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“Correcting the Literature”: Self-Plagiarism and Retractions

Posted by Jessica Gopalakrishnan on Jun 29, 2012 9:17:00 AM

cope-logo-publication-ethicsTwo topics from the latest issue of the Committee on Publication Ethics’ (COPE) newsletter, “Ethical Editing” resonated with me -- self-plagiarism and retractions. Since the iThenticate blog has covered both of these topics in depth this past year, I wanted to share some new and additional perspectives on these topics with our readers. Thanks go out to COPE for their permission to share their insights concerning ethical writing!

Self-Plagiarism Around the World

The recent 2012 European Seminar in London offered opportunity to revisit COPE’s theme: “correcting the literature.” One presentation in particular by Joss Saunders of Blake Lapthorn Solicitors offered this view on the much-debated topic of self-plagiarism:

Self plagiarism is not usually a legal issue, as the author will not sue him or herself. However, under UK copyright law, joint authors must all consent to use of a work they have written. Thus publishers should ensure that all co-authors sign the copyright assignment/license form, or at least send an email agreeing to publication. Publishers should be careful not to libel an author through the wording of a correction or retraction. Does it imply author dishonesty, when the facts may be in dispute?

What does this mean for publishers? In a case of libel, since publishers are responsible for proving that statements are true, editors must tread with caution in making statements. Saunders advises:

Do not copy your entire editorial board on emails regarding potential problems. And editors should be aware that, because journals are now published online, they could potentially be sued in several different countries. The Berne Convention (and most copyright laws) provide for the moral rights of identity (to be named as author, and conversely not to be wrongly named) and integrity (not to have the work changed). Are multiple authors correctly acknowledged? Are there ghost authors? Has the publisher altered the text (e.g., by a correction)? It is possible that a change affecting the authors negatively could improve the work.

Survey of Retraction Policies

Habeeb Ibrahim wrote a section on retractions in the COPE newsletter. The increase in the number of retractions of scientific papers prompted COPE to fund a study into the root of the problem. It was found that most “articles are retracted due to honest error or non-replicable findings, and that retraction practices are not uniform (J Med Ethics 2011;37: 567-570).”

Which publishers and membership associations have policies on retracting and withdrawing research papers? Ibrahim lists out a few prominent ones:

  • An STM Guideline by the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM)
  • International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)/IPA Joint Statement on Retraction or Removal of Journal Articles from the Web
  • Corrections, Retractions andExpressions of Concern by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE)
  • Ethics Resources for Medical Editors by the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME)
  • Fact Sheet: Errata, Retractions, Partial Retractions, Corrected and Republished Articles, Duplicate Publications, Comments (including Author Replies), Updates, Patient Summaries, and Republished (Reprinted) Articles Policy for MEDLINE® by the National Library of Medicine (NLM)
  • Publishers that have a policy statement on retraction are Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Science Domain International, American Institute of Physics (AIP), Taylor & Francis, Springer, Royal Society Publishing, Mineralogical Society of America, BioMed Central, Society of Neuroscience, PLoS, and the American Geophysical Union.

COPE provides guidelines for retracting articles for publishers or organizations that wish to establish an effective policy.

Charon Pierson Joins COPE

Congratulations to new COPE council member, Charon Pierson! Pierson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners is a customer of iThenticate, using the plagiarism software as part of its editorial review process. Pierson’s journal was one of the first to integrate iThenticate® into the ScholarOne Manuscripts™ system for Wiley-Blackwell. I was excited to learn that Pierson produced a 5-part video lecture series on publication ethics last year. We’ll be speaking to Pierson more about her videos in the coming months. So, stay tuned for more! 

Read the full COPE newsletter.


3-part Series Interview on Publishing Trends with COPE