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Issue 41 – November 2013

In Part II of our two-part Ethics Special we explore some of the initiatives designed to prevent research misconduct and the resources available to support you when these cases do arise. Find out how COPE, CrossCheck, the ORI and Elsevier can help.



Editor in the Spotlight – Dr Robert Strangeway

Dr Robert Strangeway holds the position Research Geophysicist at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) at UCLA

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Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics

Dr Robert Strangeway holds the position Research Geophysicist at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles).

He has been joint Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics (JASTP) since 2012. The journal began in 1951 at the very beginning of what is termed the ‘space age’ and has grown to be the premier international home for research dedicated to the physics of the Earth's atmospheric and space environment. The journal publishes 12 volumes a year, has an Impact Factor of 1.417 and a 5-year Impact Factor of 1.625.

Q. What does being a journal editor mean to you and what do you find most rewarding about this role?
Being a journal editor is an important task that contributes to the health of the research endeavor. A journal editor has a gate-keeper function, which I still consider to be an essential component of the scientific process, as is the peer-review process. It is important for a scientist to both be able to publish in journals that have a good scholarly reputation, and also know that papers published in a journal have passed through a reputable review process.

The most rewarding aspect of being an editor is in providing a mechanism whereby scientists from under-represented communities have the opportunity to publish in a journal that has an international reputation.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics? How do you overcome these challenges and what extra support can Elsevier provide?
The biggest challenge as an editor is finding sufficient reviewers for manuscripts (see Question 3). Unfortunately, everyone is so busy that it can take months for reviews to be obtained. This is a source of frustration for authors, and a problem for the editors. In particular, some areas of research are relatively small, and only a small pool of reviewers is available. Multiple requests for reviews also frustrate the reviewers. The Elsevier ’Search for Reviewers’ tool helps keep track of reviewers who have recently provided a review, or declined a review. It would be useful if the tool also provided an ’uninvited’ entry for reviewers who do not respond to requests for reviews.

The second largest challenge concerns the breadth of topics covered by the journal. I think this is to the journal’s credit, but sometimes as editor I find myself assigning reviewers although I have little knowledge of the field, or any experience of the reviewers themselves. The ‘Find Reviewers’ tool provided by Elsevier helps fill that gap, although it sometimes provides incorrect email addresses and affiliations, especially for similar names in different disciplines.

The final challenge is what to do with contradictory or incomplete reviews. If two reviews contradict each other, as editor I often have the difficult choice of deciding which review carries more weight, while an incomplete review simply makes my editorial decision harder to justify.

Q. In many areas of research, the growth of paper submissions is outpacing the growth of qualified reviewers and resulting in pressure on the peer-review system. What do you think the solution to this problem is and how do you see the peer-review process changing in the future?
A. I have no obvious solution to this problem, as I think the two-reviewer peer-review process as it has evolved over the years is the best process we have. It is not perfect – it does depend on conscientious reviewers, and sometimes can be affected by inherent reviewer bias. But alternatives, such as single reviewers, or editor pre-screening, makes the review decision essentially dependent on a single point of view. As editor I do pre-screen papers, and I have rejected papers before sending them for review, but this only occurs for papers that are incorrect, or inappropriate for the journal. I do not pre-screen for scientific relevance, for example.

I know that there are advocates for ‘crowd-sourcing’ of reviews, where papers are essentially published without review, and the merit of the papers is determined by the readership. But that is what happens as part of the present publication process, albeit less visibly, in that unimportant papers are not cited. The question then becomes one of quality control – does the community at large want some form of filter on the material that is published?Right now that function is performed through the editorial review process.

Q. We have observed that researchers are increasingly accessing journal content online at an article level, i.e. the researcher digests content more frequently on an article basis rather than a journal basis. How do you think this affects the visibility of your journal among authors?
A. Access by articles, rather than by journals, is the wave of the future. That is how I personally access articles. I rely heavily on emails from the journals listing the most recently published articles. I no longer access a journal’s site and browse the table of contents.

Access at an article level is good for the journal. Table of contents emails, or links to cited articles, allow individuals to learn about the article, regardless of the journal. There is no journal bias.

Q. Recently, there have been many developments in open access particularly in the UK and Europe where, back in July 2012, the UK government endorsed the Finch Report recommendations for government-funded research to be made available in open access publications. The European Commission has since followed suit, making a similar announcement for an open access policy starting in 2014. How do you see these open access changes in your country? And how do you see them affecting authors who publish in your journal?
A. The United States is also moving towards open access, as new requirements are being developed that provide open access to articles generated through government support. This is very much in a state of flux, and it is not yet clear how this will be implemented. The fundamental issue is, of course, how the costs of publication are recovered by the journal. The concern is that open access requirements will require more of the costs of publication to be incurred by the authors, rather than the readers of the article. This may require different publication charge policies depending on whether or not open access is mandated.

