Editors (including Section Editors) have the following responsibilities:

General duties and responsibilities of Editors

Editors should be accountable for everything published in the journal, and they should:

  • Strive to meet the needs of readers and authors.
  • Constantly improve the journal.
  • Ensure the quality of the material they publish.
  • Champion freedom of expression.
  • Maintain the integrity of the academic record.
  • Preclude business needs from compromising intellectual standards.
  • Always be willing to publish corrections, clarifications, retractions and apologies when needed.

Relations with readers

  • Ensure that readers are informed about who funded the research and the role of the funders in the research.

Relations with authors

  • Editors should take all reasonable steps to ensure the quality of the material published, recognising that the different sections within the journals may have a different focus and standards.
  • Editors’ decisions to accept or reject a paper for publication should be based on the paper’s importance, originality, clarity, scientific validity, and the study’s relevance to the remit of the journal.
  • A description of peer review processes must be published on the journal’s website, and Editors should be ready to justify any deviation from the described processes.
  • That the journal has a declared mechanism for authors to appeal against Editorial decisions.
  • Editors should publish guidance to authors on everything that is expected of them. This guidance should be regularly updated and should refer or link to this policy.
  • Editors should not reverse decisions to accept submissions unless serious problems are identified with the submission.

Relations with reviewers

  • Editors should guide reviewers on everything that is expected of them, including the need to handle submitted material in confidence. This guidance should be regularly updated and should refer to or link to this code.
  • Editors should require reviewers to disclose any potential competing interests before agreeing to review a submission.
  • Editors should have systems to ensure that peer reviewers’ identities are protected.

Relations with editorial board members

  • Editors should provide new editorial board members with guidelines on everything expected of them and keep existing members updated on new policies and developments.

The peer-review process

  • Editors should strive to ensure that peer review at the journal is fair, unbiased and timely
  • To assign appropriate reviewers, editors must match reviewers with the scope of the content in a manuscript to get the best reviews possible.
  • Editors should ensure that material submitted to their journal remains confidential while under review.
  • If you are the editor handling a manuscript and decide to review that manuscript yourself (perhaps if another reviewer could not return a report), do this transparently and not under the guise of an additional anonymous reviewer.

Complaints

  • Editors should follow the procedure set out in the COPE flowchart.
  • Editors should respond promptly to complaints and should ensure there is a way for dissatisfied complainants to take complaints further.

Encouraging debate

  • Cogent criticisms of published work should be published unless Editors have convincing reasons why they cannot be.
  • Authors of criticised material should be given the opportunity to respond.
  • Studies that challenge previous work published in the journal should be given an especially sympathetic hearing.
  • Studies reporting negative results should not be excluded.

Encouraging academic integrity

  • Editors should ensure that the research material they publish conforms to internationally accepted ethical guidelines.
  • Editors should endeavour to ensure that research they publish was carried out according to the relevant internationally accepted guidelines (e.g. the Declaration of Helsinki for clinical research)
  • Editors should seek assurances that an appropriate body has approved all research (e.g. research ethics committee, institutional review board). However, Editors should recognise that such approval does not guarantee that the research is ethical.

Protecting individual data

  • Editors should protect the confidentiality of individual information (e.g. that obtained through the doctor-patient relationship). It is, therefore, almost always necessary to obtain written informed consent from patients described in case reports and for photographs of patients. It may be possible to publish without explicit consent if the report is important to public health (or is in some other way important); consent would be unusually burdensome to obtain; a reasonable individual would be unlikely to object to publication (all three conditions must be met).

Dealing with possible misconduc

  • Editors have a duty to act if they suspect misconduct. This duty extends to both published and unpublished papers.
  • Editors should not simply reject papers that raise concerns about possible misconduct. They are ethically obliged to pursue alleged cases.
  • Editors should first seek a response from those accused. If they are not satisfied with the response, they should ask the relevant employers or the relevant regulatory body or national research integrity organization to investigate.
  • Editors should follow the COPE flowcharts where applicable. These can be accessed: https://publicationethics.org/guidance/Flowcharts
  • Editors should make all reasonable efforts to ensure that a proper investigation is conducted; if this does not happen, Editors should make all reasonable attempts to persist in obtaining a resolution to the problem. This is an onerous but important duty.

