Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 521–554 | Cite as

Notices and Policies for Retractions, Expressions of Concern, Errata and Corrigenda: Their Importance, Content, and Context

Original Paper

Abstract

A retraction notice is an essential scientific historical document because it should outline the reason(s) why a scientific manuscript was retracted, culpability (if any) and any other factors that have given reason for the authors, editors, or publisher, to remove a piece of the literature from science’s history books. Unlike an expression of concern (EoC), erratum or corrigendum, a retraction will usually result in a rudimentary vestige of the work. Thus, any retraction notice that does not fully indicate a set of elements related to the reason and background for the retraction serves as a poor historical document. Moreover, poorly or incompletely worded retraction notices in fact do not serve their intended purpose, i.e., to hold all parties accountable, and to inform the scientific and wider public of the problem and reason for the paper’s demise. This paper takes a look at the definitions and the policies of clauses for retractions, EoCs, errata and corrigenda in place by 15 leading science, technology and medicine (STM) publishers and four publishing-related bodies that we believe have the greatest influence on the current fields of science, technology and medicine. The primary purpose was to assess whether there is a consistency among these entities and publishers. Using an arbitrary 5-scale classification system, and evaluating the different categories of policies separately, we discovered that in almost all cases (88.9 %), the wording used to define these four categories of polices differs from that of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), which is generally considered to be the guiding set of definitions in science publishing. In addition, as much as 61 % deviation in policies (wording and meaning), relative to COPE guidelines, was discovered. When considering the average pooled deviation across all categories of policies, we discovered that there was either no deviation or a small deviation, only in the wording, in the definition of policies when compared to the COPE guidelines in 1 out of 3 ethical bodies, and in 40 % (6 out of 15) STM publishers. Moderate deviation from the COPE guidelines was detected in 26.7 % of STM publishers and one ethical body but a large deviation in one ethical body and 20 % of STM publishers was observed. Two STM publishers (13.3 %) did not report any information about these policies. Even though in practice, editors and publishers may deviate from these written definitions when dealing with case-by-case issues, we believe that it is essential, to serve as a consistent guide for authors and editors, that the wording be standardized across these entities. COPE and these entities also have the responsibility of making it clear that these definitions are merely suggestions and that their application may be subjected to subjective interpretation and application.

Keywords

Accountability COPE Correction Errors Ethics Free Literature correction Retraction STM publishers 

What are Policies of Retractions, EoCs, Errata and Corrigenda, and Why are They So Important?

Science is not perfect. Neither is the traditional peer review system that is currently in place by most science, technology and medicine (STM) publishers (Teixeira da Silva 2015a; Teixeira da Silva and Dobránszki 2015a). In fact, a recent analysis revealed that, even as recent as 2015, there continues to be inconsistency among one of the most basic corner-stones of the publishing process, authorship definitions, among leading STM publishers and related publishing bodies (Teixeira da Silva and Dobránszki 2016). The basic criticism of inconsistencies in definitions underlying such important publishing-related documents is that they were supposedly meant to serve as guides for scientists—authors and editors alike—to be guided as to the correct definitions so as to avoid any ethical impasses during research- and publishing-related activities. Consequently, inconsistencies in basic rules and definitions that are meant to provide the foundation on which science publishing is based, weaken that base and may sow distrust and discontent if also applied inconsistently. This paper aims, as an extension of our previous attempts (Teixeira da Silva and Dobránszki 2015a, 2016) to assess to what extent such basic foundations and documents are inconsistent, to understand what policies are in place by these same entities with respect to retractions, expressions of concern (EoCs), errata and corrigenda, and their notices. To simplify, the term “notice” will refer throughout this paper to any of these four categories, except where a specific category is emphasized. As the number of retractions increase, either due to greater awareness, greater accountability, or better tools of detection (Fanelli 2013), so too will the number of notices that document errors, or retractions, also increase. This appears to be supported by very recent analyses based on the PubMed/Entrez database (Saunders 2016). Such notices should thus seek to reflect the truth, should seek to reflect the facts, and should reflect the who, what, where, how and why such a notice needed to be issued. It is important to include as much detail as possible in such notices because a scientific project usually entails tremendous human, economic and structural investments, may involve public funding in the form of research grants, or tax-payers’ money, and thus a retraction (in the most extreme form) may represent an imperfect research project, and thus a potential waste of public funding. The scientific community and the public thus deserve to know why errors existed, how they came to exist and why a scientific paper had to, in the worst case scenario, be retracted. The completeness of any of these four notices thus serves as the only form of accountability by the authors, editors and publisher towards the public and wider scientific community. In other words, not only do these notices serve as important historical documents, they also serve as valuable public records.

What differentiates these four notices? When scientists detect mistakes in their manuscripts that do not alter the scientific findings, but which may result in misleading interpretations, a corrigendum is issued. When a member of the public (i.e., authors, other scientists, editors, or publisher, a definition that is used throughout this manuscript) detects an error that was introduced by the publisher, usually during the production process, then an erratum is issued. When important components are omitted from the manuscript such as the lack of a declaration of a conflict of interest, then an EoC is issued, or a corrigendum. When a retraction is issued, the notice usually records the misconduct, fabrication, duplication, or error that has influenced the scientific findings and thus the core discoveries of the study. Understandably, these are only coarse definitions and fine-scale differences are examined in the tables in our paper. However, if misconduct policies are unclear, then, by association retraction notices are also likely to be unclear. Bosch et al. (2012) found that in only 35 % of 399 assessed biomedical journals was there a clear definition of misconduct policy and with only 30.8 % of the same journals having clear retraction policies. In 2009, Resnik et al. (2009) attempted to interview the editors of 399 biomedical journals: 54.8 % of responding journal editors noted that there was a misconduct policy, only 15.7 % defined misconduct and in the majority of cases, the policy was defined by the publisher and not by the journal; it should be noted that only 49.4 % of journals responded to their request for an interview. Recognizing a lack of social science journals in their 2009 analysis, Resnik et al. (2010) reassessed the data while adding data from more journals from the social sciences. The response rate was lower (43.8 %) than in their 2009 study and an even lower percentage of journals had a defined misconduct policy (41.1 %). In both studies (Resnik et al. 2009, 2010), there was a slightly positive relationship between the retraction rate of the journal and the impact factor of the journal. Moreover, in the 2010 study, there was no correlation between the type of science (physical, biomedical, or social) or publisher and whether a journal had a misconduct policy or not.