Q. Researchers need to demonstrate their research impact, and they are increasingly under pressure to publish articles in journals with high Impact Factors. How important is a journal’s Impact Factor to you, and do you see any developments in your community regarding other research quality measurement?
A. Impact Factor is important, and I would like to see JASTP’s Impact Factor continue to improve. This requires a demonstration that the journal is following best practices in terms of reviewing and publishing articles. This is also facilitated by having Special Issues that include topical, and hence highly citable, papers. Impact Factor continues to be the primary means by which the members of my community assess journal importance.

Q. As online publishing techniques develop, the traditional format of the online scientific article will change. At Elsevier, we are experimenting with new online content features and functionality. Which improvements/changes would you, as an editor, find most important.
A. Elsevier is doing an excellent job in providing linked cross-references in articles. I would like to see this be available without requiring a subscription to the journal, but this may only happen in response to changes instigated by the open access requirement that is being imposed by the UK, EU, and USA. At a minimum, the reference list should be open access, with embedded links to the cited papers.

Q. Do you use social media or online professional networking in your role as an editor or researcher? Has it helped you and, if so, how?
A. I am of the generation that is more familiar with email as a primary means of electronic communication. I have a web presence, but it uses the relatively static ‘homepage’ concept, where updates require me to actively edit the content of my webpage, rather than simply post updates. While I have pages on a few social and professional networks, I have not yet taken advantage of the additional visibility provided by these networking sites.

I would consider including more information concerning my role as an editor in the professional networking sites to which I subscribe, but guidance from Elsevier would be useful. In particular, would Elsevier require notification or review of any information posted on a personal entry in a networking site? Guidance on how to connect the personal site to the journal would also be helpful.

Q. How do you see your journal developing over the next 10 years? Do you see major shifts in the use of journals in the future?
A. This is an important and difficult question. For JASTP in particular, I am looking forward to a continued improvement in the Impact Factor. For journals as a whole, the future depends very much on how they adapt to the open-access environment, as well as the tendency to electronically access separate articles from the journal. Journals have always been seen as an archiving medium. That role will remain. Similarly, I expect citation rates, and indices derived from citation rates, to continue as an important aspect of an individual’s promotion throughout their career. The standing of a journal is also important when assessing an individual’s publication record. But these are all based on the historical model of publication in scientific journals.

Adapting to the changing publishing environment is essential if the journals are also to be considered as the active source, rather than simply an archival record. Again, this is related to the adoption of an open-access environment, which in turn will require journals to adapt how publication charges are assessed.

Q. Do you have any tips or tricks to share with your fellow editors about being a journal editor?
A. The most basic tip, which I confess to not always following myself, is to find time each day to clear out the “Editor ‘to-do’ List” on the Editor page. This can back up quickly.

I don’t have any special tricks that I use during the editorial process. I scan the submitted articles, and always compare reviewers’ comments with the content. I don’t see any shortcut for that process.

I do wish I could find a trick that would enable me to find reviewers more quickly, as that is usually the most time-consuming aspect of the process.


The importance of author education

While increasingly effective tools to detect plagiarism and duplicate submissions may prove a strong deterrent to errant authors, there is another vital element required for any ethics armory – education. At Elsevier, we are keen to ensure that those new to the academic community clearly understand the ethics standards necessary when compiling and submitting a […]

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While increasingly effective tools to detect plagiarism and duplicate submissions may prove a strong deterrent to errant authors, there is another vital element required for any ethics armory – education.

At Elsevier, we are keen to ensure that those new to the academic community clearly understand the ethics standards necessary when compiling and submitting a manuscript.

We know this is an approach you also find important – a quick glance through the answers submitted to our quarterly Editor Feedback Program shows how highly you rate ‘supporting authors’.

In this article, we will explore two of the initiatives we have introduced to ensure students and young researchers can access this training; the Ethics in Research & Publication program and Publishing Connect author and reviewer training workshops.

Ethics in Research & Publication Program*


Early in 2012, a team of Elsevier colleagues gathered to work out how best to supplement the current author training opportunities on offer through projects such as Publishing Connect. Comprised of employees with expertise in publishing ethics, author communications, and editor and librarian relations, one of the first steps they took was to assemble an independent panel of experts well-versed in ethics issues. The result of this collaboration was Ethics in Research & Publication, an interactive website and program that emphasizes the individual researcher’s contribution to advancing science through integrity and good ethical standards. It also highlights the impact misconduct can have on the science community as a whole and on one’s career.

The program has a clear overarching message for its target audience – Make your research count. Publish ethically.

To make this message resonate, the team looked for creative ways to address the concerns of young researchers while conveying the wisdom of those who have been in their shoes.