Ensuring the integrity of the academic record

  • Whenever it is recognised that a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distorted report has been published, it must be corrected promptly and with due prominence.
  • If, after an appropriate investigation, an item proves to be fraudulent, it should be retracted. The retraction should be clearly identifiable to readers and indexing systems.

Relations with journal owners and publishers

  • The relationship of Editors to publishers and owners is often complex but should, in each case, be based firmly on the principle of Editorial independence. Notwithstanding these economic and political realities, Editors should decide which articles to publish based on quality and suitability for readers rather than for immediate financial or political gain.

Commercial considerations

  • Editors should have declared policies on advertising in relation to the content of the journal.
  • Misleading advertisements must be refused, and Editors must be willing to publish criticisms according to the same criteria used for material in the rest of the journal.
  • Reprints should be published as they appear in the journal unless a correction is to be added.

Intellectual property

  • Editors should be alert to intellectual property issues and work with the publisher to handle potential breaches of intellectual property laws and conventions.

Conflict of interest

  • Editors should have systems for managing their own conflicts of interest and those of their staff, authors, reviewers and Editorial board members.
  • Journals should have a declared process for handling submissions from the editors, employees, or editorial board members to ensure unbiased review.

 

b. Reviewer responsibilities: Ethics and malpractice

Adapted from the COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers. The full document can be accessed here: https://publicationethics.org/resources/guidelines-new/cope-ethical-guidelines-peer-reviewers

Professional responsibility

  • Authors who have benefited from the peer review process should consider becoming peer reviewers as a part of their professional responsibilities.
  • Anyone interested in becoming a reviewer should review the journal guidelines on peer review and follow the requirements posted.
  • Reviewers should provide the journal with the relevant professional contact information.
  • It is important to recognise that impersonation of another individual during the review process is considered serious misconduct (e.g., see COPE Case 12-12: Compromised peer review system in published papers) (https://cope.onl/case-review-2).
  • When approached to review, agree to review only if you have the necessary expertise to assess the manuscript and can be unbiased in your assessment.
  • It is better to clearly identify any gaps in your expertise when asked to review.

Competing interests and bias

  • It is important to remain unbiased by considerations related to the nationality, religious or political beliefs, gender or other characteristics of the authors, origins of a manuscript, or commercial considerations.
  • Ensure you declare all potential competing or conflicting interests. If you are unsure about a potential competing interest that may prevent you from reviewing, do raise this. Competing interests may be personal, financial, intellectual, professional, political or religious in nature.
  • If you discover a competing interest that might prevent you from providing a fair and unbiased review, notify the journal and seek advice.
  • Similarly, notify the journal as soon as possible if you do not have the necessary expertise to assess a manuscript's relevant aspects to not unduly delay the review process.
  • If you suspect the identity of the author(s), notify the journal if this knowledge raises any potential competing or conflict of interest.
  • If you are currently employed at the same institution as any of the authors or have been recent (e.g., within the past 3 years) mentors, mentees, close collaborators or joint grant holders, you should not agree to review.
  • You should not agree to review a manuscript just to gain sight of it with no intention of submitting a review or agree to review a very similar manuscript to one you have in preparation or under consideration at another journal.

Suspicion of ethics violations

  • If you encounter any irregularities regarding research and publication ethics, do let the editor know.
  • For example, you may have concerns that misconduct occurred during the research or the writing and submission of the manuscript, or you may notice substantial similarity between the manuscript and a concurrent submission to another journal or a published article. In the case of these or any other ethical concerns, contact the editor directly and do not attempt to investigate on your own. It is appropriate to cooperate, in confidence, with the journal, but not to personally investigate further unless the journal asks for additional information or advice.

Timeliness

  • It is courteous to respond to an invitation to peer review within a reasonable time frame, even if you cannot undertake the review.
  • If you feel qualified to judge a particular manuscript, you should agree to review only if you are able to return a review within the proposed or mutually agreed time frame.
  • Always inform the journal promptly if your circumstances change and you cannot fulfil your original agreement or if you require an extension.
  • If you cannot review, it is helpful to suggest alternative reviewers, if relevant, based on their expertise and without any influence of personal considerations or any intention of the manuscript receiving a specific outcome (either positive or negative).