This paper thus serves two key purposes: (1) to better understand if there is consensus among key STM publishers, and key publishing-related entities, about the definition of errata, corrigenda, EoCs and retractions; and (2) to assess whether the policies related to and information contained in each of these four categories, are standard, or variable. To better be able to make this judgement, definitions as provided by four key publishing entities, namely COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics), the CSE (Council of Science Editors), the ICMJE (International Committee of Medical Journal Editors) and WAME (The World Association of Medical Editors), as well as 15 leading STM publishers listed in Tables 1, 2 and 3, were assessed. This selection was based on two previous analyses (Teixeira da Silva and Dobránszki 2015a, 2016), and to have continuity and consistency, the list was neither expanded, nor reduced. To achieve this, the verbatim statements related to the four categories of notices were collected from the websites of these entities and publishers. Except for DeGruyter, Inderscience and IEEE, all other STM publishers selected for this analysis are COPE members. The exception to DeGruyter is one journal published by DeGruyter Open, Translational Neuroscience. Consequently, any deviation from the norm was considered to be a deviation from COPE definitions. Five categories were determined and scored (Tables 1, 2, 3), as follows:
Table 1

The general (i.e., not for any specific journal) definition of erratum (sing.) or errata (pl.) and corrigendum as defined by the ICMJE, COPE, WAME, CSE, and 15 prominent STM publishers, listed alphabetically

Body/Publisher/Journal

Definition of erratum/errata (verbatim)

Clauses of erratum/errata notices

COPE membera?

Deviation from the COPE definition

COPE[1]

“If only a small part of an article reports flawed data, and especially if this is the resultof genuine error, then the problem is best rectified by a correction or erratum. (The term erratum usually refers to a production error, caused by the journal. The term corrigendum (or correction) usually refers to an author error)”

“Journal editors should consider issuing a correction if:

 a small portion of an otherwise reliable publication proves to be misleading (especially because of honest error)

 the author/contributor list is incorrect (i.e. a deserving author has been omitted or somebody who does not meet authorship criteria has been included)”

  

CSE[2]

Errata. Published changes or emendations to an earlier article, frequently referred to as corrections or corrigenda, are considered by NLM [National Library of Medicine] to be errata, regardless of the nature or origin of the error. Errata identify a correction to a small, isolated portion of an otherwise reliable article. The NLM and other indexing organizations do not differentiate between errors that originate in the research process, such as errors in the methodology or analysis, and those that occurred in the publication process, such as typographical mistakes or printing errors. Editors should check with their indexing serves for instructions when they have errata related to author names and titles so that online searching issues can be properly addressed”

“The readership is best served when the literature correction states what is being corrected. Errata are often typographical errors. Retractions are typically made owing to honest error or, sometimes, scientific misconduct. The text of the retraction should explain why the article is being retracted and include the full original citation”

 

2

ICMJE[3]

“Honest errors are a part of science and publishing and require publication of a correction when they are detected. Corrections are needed for errors of fact”

“If a correction is needed, journals should follow these minimum standards:

The journal should publish a correction notice as soon as possible detailing changes from and citing the original publication; the correction should be on an electronic or numbered printpage that is included in an electronic or a print Table of Contents to ensure proper indexing

The journal should also post a new article version with details of the changes from the original version and the date(s) on which the changes were made

The journal should archive all prior versions of the article. This archive can be either directly accessible to readers or can be made available to the reader on request

Previous electronic versions should prominently note that there are more recent versions of the article

The citation should be to the most recent version. Errors serious enough to invalidate a paper’s results and conclusions may require retraction

Errors serious enough to invalidate a paper’s results and conclusions may require retraction”

 

2

WAME[4]

No specific definition, but it is written: “If a published paper is subsequently found to have errors or major flaws, the Editor should take responsibility for promptly correcting the written record in the journal”

“The specific content of the correction may address whether the errors originated with the author or the journal”

“The correction should be listed in the table of contents to ensure that it is linked to the article to which it pertains in public databases such as PubMed”

 

3

Bentham[5]

 

“Authors and readers are encouraged to notify the Editor-in-Chief if they find errors in published content, authors’ names and affiliations or if they have reasons for concern over the legitimacy of a publication. In such cases the journal will publish an ERRATUM in consultation with Editor-in-Chief and authors of the article, and/or replace or retract the article”

Yes

3

De Gruyter[6]

“When an author discovers a significant error or inaccuracy in his/her own published work, it is the author’s obligation to promptly notify the journal’s editor or publisher and cooperate with them to either retract the paper or to publish an appropriate correction statement or erratum.”… “In cases of alleged or proven scientific misconduct, fraudulent publication, or plagiarism the publisher, in close collaboration with the editors, will take all appropriate measures to clarify the situation and to amend the article in question. This includes the prompt publication of a correction statement or erratum or, in the most severe cases, the retraction of the affected work”

 

Yes (but only one journal in DeGruyter Open)

3

Elsevier[7]

“Article in which errors are reported that were made in an earlier publication in the same journal. Can be Erratum (publishing error) but also Corrigendum (author error)”

 

Yes

1

Emerald[8]

Erratum This generally refers to a production error, which has been introduced during the publication process. If an erratum is issued, it will appear on the abstract of the online version of the paper to ensure full visibility. The erratum will also appear in the hard copy of the next volume or issue of the publication

Corrigendum This generally refers to an author error or oversight, prior to the paper’s submission to the publication. If a corrigendum is issued, it will appear on the abstract of the online version of the paper to ensure full visibility. The erratum will also appear in the hard copy of the next volume or issue of the publication”

 

Yes

0

Hindawi[9]

No definition and clauses but a reference to the Code of Conduct and Best practice Guidelines of COPE

 

Yes

0

IEEE[10]

No exact definition, but “Editors shall correct errors in a manuscript if the errors are detected or reported before publication, or publish corrections if they are detected afterward”

 

No

3

Inderscience[11]

Information Not Available [INA]

 

Nob

4

NPG[12]

“Erratum. Notification of an important error made by the journal that affects the publication record or the scientific integrity of the paper, or the reputation of the authors or the journal.Corrigendum. Notification of an important error made by the author(s) that affects the publication record or the scientific integrity of the paper, or the reputation of the authors or the journal”

 

Yes

0

OUP[13]

No exact definition but the following statement: “OUP is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) (http://publicationethics.org/) and adheres to the COPE Code of Conduct for Journal Publishers. We encourage journal editors to follow the COPE Code of Conduct for Journal Editors and to refer reviewers to the COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers as appropriate.” … “In proven cases of misconduct, the action taken will vary by journal and by context, but could result in one or more of the following:

 Retraction of published work

 Publication of a correction or statement of concern

 Refusal of future submission

 Notification of misconduct sent to an author’s local institution, superior, and/or ethics committee”

 

Yes

0

PLOS[14]

No definition but a reference to following the ICMJE and COPE guidelines: “PLOS publishes corrections, retractions, and expressions of concern as appropriate, and as quickly as possible. We follow the ICMJE and COPE guidelines where applicable”

“A notice of correction will be issued by PLOS to document and correct substantial errors that appear in online articles when these errors significantly affect the content or understanding of the work reported (e.g., error in data presentation or analysis) or when the error affects the publication’s metadata (e.g., misspelling of an author’s name). In these cases, PLOS will publish a correction that will be linked to the original article.” … “Authors are encouraged to post comments to their articles to note typographical errors, and other problems that do not significantly affect the scientific integrity of the work.” … “By applying the CrossMark logo PLOS is committing to maintaining the content it publishes and to alerting readers to changes if and when they occur”

Yes

2

Routledge[15]

The same conditions and terms as at Taylor and Francis as it is part of Taylor and Francis Group

 

Yesc

0

SAGE[16]

“In the case of a major error being discovered, we will attach an electronic erratum or corrigendum notice detailing the correction to the online version of the article. This notice will also appear in the next available print issue. Where an author’s name has been misspelled, we will provide a duplicate bibliographic record on the online version of the journal, so that readers searching for the article will be able to find it using either spelling”

 

Yes

1

Springer[17]

Erratum Journal Editors should consider issuing an erratum if:

a small portion of an otherwise reliable publication proves to be misleading (especially because of honest error)

the author/contributor list is incorrect”

 

Yes

2

Taylor & Francis[18]

“An erratum will be used if a significant error has been introduced by us during the production of the journal article, including errors of omission such as failure to make factual proof corrections requested by authors within the deadline provided by the journal and within journal policy. A ‘significant error’ is one that affects the scholarly record, the scientific integrity of the article, the reputation of the authors, or of the journal”

“A corrigendum is a notification of a significant error made by the authors of the article. All corrigenda are normally approved by the editors of the journal”

“We publish corrections to the VoR [Version of Record] as errata or corrigenda, if there is a serious error, for example with regard to scientific accuracy, or if your reputation or that of the journal would be affected. We do not publish corrections that would not affect the article in a material way, nor significantly impair the reader’s understanding of the article.” … “Taylor & Francis makes all corrections to journal articles completely free to access in all cases, whether these are corrigenda, errata, or statements of retraction”

“All errata are linked to the Version of Scholarly Record article which they correct.”“All corrigenda are linked to the VoR article that they correct”

Yes

0

Wiley[19]

“Journals have a duty to publish corrections (errata) when errors could affect the interpretation of data or information, whatever the cause of the error (i.e. arising from author errors or from editorial mishaps)”

 “The title of the erratum, retraction, or expression of concern should include the words ‘Erratum’, ‘Retraction’, or ‘Expression of concern’

 It should be published on a numbered page (print and electronic) and should be listed in the journal’s table of contents

 It should cite the original article

 It should enable the reader to identify and understand the correction in context with the errors made, or should explain why the article is being retracted, or should explain the editor’s concerns about the contents of the article

 It should be linked electronically with the original electronic publication, wherever possible

 It should be in a form that enables indexing and abstracting services to identify and link errata, retractions, and expressions of concern to their original publications”

Yes

2

The COPE membership of the STM publishers is also indicated

N/A not applicable. INA information not available

aSome of the publishers are COPE members but not all of their journals are COPE member journals. It is unclear why a publisher claims membership while select member journals do not

bWhile the publisher refers to COPE, it is not on the COPE member list (http://publicationethics.org/members/publishers?name=inderscience)

cUnder the T&F umbrella, but not listed by name as Routledge in the COPE member list

[1]Wager et al. (2009) http://publicationethics.org/files/u661/Retractions_COPE_gline_final_3_Sept_09__2_.pdf

[2]Council of Science Editors (2015) http://www.councilscienceeditors.org/resource-library/editorial-policies/white-paper-on-publication-ethics/3-5-correcting-the-literature/

[3]ICMJE (2015) http://www.icmje.org/recommendations/

[4]WAME (2015) http://www.wame.org/about/recommendations-on-publication-ethics-policie#Editorial%20Decisions

[5]Bentham (2015) http://benthamscience.com/editorial-policies-main.php

[6]De Gruyter (2015) http://www.degruyter.com/fileasset/pdfs/140117_Publication_ethics_and_publication_malpractice_FINAL.pdf

[7]Elsevier (2015a) http://www.elsevier.com/about/company-information/policies/crossmark

[8]Emerald (2015) http://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/authors/writing/best_practice_guide.htm

[9]Hindawi (2015) http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jl/ethics/

[10]IEEE (2015) http://www.ieee.org/documents/opsmanual.pdf

[11]Inderscience (2015) web-page unknown

[12]NPG (2015) http://www.nature.com/srep/journal-policies/editorial-policies#refutations (from the Scientific Report homepage)

[13]OUP (2015) http://www.oxfordjournals.org/en/authors/ethics.html

[14]PLOS (2015) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/s/corrections-and-retractions

[15]Routledge (2015) http://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/corrections-to-published-articles/?download=3587

[16]SAGE (2015) http://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/corrections-policy

[17]Springer (2015) http://www.springer.com/gp/authors-editors/editors/publishing-ethics-for-journals/4176#c4222

[18]Taylor and Francis (2015) http://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/corrections-to-published-articles/?download=3587

[19]Wiley (2015) http://authorservices.wiley.com/bauthor/publicationethics.asp#_Toc149460108

Table 2

The general (i.e., not for any specific journal) definition of expression of concern (EoC) as defined by the ICMJE, COPE, WAME, CSE, and 15 prominent STM publishers, listed alphabetically

Body/Publisher/Journal

Definition of EoC (verbatim)

Clauses of EoC notices

COPE membera?