Current Ethics Advisory Panel

Dr David Rew, Medical Subject Chair, Scopus Content Selection and Advisory Board and Consultant General Surgeon with Southampton University Hospitals, UK.

Professor Alexander T “Sandy” Florence, Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Pharmaceutics and Emeritus Professor of Pharmacy, University of London.

Professor Margaret Rees, Secretary of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), UK Editor-in-Chief Maturitas and Emeritus Reader in Reproductive Medicine in Oxford.

For more on the panel, visit the website’s Experts’ Corner.

A major channel for the program has been the interactive website, which has been liked more than 450 times on Facebook and has received a lot of positive attention on Twitter as well. Features include:

  • An interactive quiz to test your ethics IQ
  • A toolkit with downloadable fact sheets and materials that answer the question, ‘What should you do to avoid misconduct in specific situations?’
  • A recorded version of a live webinar about publishing ethics
  • Interviews with victims of misconduct
Ethics in Research & Publication website

The Ethics in Research & Publication website.

According to Catriona Fennell, Director of Publishing Services for STM Journals at Elsevier and one of the main drivers behind the program, “ethical issues are a shared problem for all involved in research and publishing. We felt our strongest impact would be in providing the tools to help researchers learn the ‘rules’ and how to comply with them.”

The program was launched with a series of workshops at the 2012 Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Dublin, given by past advisory panel member, Ole G Evensen. In Evensen’s words: “Our goal is simple: to educate students on publishing ethics so well that no one can ever claim ‘I didn’t know better’.”

Ole Gunnar Evensen with Catriona Fennell at the Euroscience Open. Forum conference in Dublin.

The interactive element of the program has continued with webinars (organized under the Publishing Connect umbrella) in September 2012, and January 2013, which together have recorded more than 1,500 views. During the last webinar there was live tweeting with the hashtag #PubEthics – a good example of the important role social media has come to play in the program. The webinars have been well received, with 97 percent of attendees agreeing they were satisfied, and 96 percent of attendees saying they would attend future webinars.

Throughout 2013, work has continued with further updates to the website – more webinars are also planned for the future.

Examples of live tweets posted during the latest ethics webinar.


Publishing Connect workshops and webcasts

Since the Publishing Connect program for authors and reviewers was launched in 2006, Elsevier publishers and journal editors have jointly hosted training workshops at hundreds of institutions and conferences worldwide.

While workshop topics span the full publishing process – from applying for funding to writing and submitting a manuscript – there is no doubt a core element of many events has been the module on ethics and plagiarism.

Addressing the issue at a grass roots level not only underpins Elsevier’s goal of supporting future authors on a wide range of training needs, but works towards achieving prevention rather than a cure.

In 2012, there were 350+ global workshops

Top 5 countries:

1. USA
2. China
3. Germany
4. India
5. UK

The publishing ethics issues covered in these workshops include:

  • Establishing authorship: definitions, corresponding authors, gift/ghost authorship
  • Handling authorship disputes: the role of the author and the editor
  • Plagiarism: definitions, allowances, understanding the ethical boundaries, detection technology, correct citation practice
  • Author responsibilities: originality, submission, conflicts of interest, fabrication, falsification, consequences

Research & Publishing Ethics Crib Sheet.

We recently created a new resource for early career researchers called Publishing Crib Sheets. These free to download posters include one entitled Research & Publishing Ethics, which contains information on types of authorship, handling disputes, what constitutes plagiarism and how is it detected, together with the key responsibilities of authors and the consequences of misconduct.

During or after each Publishing Connect workshop, participants are asked to complete a short survey. Results for 2012 show the workshops are delivering a much-needed service, with 94 percent of participants agreeing that they found them helpful. Additionally, 81 percent agreed that ‘Attending this seminar increased my understanding of publishing ethics’.

If you are interested in holding a Publishing Connect workshop at your institution, please contact your publisher for further information.

Publishing Connect training webcasts

The Publishing Connect program was recently extended to include bite-sized online training webcasts. Each webcast is up to 15 minutes long and can be viewed in the Publishing Connect training webcasts library. The latest additions to the channel are three new webcasts on research and publishing ethics and author responsibilities – more are in the pipeline. Since January 2012, the series has collectively garnered more than 280,000 views.

* This section is based on the Elsevier Connect article How to avoid misconduct in research and publishing.

Author biographies

Dr Inez van Korlaar

Dr Inez van Korlaar
Inez (@InezvKorlaar) joined Elsevier in 2006. After three years in publishing, she moved to the marketing communications department of STM Journals.  In her current role she is responsible for global marketing communication projects, which includes outreach to researchers in their role as an author. She has a PhD in health psychology from Leiden University in The Netherlands and is based in Amsterdam.

