Training can do nothing for those who deliberately commit misconduct- Dr. Behrooz Astaneh


Publication Ethics Congress proceedings-II

Training can do nothing for those who deliberately
commit misconduct - Dr. Behrooz Astaneh

COPE offers advice to editors, publishers but it does
not  investigate cases - Dr. Charlotte Haug

SHIRAZ (IRAN): The first scientific session during the publication ethics congress was chaired by Mr. Shaukat Ali  Jawaid from Pakistan along with Dr. Payam Kabiri from  Iran and Dr. Aminul Haque from Bangladesh. Dr. Behrooz Astaneh was the first speaker who talked about various types of ethics misconduct and mentioned authorship disputes, conflict of interest, double submissions and redundant publications besides plagiarism, data fabrication and data falsification. There are two reasons for misconduct; some people do it intentionally while others do it because of lack of knowledge. Many researchers, Dr. Behrooz Astaneh opined, do not know what is considered as misconduct. Not only that even many members of the Editorial Boards  do not know the exact definition of various types of misconduct while many editors too have no knowledge about it. In order to educate the authors and faculty members we have so far organized over four hundred workshops in different parts of the country, he added.

Continuing Dr. Behrooz Astaneh said that many editors do not know how to manage scientific misconduct.  However, training can do nothing for those who deliberately commit misconduct. Authorship, he said, should be defined in byline and the ICMJE has four criteria for authorship which must be met by the authors. Defining the ghost author, he said that such person has the authorship criteria but is not included in the authors list. They could be students or junior researchers and it is not ethical.  On the other hand guest author does not meet the authorship criteria but their names are added for prestige to increase the chances of publication. This too is unethical. These are mostly influential people, Head of the Department, Head of the institutions. Juniors put the name of their seniors which is also gift authorship.

He defined Conflict of interest as something when financial or personal relationship which inappropriately influences the actions of authors, editors or reviewers. This lack of disclosure can be unethical. Prior publication means publishing a full content of an article which has been published previously. However, abstracts, posters or oral presentation, Dr. Behrooz Astaneh clarified, does not come under prior publication.  He further opined that internal meetings or report to investigators and regulators do not affect the later publication of such studies. In duplicate publications, the same data is published with identical text after making minor changes in authors order or title and abstract while redundant publication is anything which overlaps substantially with another publication. In this the same data is published with some changes in the text, different analysis is added or even some additional data is also added.

Speaking about reviewer’s misconduct he said that it refers to using confidential information of manuscripts referred for review to his/her own benefit by the reviewers. It also includes stealing the idea or data from the manuscript, rejecting a good quality manuscript or delaying publication of a manuscript from rival academicians because of professional jealousy or even not declaring potential conflict of interest.

Plagiarism:  It relates to using others intellectual properties without acknowledgement or making reference.  This, Dr. Behrooz Astaneh said, was a spectrum to consider extent, originality, position, referencing, intention. His advice to the editor colleagues was not to totally rely on software’s for detecting plagiarism because human judgment is always needed.

Data Fabrication:  This was defined as making up data or results and recording or reporting them. This, he opined, is less prevalent than various other types of research misconduct but even then it is unacceptable to any extent. In such cases, there are no honest errors, he stated.

Data Falsification:  It means manipulating the already existed real data by omitting the undesirable one. Image manipulation is also included in this category.  It also covers any attempt to alter or enhance the quality of an image in order to present the image factitiously better.

Dr. Charlotte Haug Vice President of COPE from Norway presented an overview and frequency of various misconducts. COPE, she stated was started in 1997 by a small group of Editors and at present it has over nine thousand members. Membership is open to all the editors from all subjects. COPE offers advice to editors, publishers but it does not investigate cases. It is a forum to discuss individual cases and all COPE members are supposed to follow the code of conduct for journal editors.  COPE provides education, guidelines and advice to its members. Flow charts prepared by COPE cover many things and it is all available on its website. She then talked about publication ethics and said that cases which are discussed in COPE forum are actual cases. It is a great resource for learning. From 2009-2012, over six hundred cases were discussed and their details are on COPE website. She was of the view that over the years the issues have become more complicated. She also gave details of classification of cases discussed in COPE forum. COPE, Dr. Charlotte said promotes integrity in research publications, offers guidelines for peer reviewers and urges editors to behave ethically. Whatever the editors know is all confidential and they are not supposed to use this data for themselves. Editors have responsibility for peer reviewers. All cases discussed in the COPE Forum are entered into the database, no name is used and it is a good learning resource, she concluded.