Deviation from the COPE definition

COPE[1]

 

“Journal editors should consider issuing an expression of concern if:

 they receive inconclusive evidence of research or publication misconduct by the authors

 there is evidence that the findings are unreliable but the authors’ institution will not investigate the case

 they believe that an investigation into alleged misconduct related to the publication either has not been, or would not be, fair and impartial or conclusive

 an investigation is underway but a judgement will not be available for a considerable time”

  

CSE[2]

“This indexing term was introduced by the ICMJE and incorporated into the NLM-system in 2004.The expression of concern is a publication notice that is generally made by an editor to draw attention to possible problems, but it does not go so far as to retract or correct an article. An editor who has a significant concern about the reliability of an article but not enough information to warrant a retraction until an institutional investigation is complete will sometimes use an expression of concern”

  

1

ICMJE[3]

“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) (publicationethics.org/resources/flowcharts) 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”

“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”

 

0

WAME[4]

INA

  

4

Bentham[5]

INA

 

Yes

4

De Gruyter[6]

INA

 

Yes (but only one journal in DeGruyter Open)

4

Elsevier[7]

INA

 

Yes

4

Emerald[8]

“In cases where a conclusion is unclear or where we are unable to make a fair decision due to conflicts of interest or lack of information, we will publish an expression of concern regarding the paper. An expression of concern will appear on the online version of the paper at the abstract level in order to ensure visibility for all readers, including non-subscribers”

 

Yes

2

Hindawi[9]

No definition and clauses but a reference to the Code of Conduct and Best practice Guidelines of COPE

 

Yes

0

IEEE[10]

INA

 

No

4

Inderscience[11]

INA

 

Nob

4

NPG[12]

INA

 

Yes

4

OUP[13]

No exact definition but the following statement: “OUP is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) (http://publicationethics.org/) and adheres to the COPE Code of Conduct for Journal Publishers. We encourage journal editors to follow the COPE Code of Conduct for Journal Editors and to refer reviewers to the COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers as appropriate.” … “In proven cases of misconduct, the action taken will vary by journal and by context, but could result in one or more of the following:

 Retraction of published work

 Publication of a correction or statement of concern

 Refusal of future submission

 Notification of misconduct sent to an author’s local institution, superior, and/or ethics committee”

 

Yes

0

PLOS[14]

No definition but a reference to following the ICMJE and COPE guidelines: “PLOS publishes corrections, retractions, and expressions of concern as appropriate, and as quickly as possible. We follow the ICMJE and COPE guidelines where applicable”

 

Yes

1

Routledge[15]

The same conditions and terms as at Taylor and Francis as it is part of Taylor and Francis Group

 

Yesc

2

SAGE[16]

INA

 

Yes

4

Springer[17]

“Journal Editors should consider issuing an expression of concern if:

 there is inconclusive evidence of  research or publication misconduct by the authors

 there is evidence that the findings are unreliable but the authors’ institution will not investigate the case

 it is believed that an investigation into alleged misconduct related to the publication either has not been, or would not be, fair and impartial or conclusive

 an investigation is under way but a judgment will not be available for a considerable time”

 

Yes

0

Taylor and Francis[18]

“Expressions of concern are used to alert readers to a potential issue within a paper that could affect readers’ understanding of the methods, results, author contributions, or ethical approval within the published article, but where a retraction is not immediately warranted”

“The rationale for an expression of concern will be given in the expression of concern notice, and rendered free to view. Taylor and Francis and the editors of a given journal reserve the right to issue a retraction if evidence of misconduct by an author is subsequently forthcoming”

Yes

2

Wiley[19]

“… journals should publish … ‘expressions of concern’ if editors have well-founded suspicions of misconduct”

The title of the erratum, retraction, or expression of concern should include the words ‘Erratum’, ‘Retraction’, or ‘Expression of concern’

 It should be published on a numbered page (print and electronic) and should be listed in the journal’s table of contents

 It should cite the original article

 It should enable the reader to identify and understand the correction in context with the errors made, or should explain why the article is being retracted, or should explain the editor’s concerns about the contents of the article

 It should be linked electronically with the original electronic publication, wherever possible

 It should be in a form that enables indexing and abstracting services to identify and link errata, retractions, and expressions of concern to their original publications”

Yes

1

The COPE membership of the STM publishers is also indicated

N/A not applicable. INA information not available

aSome of the publishers are COPE members but not all of their journals are COPE member journals. It is unclear why a publisher claims membership while select member journals do not

bWhile the publisher refers to COPE, it is not on the COPE member list (http://publicationethics.org/members/publishers?name=inderscience)

cUnder the T&F umbrella, but not listed by name as Routledge in the COPE member list

[1]Wager et al. (2009) http://publicationethics.org/files/u661/Retractions_COPE_gline_final_3_Sept_09__2_.pdf

[2]Council of Science Editors (2015) http://www.councilscienceeditors.org/resource-library/editorial-policies/white-paper-on-publication-ethics/3-5-correcting-the-literature/

[3]ICMJE (2015) http://www.icmje.org/recommendations/

[4]WAME (2015) http://www.wame.org/about/recommendations-on-publication-ethics-policie#Editorial%20Decisions

[5]Bentham (2015) http://benthamscience.com/editorial-policies-main.php

[6]De Gruyter (2015) http://www.degruyter.com/fileasset/pdfs/140117_Publication_ethics_and_publication_malpractice_FINAL.pdf

[7]Elsevier (2015a) web-page unknown

[8]Emerald (2015) http://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/authors/writing/best_practice_guide.htm

[9]Hindawi (2015) http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jl/ethics/

[10]IEEE (2015) web-page unknown

[11]Inderscience (2015) web-page unknown

[12]NPG (2015) web-page unknown

[13]OUP (2015) http://www.oxfordjournals.org/en/authors/ethics.html

[14]PLOS (2015) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/s/corrections-and-retractions

[15]Routledge (2015) http://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/corrections-to-published-articles/?download=3587

[16]SAGE (2015) http://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/corrections-policy

[17]Springer (2015) http://www.springer.com/gp/authors-editors/editors/publishing-ethics-for-journals/4176#c4222

[18]Taylor and Francis (2015) http://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/corrections-to-published-articles/?download=3587

[19]Wiley (2015) http://authorservices.wiley.com/bauthor/publicationethics.asp#_Toc149460108

Table 3

The general (i.e., not for any specific journal) definition of a retraction as defined by the ICMJE, COPE, WAME, CSE, and 15 prominent STM publishers, listed alphabetically

Body/Publisher/Journal

Definition of retraction

Clauses of retraction notices

COPE membera?

