This guidance presents practical considerations for managing scenarios where editors are contacted with ethical concerns about the integrity of published research.
In recent years, reporting of ethical concerns about research publications has become more prevalent, and the issues identified have become more complex. This includes situations where multiple concerns are raised simultaneously to multiple journals, from anonymous or named individuals, and which deal with a range of issues concerning the integrity of the published research. In response to changes in the terminology being used in scholarly publishing, the discussion refers to ‘people who raise concerns’ rather than the older term ‘whistleblowers’. The guidance highlights the ways in which issues are raised and provides recommendations for responding to these concerns. COPE welcomes comments which add to the ongoing debate about the topic.
- Editors and publishers are dealing with increasing numbers of ethical concerns brought to their attention in a variety of ways, and increasingly concerning large numbers of papers.
- Journals may receive concerns directly or from different media and should investigate these regardless of the method of communication.
- Good practice is to have a policy which sets a timeline for a response.
- Responses should be neutral and based on facts, indicating the intended action.
- If the investigation finds that the concern is valid, follow the appropriate COPE guidance for dealing with the issue.
- It is important to respect the correspondent’s right to anonymity.
- When the investigation is closed, inform the complainant of the action you are taking.
- Responding to whistleblowers when concerns are raised directly COPE flowchart
- Responding to whistleblowers when concerns are raised via social media COPE flowchart
- Responding to anonymous whistleblowers COPE discussion document, 2013
- Addressing ethics complaints from complainants who submit multiple issues COPE discussion document, 2015
- Handling of post-publication critiques COPE flowchart
- Coordinating multi-journal complaints COPE Forum discussion, 2021
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Cite this as
COPE Council. COPE Discussion Document: Dealing with concerns about the integrity of published research — English.
©2023 Committee on Publication Ethics (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) Version 1: June 2023.