Ms Lida Mokhtari talked about regional COPE membership. She pointed out that there has been an increase in the number of journals from Iran and at present 142 are members of COPE.  It includes 99 medical journals.  So far we have organized 425 workshops where COPE was represented. Majority of the English journals in the region, she said, do not know about COPE. Many journals in the region are facing ethical problems and it was a challenging time for the journals and publishes. Lack of knowledge about COPE, lower representation of COPE in various countries because of a few members was also highlighted. She urged all the journals to sign up, join COPE and follow the code of conduct for the journals.

Dr. Fatema Jawad Chief Editor of JPMA from Pakistan highlighted the problems faced by the editors to ascertain who the real authors are. People, she said, undertake research to discover new therapies, they write for promotions, to beautify their CV, influence others, and gain recognition. However, some of these authors also have a psychological problem. One that originates or creates research is known as author or is entitled to be an author. Continuing Dr. Fatema Jawad said that in the good old day’s single person used to conceive the idea and write a paper but now there are layers of authors. All those who conceive the idea, get it approved, those who actually perform research, those who analyze the data, those involved in literature search, those who finally prepare the manuscript and others who give their blessings and give final approval of the manuscript to be published are all included in authorship.

Continuing Dr.Fatema Jawad said that all authors have equal responsibility towards conducting research and its publication. It is essential that the policy of the respective institution on authorship should be known to all and it must be followed. Ethical principles should be followed by all like conflict of interest should be disclosed; study design and safety of the research subjects should also be ensured. All authors are supposed to meet all the four criteria for authorship as laid down by ICMJE. However, it is the primary author who is responsible for entire research and he/she should also be responsible for contribution of other authors. It is also important that individual contribution of each author is known and agreed upon among the authors but it must be convincing.

From an Editor’s point of view, the qualities of an author, Dr. Fatema Jawad said include good writing, accuracy, knowledge on context and citations, no hesitation to publish negative results, clear understanding of conflict of interest issues as well as acknowledgement, understanding the copy rights law and he/should also be fully conversant with ethical issues by COPE and ICMJE.  Someone who supports research, arranges funding, provides technical services, involved in collection of data of patients or from laboratory material alone does not deserve to be included as authors. Many a times the authors offer gift authorship in appreciation or respect of an eminent, important personality which can increase the credibility besides improving the chances of publication.  Authorship can also be earned through coercion; it is also demanded by colleagues who wish to have more publications. She then presented details of three cases wherein the student who conducted research was warned of dire consequences if the name of the supervisor was not added as No. 1 author. The other case involved two students’ projects which were published online with the supervisor as the first author. In the third case the reason given was that the study was too good to be done by students, hence the name of the supervisor who took the soft copy and changed the order of authors was listed as No. 1 author.

Continuing Dr.Fatema Jawad said that we have noticed that sometimes order of name of authors is suddenly changed; a name is deleted or added during revision without any notice. Faculty members need publications for promotion despite the fact that many of them do not have the basic knowledge of conducting research. They are too busy clinicians and have not time for research. Hence the easy method they adopt is to involve the students who are more knowledgeable, energetic and eager to learn and are also more competent in the use of computers. Hence it is important that each revised manuscript is checked carefully as regards authors and their numbering and correspondence is limited to the correspondence authors.

 She suggested that each institution must have an Ethic Research Committee/Board to supervise research; members of the ERBs should have adequate knowledge, experience of research and publication ethics. Further more there should be uniform guidelines for conducting research and publications which should be implemented. The students and faculty members must know these ethical principles and follow them and punishment for any malpractice should also be clearly specified. She concluded her presentation by stating that research was essential for progress while publication of research was an obligation. Authors can resort to unethical measures to get their manuscripts published. As such it is essential that editors should have good knowledge of publication ethics and implement them. Above all editors and editorial staff has to be vigilant and do not Trust anyone blindly.

Dr. M. Mallaei from Iran shared the results of their study regarding views of faculty members and staff of research centers about the ICMJE authorship criteria. Data was collected through questionnaire from sixty six faculty members and staff of eight research centers besides Vice Chancellors for Research. Most of the participants had one to forty papers to their credit. Forty four had attended a workshop on medical journalism. Only eleven claimed that they were aware about the ICMJE authorship criteria but only seven could correctly state it. Thirteen felt that all the four criteria must be met to be eligible for authorship. Those who had attended the workshop or had knowledge of Codes of MOH about publication ethics were better informed. Thirty eight felt that they were not included as authors while they did deserve that while twenty said they did not deserve authorship but were still included. Fourteen were not aware that they have been included as authors while forty seven said their placement in authorship list was not proper.

During the discussion many ethical issues were highlighted. Students it was stated should be included as authors when they have done the experiment. It is essential that we help the students.  Conducting research and preparing the manuscript these days is a team work and all those who have made some intellectual contribution must be included as authors. Ideally the issue of authorship and placement of authors should be decided before starting the study and submission of the manuscript. Change in authorship and their placement must be discouraged later on unless all the listed authors agree in writing to any such change.

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