Deviation from the COPE definition

COPE[1]

 

“Journal editors should consider retracting a publication if:

 they have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g. data fabrication) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error)

 the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper crossreferencing, permission or justification (i.e. cases of redundant publication)

 it constitutes plagiarism

 it reports unethical research”

“Notices of retraction should:

 be linked to the retracted article wherever possible (i.e. in all electronic versions)

 clearly identify the retracted article (e.g. by including the title and authors in the retraction heading)

 be clearly identified as a retraction (i.e. distinct from other types of correction or comment)

 be published promptly to minimize harmful effects from misleading publications

 be freely available to all readers (i.e. not behind access barriers or available only to subscribers)

 state who is retracting the article

 state the reason(s) for retraction (to distinguish misconduct from honest error)

 avoid statements that are potentially defamatory or libellous”

“Partial retractions are not helpful because they make it difficult for readers to determine the status of the article and which parts may be relied upon”

  

CSE[2]

“Retractions identify an article that was previously published and is now retracted through a formal issuance from the author, editor, publisher, or other authorized agent. Retractions refer to an article in its entirety that is the result of a pervasive error, nonreproducible research, scientific misconduct, or duplicate publication. A “retraction in part” or a “partial retraction” is more significant than an erratum. A “retraction in part” is the result of an incorrect section or a particular portion of an article that is incorrect, leaving the majority of the information and the article’s stated conclusions uncompromised by the removal of that portion of the content. If the notification in the journal is labeled as a retraction or withdrawal, NLM will index it as a retraction”

  

2

ICMJE[3]

“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) (publicationethics.org/resources/flowcharts) 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”

“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).” … “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 integrity of research may also be compromised by inappropriate methodology that could lead to retraction”

 

1

WAME[4]

“Formal withdrawal or retraction of the paper from the scientific literature, published in the journal, informing readers and the indexing authorities (National Library of Medicine, etc.), if there is a formal finding of misconduct by an institution. Such publication will not require approval of authors, should be reported to their institution, and should be readily visible and identifiable in the journal. It should also meet other requirements established by the International Committee of Journal Editors (accessed 12/2/03). It is recommended that editors inform readers and authors of their reservation of the right to publish a retraction if it meets these conditions, thereby helping decrease arguments with authors. Editors or reviewers who are found to have engaged in scientific misconduct should be removed from further association with the journal, and this fact reported to their institution”

  

2

Bentham[5]

Article withdrawal

Articles in Press (articles that have been accepted for publication or published as E-pub Ahead of Schedule but which have not been formally published with volume/issue/page information) that include errors, or are determined to violate the publishing ethics guidelines such as multiple submission, fake claims of authorship, plagiarism, fraudulent use of data or the like, may be “Withdrawn” from the journal. Withdrawal means that the article files are removed and replaced with a PDF stating that the article has been withdrawn from the journal in accordance with BSP [Bentham Science Publishers] Editorial Policies

Article retraction

Published articles (with volume/issue/page information) which may contain infringements of professional ethical codes, such as multiple submissions, bogus claims of authorship, plagiarism, fraudulent use of data or the like are retracted”

“A retraction note titled “Retraction: [article title]” signed by the authors and/or the Editor-in-Chief is published in the paginated part of a subsequent issue of the journal and listed in the contents list

In the electronic version, a link is made to the original article.

The online article is preceded by a screen containing the retraction note. It is to this screen that the link resolves; the reader can then proceed to the article itself

The original article is retained unchanged with a watermark on the PDF indicating on each page that it is “retracted”

The HTML version of the document is removed”

Yes

1

De Gruyter[6]

“When an author discovers a significant error or inaccuracy in his/her own published work, it is the author’s obligation to promptly notify the journal’s editor or publisher and cooperate with them to either retract the paper or to publish an appropriate correction statement or erratum.”… “In cases of alleged or proven scientific misconduct, fraudulent publication, or plagiarism the publisher, in close collaboration with the editors, will take all appropriate measures to clarify the situation and to amend the article in question. This includes the prompt publication of a correction statement or erratum or, in the most severe cases, the retraction of the affected work”

 

Yes (but only one journal in DeGruyter Open)

2

Elsevier[7]

Article withdrawal. Only used for Articles in Press which represent early versions of articles and sometimes contain errors, or may have been accidentally submitted twice. Occasionally, but less frequently, the articles may represent infringements of professional ethical codes, such as multiple submission, bogus claims of authorship, plagiarism, fraudulent use of data or the like. Articles in Press (articles that have been accepted for publication but which have not been formally published and will not yet have the complete volume/issue/page information) that include errors, or are discovered to be accidental duplicates of other published article(s), or are determined to violate our journal publishing ethics guidelines in the view of the editors (such as multiple submission, bogus claims of authorship, plagiarism, fraudulent use of data or the like), may be “Withdrawn” from ScienceDirect. Withdrawn means that the article content (HTML and PDF) is removed and replaced with a HTML page and PDF simply stating that the article has been withdrawn according to the Elsevier Policy on Article in Press Withdrawal with a link to the current policy document

Article retraction. Infringements of professional ethical codes, such as multiple submission, bogus claims of authorship, plagiarism, fraudulent use of data or the like. Occasionally a retraction will be used to correct errors in submission or publication”

“The HTML pages are replaced by a single page with citation details and an explanation. The PDF pages remain with a watermark on every page to notify it is retracted”

Duplicate: “Accidental duplication of an article in another Elsevier journal. The text of the article is retracted. The HTML pages are replaced by a single page with citation details and an explanation. The PDF pages remain with a watermark on every page to notify it is a duplicate”

“The text of the article is retracted”

“Standards for dealing with retractions have been developed by a number of library and scholarly bodies, and this best practice is adopted for article retraction by Elsevier:

 A retraction note titled “Retraction: [article title]” signed by the authors and/or the editor is published in the paginated part of a subsequent issue of the journal and listed in the contents list

 In the electronic version, a link is made to the original article

 The online article is preceded by a screen containing the retraction note. It is to this screen that the link resolves; the reader can then proceed to the article itself

 The original article is retained unchanged save for a watermark on the pdf indicating on each page that it is “retracted”

 The HTML version of the document is removed”

Yes

1

Emerald[8]

“A retraction notice will be issued in serious cases of ethical misconduct or where the research is seriously flawed and misleading”

“In normal circumstances, the paper will remain in the online version of the journal or book. A retraction notice will appear on the online version of the paper. The retraction notice will also appear in the hard copy of the next volume or issue of the publication”

Yes

3

Hindawi[9]

No definition and clauses but a reference to the Code of Conduct and Best practice Guidelines of COPE

 

Yes

0

IEEE[10]

INA

 

No

4

Inderscience[11]

INA

 

Nob

4

NPG[12]