Confidentiality

  • Respect the confidentiality of the peer-review process and refrain from using information obtained during the peer review process for your own or another’s advantage or to disadvantage or discredit others.
  • Do not involve anyone else in the review of a manuscript (including early career researchers you are mentoring) without first obtaining permission from the journal. The names of any individuals who have helped with the review should be included so that they are associated with the manuscript in the journal’s records and can also receive due recognition for their efforts.

Review process and report

  • Read the manuscript, supplementary data files and ancillary material thoroughly (e.g., reviewer instructions, required ethics and policy statements), getting back to the journal if anything is not clear and requesting any missing or incomplete items you need.
  • Do not contact the authors directly without the permission of the journal.
  • Be objective and constructive in your review, providing feedback that will help the authors to improve their manuscript. For example, be specific in your critique, and provide supporting evidence with appropriate references to substantiate general statements to help editors in their evaluation. Be professional and refrain from being hostile or inflammatory and from making libellous or derogatory personal comments or unfounded accusations.
  • Bear in mind that the editor requires a fair, honest, and unbiased assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript.
  • The journal allows reviewers to provide confidential comments to the editor as well as comments to be read by the authors. Ensure your comments and recommendations for the editor are consistent with your report for the authors; most feedback should be put in the report that the authors will see. Confidential comments to the editor should not be a place for denigration or false accusation, done in the knowledge that the authors will not see your comments.
  • If you have not reviewed the whole manuscript, indicate which aspects of the manuscript you have assessed.
  • With regards to language and style, remember it is the authors’ paper, so do not attempt to rewrite it to your own preferred style if it is basically sound and clear; suggestions for changes that improve clarity are, however, important. In addition, be aware of the sensitivities surrounding language issues due to the authors writing in a language that is not their first or most proficient language, and phrase the feedback appropriately and with due respect.
  • It is the job of the peer reviewer to comment on the quality and rigour of the work they receive. If the work is not clear because of missing analyses, the reviewer should comment and explain what additional analyses would clarify the work submitted.
  • It is not the job of the reviewer to extend the work beyond its current scope. Be clear which (if any) suggested additional investigations are essential to support claims made in the manuscript under consideration and which will just strengthen or extend the work.

Accountability

  • Prepare the report by yourself, unless you have permission from the journal to involve another person.
  • Refrain from making unfair negative comments or including unjustified criticisms of any competitors’ work mentioned in the manuscript.
  • Refrain from suggesting that authors include citations to your (or an associate’s) work merely to increase citation counts or enhance the visibility of your or your associate’s work; suggestions must be based on valid academic or technological reasons.
  • Do not intentionally prolong the review process, either by delaying the submission of your review or by requesting unnecessary additional information from the journal or author.
  • If you are the editor handling a manuscript and decide to review that manuscript yourself (perhaps if another reviewer could not return a report), do this transparently and not under the guise of an additional anonymous reviewer.

Following peer review

  • If possible, try to accommodate requests from journals to review revisions or resubmissions of manuscripts you have reviewed previously.
  • It is helpful to respond promptly if contacted by a journal about matters related to your review and provide the required information.
  • Similarly, contact the journal if anything relevant comes to light after submitting your review that might affect your original feedback and recommendations.
  • Continue to respect the confidential nature of the review process and do not reveal details of the manuscript after peer review unless you have permission from the author and the journal.

Peer review training and mentoring

  • Take advantage of opportunities to enrol in mentorship or training programmes to improve your peer review skills.
  • Offer to mentor early career researchers as they learn the peer review process.
  • Supervisors who wish to involve their students or junior researchers in peer review must request permission from the editor and abide by the editor’s decision. In cases where a student performs the review under the guidance of the supervisor, that should be noted, and the student should be acknowledged as the reviewer of record.
  • It is advisable to read the reviews from the other reviewers to improve your own understanding of the topic and the reason for the editorial decision.
  • “Sense about Science” has a helpful guide for peer review for early career researchers. Available at: https://senseaboutscience.org/activities/peer-review-the-nuts-and-bolts/

 

c. Author’s responsibilities: Ethics and malpractice

According to the position statement on responsible research publication  (2nd World Conference on Research Integrity, Singapore, 2010) and following COPE guidelines, researchers and authors are expected to meet the following international standards:

[Source: Wager E & Kleinert S (2011) Responsible research publication position statements. Chapter 49 in: Mayer T & Steneck N (eds) Promoting Research Integrity in a Global Environment. Imperial College Press / World Scientific Publishing, Singapore (pp 305-7). (ISBN 978-981-4340-97-7)]

Soundness and reliability

  • The research being reported should have been conducted ethically and responsibly and follow all relevant legislation. [See also the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity, www.singaporestatement.org]
  • The research being reported should be sound and carefully executed.
  • Researchers should use appropriate data analysis methods and display (and, if needed, seek and follow specialist advice).
  • Authors should take collective responsibility for their work and the content of their publications. Researchers should check their publications carefully at all stages to ensure methods and findings are reported accurately. Authors should carefully check calculations, data presentations, typescripts/submissions and proofs.

Honesty

  • Researchers should present their results honestly and without fabrication, falsification or inappropriate data manipulation. Research images (e.g. micrographs, X-rays, pictures of electrophoresis gels) should not be modified in a misleading way.
  • Researchers should strive to describe their methods and to present their findings clearly and unambiguously. Researchers should follow applicable reporting guidelines. Publications should provide sufficient detail to permit experiments to be repeated by other researchers.
  • Reports of research should be complete. They should not omit inconvenient, inconsistent or inexplicable findings or results that do not support the authors’ or sponsors’ hypothesis or interpretation.
  • Research funders and sponsors should not be able to veto the publication of findings that do not favour their product or position.
  • Researchers should not enter agreements that permit the research sponsor to veto or control the publication of the findings (unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as research classified by governments because of security implications).
  • Authors should alert the editor promptly if they discover an error in any submitted, accepted or published work. Authors should cooperate with editors in issuing corrections or retractions when required.
  • Authors should represent the work of others accurately in citations and quotations.
  • Authors should not copy references from other publications if they have not read the cited work.

Balance

  • New findings should be presented in the context of previous research. The work of others should be fairly represented. Scholarly reviews and syntheses of existing research should be complete, balanced, and should include findings regardless of whether they support the proposed hypothesis or interpretation. Editorials or opinion pieces presenting a single viewpoint or argument should be clearly distinguished from scholarly reviews.
  • Study limitations should be addressed in publications.

Originality

  • Authors should adhere to publication requirements that submitted work is original and has not been published elsewhere in any language. Work should not be submitted concurrently to more than one publication unless the editors have agreed to co-publication. If articles are co-published, this fact should be made clear to readers.
  • Applicable copyright laws and conventions should be followed. Copyright material (e.g. tables, figures or extensive quotations) should be reproduced only with appropriate permission and acknowledgement.
  • Relevant previous work and publications, both by other researchers and the authors’ own, should be properly acknowledged and referenced. The primary literature should be cited where possible.
  • Data, text, figures or ideas originated by other researchers should be acknowledged appropriately and should not be presented as if they were the authors’ own. Original wording taken directly from publications by other researchers should appear in quotation marks with the appropriate citations.
  • Authors should inform editors if findings have been published previously or if multiple reports or multiple analyses of a single data set are under consideration for publication elsewhere. Authors should provide copies of related publications or work submitted to other journals.
  • Multiple publications arising from a single research project should be clearly identified as such, and the primary publication should be referenced.
  • Publishing the same research in more than one journal is not allowed.
  • Translations and adaptations for different audiences should be clearly identified, acknowledge the original source, and respect relevant copyright conventions and permission requirements. If in doubt, authors should seek permission from the original publisher before republishing any work.

Transparency

  • All sources of research funding, including direct and indirect financial support, supply of equipment or materials, and other support (such as specialist statistical or writing assistance) should be disclosed.
  • Authors should disclose the role of the research funder(s) or sponsor (if any) in the research design, execution, analysis, interpretation and reporting.
  • Authors should disclose relevant financial and non-financial interests and relationships that might be considered likely to affect the interpretation of their findings or which editors, reviewers, or readers might reasonably wish to know. This includes any relationship to the journal, for example, if editors publish their own research in their own journal. In addition, authors should follow journal and institutional requirements for disclosing competing interests.

