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Assessing the Ethics of Stings, Including from the Prism of Guidelines by Ethics-Promoting Organizations (COPE, ICMJE, CSE)


In academic publishing, stings appear to be on the rise. Stings may involve a paper with nonsense or fabricated content, fictitious authors or affiliations, and may be supported by artificially created emails or ORCID accounts, the latter to offer a false impression of validation. In recent times, stings have been used to protest editorial policies or to challenge claims of peer review, with the objective of exposing flawed policies and procedures. While some hail stings as success stories in exposing poor editorial policies and publication flaws, and while others draw humor from them, very few academics have suprisingly assessed the ethics (or lack thereof) and/or criminality of such operations. Consequently, it is rare to find academic papers that are critical of such stings from an ethical and/or criminal perspective. An equally surprising fact is that ethics-promoting organizations (COPE, ICMJE, CSE), which have ethics guidelines for paper submission to a wide swathe of academic and scholarly journals and publishers, do not have ethics clauses specifically calling out sting operations, even though several of their stated ethics guidelines consider fake, false or falsified elements in an academic paper to be unethical. In this paper, some reflection on broad ethical, humor-related and possible criminal elements of sting operations in academic publishing are considered. In addition, the COPE, ICMJE and CSE ethics guidelines were scrutinized to identify any clauses that could support the argument that stings in academic publishing are unethical.

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    COPE currently has 12 guidelines. The guidelines pertaining to retractions were selected:; (November 2019; last accessed: January 6, 2021).

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    Recommendations:; (November 2019; last accessed: January 6, 2021).

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    White Paper on Publication Ethics: (May 4, 2018 with 2020 updates; last accessed: January 6, 2021).


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The author thanks Marta Dynel (Department of Pragmatics, Institute of English Studies, University of Łódź, Poland) for insightful discussion about humor and deceit.

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The author contributed to the intellectual discussion underlying this paper, literature exploration, writing, reviews and editing, and accepts responsibility for the content and interpretation.

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Correspondence to Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva.

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Teixeira da Silva, J.A. Assessing the Ethics of Stings, Including from the Prism of Guidelines by Ethics-Promoting Organizations (COPE, ICMJE, CSE). Pub Res Q 37, 90–98 (2021).

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  • Accountability
  • False information
  • Lack of integrity and trust
  • Misconduct
  • Opacity
  • Open access