“Notification of invalid results.” … “Retractions are judged according to whether the main conclusion of the paper no longer holds or is seriously undermined as a result of subsequent information coming to light of which the authors were not aware at the time of publication. In the case of experimental papers, this can include further experiments by the authors or by others that do not confirm the main experimental conclusion of the original publication”

“All co-authors must sign a retraction specifying the error and stating briefly how the conclusions are affected, and submit it for publication. In cases where co-authors disagree, the publishing team will seek advice from independent referees and impose the type of amendment that seems most appropriate, noting the dissenting author(s) in the text of the published version”

“Readers wishing to draw the Editorial Board Members’ attention to published work requiring retraction should first contact the authors of the original paper and then write to the publishing team, including copies of the correspondence with the authors (whether or not the correspondence has been answered). The publishing team and Editorial Board Member will seek advice from referees if they judge that the information is likely to draw into question the main conclusions of the published paper”

Yes

1

OUP[13]

No exact definition but the following statement: “OUP is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) (http://publicationethics.org/) and adheres to the COPE Code of Conduct for Journal Publishers. We encourage journal editors to follow the COPE Code of Conduct for Journal Editors and to refer reviewers to the COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers as appropriate.” … “In proven cases of misconduct, the action taken will vary by journal and by context, but could result in one or more of the following:

 Retraction of published work

 Publication of a correction or statement of concern

 Refusal of future submission

 Notification of misconduct sent to an author’s local institution, superior, and/or ethics committee”

 

Yes

0

PLOS[14]

No definition but a reference to following the ICMJE and COPE guidelines: “PLOS publishes corrections, retractions, and expressions of concern as appropriate, and as quickly as possible. We follow the ICMJE and COPE guidelines where applicable”

 

Yes

1

Routledge[15]

The same conditions and terms as at Taylor and Francis as it is part of Taylor and Francis Group

 

Yesc

1

SAGE[16]

INA

 

Yes

4

Springer[17]

Journal Editors should consider retracting a publication if:

 there is clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct or honest error

 the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper cross-referencing, permission or justification

 it constitutes plagiarism

 it reports unethical research”

“The text for retraction notes can be submitted/written by the author(s), Journal editor, Society or jointly”

Yes

1

Taylor and Francis[18]

“A retraction is a means to notify the community of unsound results or misconduct, following an investigation of the issue in question by Taylor and Francis and the editors of the journal. Either can be held to compromise the validity and reliability of a article, and the latter can be held to damage the reputation of the journal”

“Retractions for unsound results are made when the conclusions of an article are seriously undermined as a result of miscalculation or error. Retractions for misconduct are made when there has been an infringement of publishing ethics or a breach of author warranties, which can include breaches of third party copyright. In cases of serious misconduct, Taylor and Francis reserve the right to prohibit an author from making new submissions to any of our journals for up to 5 years”

The rationale for a retraction will be given in a Statement of Retraction. All Statements of Retraction are linked to the VoR [Version of Record] article which they retract; the VoR will be digitally watermarked RETRACTED”

Yes

1

Wiley[19]

“… journals should publish ‘retractions’ if work is proven to be fraudulent”

 “The title of the erratum, retraction, or expression of concern should include the words ‘Erratum’, ‘Retraction’, or ‘Expression of concern’

 It should be published on a numbered page (print and electronic) and should be listed in the journal’s table of contents

 It should cite the original article

 It should enable the reader to identify and understand the correction in context with the errors made, or should explain why the article is being retracted, or should explain the editor’s concerns about the contents of the article

 It should be linked electronically with the original electronic publication, wherever possible

It should be in a form that enables indexing and abstracting services to identify and link errata, retractions, and expressions of concern to their original publications”

Yes

2

The COPE membership of the STM publishers is also indicated

N/A not applicable. INA information not available

aSome of the publishers are COPE members but not all of their journals are COPE member journals. It is unclear why a publisher claims membership while select member journals do not

bWhile the publisher refers to COPE, it is not on the COPE member list (http://publicationethics.org/members/publishers?name=inderscience)

cUnder the T&F umbrella, but not listed by name as Routledge in the COPE member list

[1]Wager et al. (2009) http://publicationethics.org/files/u661/Retractions_COPE_gline_final_3_Sept_09__2_.pdf

[2]Council of Science Editors (2015) http://www.councilscienceeditors.org/resource-library/editorial-policies/white-paper-on-publication-ethics/3-5-correcting-the-literature/

[3]ICMJE (2015) http://www.icmje.org/recommendations/

[4]WAME (2015) http://www.wame.org/about/recommendations-on-publication-ethics-policie#Editorial%20Decisions

[5]Bentham (2015) http://benthamscience.com/editorial-policies-main.php

[6]De Gruyter (2015) http://www.degruyter.com/fileasset/pdfs/140117_Publication_ethics_and_publication_malpractice_FINAL.pdf

[7]Elsevier (2015a) http://www.elsevier.com/about/company-information/policies/crossmark; Elsevier (2015b) http://www.elsevier.com/about/company-information/policies/article-withdrawal#Article%20Retraction

[8]Emerald (2015) http://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/authors/writing/best_practice_guide.htm

[9]Hindawi (2015) http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jl/ethics/

[10]IEEE (2015) web-page unknown

[11]Inderscience (2015) web-page unknown

[12]NPG (2015) http://www.nature.com/srep/journal-policies/editorial-policies#refutations

[13]OUP (2015) http://www.oxfordjournals.org/en/authors/ethics.html

[14]PLOS (2015) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/s/corrections-and-retractions

[15]Routledge (2015) http://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/corrections-to-published-articles/?download=3587

[16]SAGE (2015) http://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/corrections-policy

[17]Springer (2015) http://www.springer.com/gp/authors-editors/editors/publishing-ethics-for-journals/4176#c4222

[18]Taylor and Francis (2015) http://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/corrections-to-published-articles/?download=3587

[19]Wiley (2015) http://authorservices.wiley.com/bauthor/publicationethics.asp#_Toc149460108

0—(a) no deviation from the COPE definitions and (b) including a clearly defined clause indicating that COPE guidelines are followed.
  1. 1.

    small deviation: deviations are only in the wording but not in the meaning.

     
  2. 2.

    moderate deviation: less categories than defined by COPE (e.g., no difference between erratum and corrigendum, or only the degree of error indicated, for example “serious” or “small”, but it is not defined).

     
  3. 3.

    large deviation: only a general or broad definition for the correction of errors (e.g., erratum and retraction clustered in the same category).