Appropriate authorship and acknowledgement

  • A publication serves as a record not only of what has been discovered but also of who made the discovery. Therefore, the authorship of research publications should accurately reflect individuals’ contributions to the work and its reporting.
  • In cases where major contributors are listed as authors while those who made less substantial or purely technical contributions to the research or to the publication are listed in the acknowledgement section, the criteria for authorship and acknowledgement should be agreed at the start of the project. Responsibility for the correct attribution of authorship lies with authors themselves working under the guidance of their institution. Research institutions should promote and uphold fair and accepted standards of authorship and acknowledgement. When required, institutions should adjudicate in authorship disputes and should ensure that due process is followed.
  • Researchers should ensure that only those individuals who meet authorship criteria (i.e. made a substantial contribution to the work) are rewarded with authorship and that deserving authors are not omitted.
  • All authors should agree to be listed and should approve the submitted and accepted versions of the publication. Any change to the author list should be approved by all authors, including any who have been removed from the list. The corresponding author should act as a point of contact between the editor and the other authors and keep co-authors informed and involve them in major decisions about the publication (e.g. responding to reviewers’ comments).
  • Authors should not use acknowledgements misleadingly to imply a contribution or endorsement by individuals who have not, in fact, been involved with the work or given an endorsement.

Accountability and responsibility

  • All authors should have read and be familiar with the reported work and should ensure that publications follow the principles set out in these guidelines. In most cases, authors will be expected to take joint responsibility for the integrity of the research and its reporting. However, if authors take responsibility only for certain aspects of the research and its reporting, this should be specified in the publication.
  • Authors should work with the editor or publisher to correct their work promptly if errors or omissions are discovered after publication.
  • Authors should abide by relevant conventions, requirements and regulations to make materials, reagents, software or datasets available to other researchers who request them. Authors must also follow relevant journal standards. While proper acknowledgement is expected, researchers should not demand authorship as a condition for sharing materials.
  • Authors should respond appropriately to post-publication comments and published correspondence. They should attempt to answer correspondents’ questions and supply clarification or additional details where needed.

Adherence to peer review and publication conventions

  • Authors should follow publishers’ requirements that work is not submitted to more than one publication for consideration at the same time.
  • Authors should inform the editor if they withdraw their work from review or choose not to respond to reviewer comments after receiving a conditional acceptance.
  • Authors should respond to reviewers’ comments in a professional and timely manner.
  • Authors should respect publishers’ requests for press embargos and should not generally allow their findings to be reported in the press if they have been accepted for publication (but not yet published) in a scholarly publication. Authors and their institutions should liaise and cooperate with publishers to coordinate media activity (e.g. press releases and press conferences) around publication. Press releases should accurately reflect the work and not include statements that go further than the research findings.

Responsible reporting of research involving humans or animals

  • Appropriate approval, licensing or registration should be obtained before the research begins, and details should be provided in the report (e.g. Institutional Review Board, Research Ethics Committee approval, national licensing authorities for the use of animals).
  • If requested by editors, authors should supply evidence that reported research received the appropriate approval and was carried out ethically (e.g. copies of approvals, licences, participant consent forms).
  • Researchers should not generally publish or share identifiable individual data collected during the course of research without specific consent from the individual (or their representative). Researchers should remember that the journal is now freely available on the internet and should therefore be mindful of the risk of causing danger or upset to unintended readers (e.g. research participants or their families who recognise themselves from case studies, descriptions, images or pedigrees).
  • The appropriate statistical analyses should be determined at the start of the study, and a data analysis plan for the prespecified outcomes should be prepared and followed. Secondary or post hoc analyses should be distinguished from primary analyses and those set out in the data analysis plan.
  • Researchers should publish all meaningful research results that might contribute to understanding. In particular, there is an ethical responsibility to publish the findings of all clinical trials. The publication of unsuccessful studies or experiments that reject a hypothesis may help prevent others from wasting time and resources on similar projects. If findings from small studies and those that fail to reach statistically significant results can be combined to produce more useful information (e.g. by meta-analysis), then such findings should be published.
  • Authors should supply research protocols to journal editors if requested (e.g. for clinical trials) so that reviewers and editors can compare the research report to the protocol to check that it was carried out as planned and that no relevant details have been omitted. Researchers should follow relevant requirements for clinical trial registration and should include the trial registration number in all publications arising from the trial.