     
  4. 4.

    lack of policies or lack of information about policies.

     
An average for a publisher or ethical body was calculated from the three tables (see below). The value of average deviation from COPE’s four classes of definitions was considered to be:
  • 0, when the average was ≤ 0.5;

  • 1, when the average was > 0.5 but ≤ 1.5;

  • 2, when the average was > 1.5 but ≤ 2.5;

  • 3, when the average was > 2.5 but ≤ 3.5;

  • 4, when the average was > 3.5.

Definitions and Clauses of Retractions, EoCs, Errata and Corrigenda

The number of journals and publishers that have become COPE members is increasing rapidly (http://publicationethics.org/members). For example, there were 10,264 members on September 21, 2015, when this manuscript was submitted, but a mere 5 months later, there are now 10,903 members, making our analyses even more pertinent. As COPE members, such journals and publishers are thus expected to follow, and abide by, the COPE guidelines for retraction notices (Wager et al. 2009). The COPE policies were, however, based exclusively on the results of findings by Williams and Wager (2013), a study that drew from a very limited sample pool: five editors and seven cases. In general and at present, COPE provides the most succinct definitions or clauses of errata, corrigenda, EoCs and retractions out of four publishing-related bodies (COPE, CSE, ICMJE, and WAME). As many STM publishers are COPE members, one would expect an adequate paralellism between the clauses associated with these four categories of notices (Tables 1, 2, 3), as listed by COPE, and by their member publishers. Relative to COPE’s definitions, Tables 1, 2 and 3 document the taxonomy of the definitions related to errata, corrigenda, EoCs and retractions by these key publishing players and STM publishers, as well as any rules or guidelines that exist pertaining to the content (i.e., what it should contain, but not wording) of such notices. The issue of silent or stealth retractions (Teixeira da Silva 2016), as well as the ethics of paywalled (protected by having to pay for the information) retraction notices (Teixeira da Silva 2015c) have been dealt with separately and thus fall beyond the scope of this paper, even though these topics are intricately interlinked with the discussion at hand.

Using our 5-scale classification, and pooling the data from Tables 1, 2 and 3, we discovered that: ICMJE, Hindawi, OUP, PLoS, Routlege, Springer, Taylor & Francis all fell within groups 0 and 1; CSE, Elsevier, Emerald, NPG, Wiley fell within group 2; WAME, Bentham, DeGruyter, SAGE were clustered into group 3; IEEE and Inderscience fell into group 4.

The term “honest error” is frequently used (four times in Table 1 and three times in Table 3), yet there is no indication about how the journal or publisher are able to establish whether an error has been made in honest error, or purposefully.

When we evaluated the different categories of policies separately, some additional deviations from COPE guidelines were discovered. Bentham, which is a COPE member, has definitions that are broad and different from what COPE specifies; for example, the definition of erratum (Table 1) also abridges retractions within the same clause, thus increasing the non-specific nature of the definition. In none of the four notice types does the entity indicate if the editors or publishers should be receptive to anonymous reports of errors, as occurs on PubPeer (www.pubpeer.com), and which form an important foundation of post-publication peer review (PPPR) (Teixeira da Silva and Dobránszki 2015b), even though COPE indicates, in a 2013 extension to its guidelines, that editors and publishers must respond to anonymous reports and whistle-blower reports (Barbour 2013). In some cases, such as De Gruyter, the clause specifically states that when an error is discovered by an author that a change must be made. No other publisher specifically addresses the link between the type of notice and the origin of the report (reader, author, editor, publisher, anonymous report), except for Bentham that specifically addresses the “reader” in the clauses, but this issue lies beyond the scope of this paper. CSE, ICMJE, IEEE, PLoS, Springer and Wiley do not clearly define the differences (i.e., differentiate) between errata (publisher-induced error) and corrigenda (author-induced error) (Table 1). We are of the belief that such a level of differentiation would benefit authors and the readership by increasing the level of information that is included in a notice and thus its transparency. A clearly explained notice that assigns responsibility clearly and precisely, and which explains the details surrounding the correction, undoubtedly benefits science, peers and the public. In the case of PLoS, which claims to follow both COPE and ICMJE guidelines, the claim may be other than that stated since the ICMJE does not differentiate between errata and corrigenda. In the eyes of scientists, authors and readers, such discrepancies may cast doubt on the veracity of other claims made by the publishers, and thus decrease trust in the notices, and possibly even in the publisher. The CSE recommends that all errors, including typographic errors, be corrected while PLoS indicates that “Authors are encouraged to post comments to their articles to note typographical errors, and other problems”, allowing for registered users to comment on the web-page of each paper, similar to PubMed Commons. Even though COPE and the CSE have a tradition of information sharing, it is unclear if they are aligned in terms of policy related to the four classes of notices, although it would appear to differ given this fundamental fine-scale requirement by the CSE. Springer and Wiley list a definition for errata that is fairly consistent with—but not identical to—the COPE definition, even though they are COPE members. They do not use the term “corrigendum”, seeming to consider all errors (publisher- or author-induced) to be of the same category. However, the responsible party should always be clearly described in the notice, for accountability and clear documentation, and thus it is always best to differentiate between an erratum (publisher-induced error) and a corrigendum (author-induced error). In that sense, Elsevier and Taylor and Francis seem to follow the COPE definitions most faithfully, at least in terms of the written definition.

Notices pertaining to EoCs (Table 2) tend to be centered around the notion that there is sufficient information to merit concern about the ethical integrity of the study, or of the authors, but not sufficiently proved to merit a retraction. It is almost a preamble to a retraction. One classic example is the final retraction of the Ciaudo et al. (2013) manuscript from PLoS Genetics after it was corrected, and after an EoC was issued. OUP, Springer, Wiley and Taylor and Francis provide a definition of the constraints of an EoC that most closely resemble that of COPE. Surprisingly, no definition for an EoC could be found for Elsevier, even though it is a COPE member. SAGE also only has definitions for errata (Table 1) and retractions (Table 3), but not for EoCs (Table 2), suggesting that a more radical approach (retraction) or no action is taken when misconduct is alledged. CSE follows the ICMJE definition while the ICMJE closely aligns itself with the COPE definition, making the COPE definition most relevant, and thus the central set of notice taxonomy used in this paper.

In terms of retractions (Table 3), there appears to be a wider consensus about what delimits the need to retract a paper among COPE member publishers. Curiously, Bentham, and Elsevier, both COPE members, differentiate between a withdrawal (pre-publication retraction) and a retraction (post-publication retraction), even though COPE and other COPE members do not. Even if COPE does not formally propose the use of the category “partial retraction”, CSE has such a category, and defines it.

Inderscience and the IEEE have the least specific information related to the four classes of notices, which leaves open the possibility for authors to abuse their publishing platforms since clear and defined definitions do not exist. The reader will surely ask: what is the risk of poorly defined definitions, inconsistent definitions, or the lack of definitions to authors, readers, the public, editors, and publishers? In essence, these weaknesses may in fact benefit publishers by not benefitting authors. If there is no ethical policy, the risks are obvious, but if there are no clear definitions or policies for these four notices, the biggest risk may be to authors’ rights to appeal a decision by the publisher. When a publisher keeps definitions broad, unclear, or inconsistent, then it is difficult for an author to challenge that publisher. Even though the majority of STM publishers analyzed in Tables 1, 2 and 3 are COPE members, and should thus logically (i.e., by association, being COPE members) have definitions that are identical to those proposed by COPE, our analysis indicates that this is not the case. Maintaining different or inconsistent definitions may be a way for a publisher to defend itself in a time of crisis.

Except for publishers for which information does not exist, most of the STM publishers use broadly similar definitions of errata, corrigenda, EoCs and retractions. However, stark differences do exist, even among COPE member publishers. Only 40 % of the STM publishers studied had no or only a small deviation (score of 0 or 1 on the average) from COPE’s definitions but 20 % had a large deviation (average score of 3) while 13.3 % (score of 4 on the average) had no exact definitions (Tables 1, 2, 3). It is likely that differences in the definitions of these four categories of corrections may also influence the facts that are stated in the final published notices, and their wording, an issue that will be discussed in detail in a follow-up manuscript. In a bid to increase transparency, and to hold each of the key players in the publishing process accountable for what has been released into the public sphere (Teixeira da Silva 2013, 2015b), the content (i.e., what should or should not be included)—but not the wording—of such notices should be standardized. COPE serves both the function of advisor to its members, and also as a watchdog. However, COPE claims not to be able to influence the decisions made by its members, presumably including the standardization of the content and wording of the four classes of notices, which would then logically result in a wide range in the content of these notices for the correction of the literature, despite all being COPE members. However, what such notices should include are, among all choices currently available to scientists, editors and publishers, best described by COPE (Tables 1, 2, 3). Some evidence for this inconsistency among COPE members, and COPE’s apparent inability to make COPE members conform in a standard way comes from a recent paper by Resnik et al. (2015) which reflects the results of a 2012 survey of the top 200 science journals ranked by Thomson Reuters’ Journal Citation Reports. In that study, several important findings were made: (1) from 200 journals contacted, 74 % responded, 23 % did not respond, while 8 % declined to provide information; (2) 48 % were review journals and the majority (72 %) published biomedical research; (3) from the journals that did respond, 65 % had a retraction policy, but 35 % did not; (4) from those journals with a retraction policy, “89 (94 %) had a policy that allowed the editors to retract articles without consent of all the authors, 50 (53 %) had a policy that allowed the editors to publish an expression of concern without consent, 48 (51 %) had a policy that required retraction notices to state the reason for the retraction, and 86 (91 %) had a policy that described retraction procedures.” (p. 138); (5) “Forty-nine (52 %) retraction policies came from the publisher, 29 (31 %) came jointly from the publisher and COPE, 6 (6 %) came only from COPE, 5 (5 %) came jointly from COPE and ICMJE, 4 (4 %) came from the journal, 1 (1 %) came jointly from the journal and COPE, and 1 (1 %) came jointly from the journal and the National Library of Medicine (NLM)” (p. 138).

Conclusions, Advice, and Limitations of the Study

Finally, what should happen when COPE member journals or publishers do not abide by such guidelines, and how can the scientific peer pool and public hold these parties accountable? This question is made even more pertinent as we observe that 26.7, 20 and 13.3 % of the STM publishers showed a medium or large deviation (scores of 2, 3, 4, respectively) from COPE’s definitions (Tables 1, 2, 3). It is curious to notice that 31 % of retraction policies in the 147 responding journals reported by Resnik et al. (2015) were derived from the publisher and COPE, but it is unclear, due to the lack of information in that study, which exactly of those publishers interviewed were COPE members, which would have been an important link between the Resnik et al. findings and our own independent fine-scale analyses in Tables 1, 2 and 3. The current centralicity of COPE, and the need to hold COPE members more accountable, in terms of using COPE-defined definitions, as opposed to their own independent definitions, is the most salient message of our manuscript.

We believe therefore, that a clear and transparent system should be developed where the definitions for the four classes of policies should be standardized and clear guidelines or rules should be identically (i.e., the wording) formulated to make the publishing platform even and fair for all participants, including the authors, readers, editors, journals, publishers and ethical bodies. A clearly written, robust system should be created that describes the rights and duties of each of these players, including clear policies that indicate how appeals to decisions made by editors or publishers can be processed. Finally, clear rules need to exist about how infringement of these rules will be dealt with, including COPE members that do not abide by COPE guidelines. One of the greatest criticisms in the blogosphere is not so much that the current rules and guidelines are weak or poor, but that enforcement and irregular application of those rules, particularly by COPE member journals and publishers, confuses the readership, disenfranchises authors who remain confused—despite having a stricter and more regulated system—and provides an imbalanced publishing structure that has weak, or limited, accountability or transparency.

Our study has several limitations. Without exception, all of the policies indicated for the four categories of notices in Tables 1, 2 and 3 are purely qualitative descriptions. Thus, making a quantitative description from a purely qualitative set of information is highly subjective, and open to interpretation. We felt that a 5-scale taxonomy for these notices best represented the variation we wanted to demonstrate in the deviation from COPE’s definitions. Thus the values and percentages will clearly differ should a 3-scale or 10-scale filter be applied. However, our values, even if crude, indicate that several levels of deviation from COPE definitions occur, and this finding in itself is significant, and may be of value to authors and editors alike. We do not recommend that our values be used in any official manner, or even for policy. Our sole purpose is to alert the broader community that deviations in definitions and policies occur and that we consider these to be important enough to merit greater attention, and thus standardization, to avoid the risks we discuss in more detail above.

Notes

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva
    • 1
  • Judit Dobránszki
    • 2
  1. 1.Kita-gunJapan
  2. 2.Research Institute of NyíregyházaUniversity of DebrecenNyíregyházaHungary

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