Hannah Foreman

Hannah Foreman
Hannah joined Elsevier in 2007 as Marketing Communications Manager for journals in Physics and Astronomy. With more than 10 years’ experience in communications and relations roles she now leads the Researcher Relations team in Amsterdam. This team focuses on delivering information innovatively to editors, authors and reviewers of Elsevier journals, together with ensuring that Elsevier maintains its close partnerships with these vital communities. Hannah has a professional and academic background in European business and speaks four languages.


Talking to the media – who is responsible?

“My first thought is usually whether it is even appropriate for me to respond on behalf of the editor.  The answer here, of course, is that it depends.” Authors, editors, Elsevier…we all love the media when they want to write a positive, straightforward story about a new research finding that promotes a particular journal. As […]

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"My first thought is usually whether it is even appropriate for me to respond on behalf of the editor.  The answer here, of course, is that it depends."

Authors, editors, Elsevier…we all love the media when they want to write a positive, straightforward story about a new research finding that promotes a particular journal.

As an editor, you are probably proud of your role in deciding to publish the article, and welcome any corresponding increase in article submissions, citations and journal reputation that the added attention brings. Those calls from the media are always a pleasure to take and are usually redirected to the article authors who are best placed to answer questions about their research.

But what about when the media focus on something that went wrong? Or an issue that is complicated and not likely to reflect favorably on your journal?  Those calls usually pertain to retractions and publishing ethics, and more often than not they go to editors. They’re not as much fun. Some of those calls come straight to me at Elsevier, and whether or not they’re fun isn’t my concern. My first thought is usually whether it is even appropriate for me to respond on behalf of the editor. The answer here, of course, is that it depends.

Our approach

We begin with the belief that while the publisher is responsible for setting the aims and scope of a particular journal, editors are responsible for the journal’s contents. That means you are accountable for the vast majority of articles that don’t raise any particular questions of impropriety, but it also means you are accountable for the very rare articles that do. So, when a reporter is looking for further information on how a journal handled a particular paper, the journal’s editor is the primary, authoritative source.

We at Elsevier are here, however, to support our editors, and my team is happy to lend that support when it comes to managing media inquiries. There are also situations where we recommend that you pass the media inquiry to us to handle (always in tandem with the publishers). Here are some of the questions we ask when deciding who the appropriate person is to respond.

  • Is it an ongoing investigation? Although we know you would probably provide the same response that we are likely to, i.e. “it would be inappropriate for me to discuss an investigation that hasn’t been concluded”, these inquiries are still best referred to Elsevier.
  • Was Elsevier a key contributor to the decision? Retractions, for example, are usually initiated by the authors, though sometimes by editors without the author’s consent. In either case, Elsevier has a retractions committee that approves each editorial decision to retract. However, when it comes to communicating that decision to the journal’s community of authors, in most cases it is the authoritative voice of the editor they want to hear.
  • Are there any legal implications to responding? Sometimes, in highly charged cases, there could be either the existence, or threat, of legal action. These cases are always best referred to Elsevier so we can assume liability.
  • Does the issue span more than one journal? For example, a wide range of titles were affected by the recent ‘faking’ of reviewer identities in EES, our editorial submission system. In these types of cases, any media inquiries an editor receives should be referred to Elsevier, even if the question is about a paper in that editor’s journal.

Our best advice would be that you should always talk to your publishing contact about the inquiry; together you can decide whether or not Elsevier’s corporate media relations team should be involved. We can work together to make sure Elsevier, you as the editor, the reporters and the journal community at large are best served by receiving the most accurate information from the most appropriate source.

*View Reller’s previous Editors’ Update article, Watching Retraction Watch, to discover what a new breed of journalist means for transparency and public trust in science.

Author biography

Tom Reller

Tom Reller

Tom Reller
Reller (@TomReller) leads a global team of media, social and web communicators. Together, they work to build on Elsevier's reputation by promoting the company's numerous contributions to the health and science communities. Reller directs strategy, execution and problem-solving for external corporate communications, including media relations, issues management and policy communications, and acts as a central communications counsel and resource for Elsevier senior management. Additionally, he develops and nurtures external corporate/institutional relationships that broaden Elsevier's influence and generate good will, including partnerships developed through The Elsevier Foundation.


How CrossCheck can combat the perils of plagiarism

At Elsevier, we receive around a million articles per year for publication in our journals. Unfortunately, a small percentage fails to meet our ethics guidelines and nearly 50 percent of those cases are suspected plagiarism. To help address this obvious pain point for our editors, in 2008 we joined CrossCheckTM, a collaboration between major publishers […]

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At Elsevier, we receive around a million articles per year for publication in our journals. Unfortunately, a small percentage fails to meet our ethics guidelines and nearly 50 percent of those cases are suspected plagiarism.

To help address this obvious pain point for our editors, in 2008 we joined CrossCheckTM, a collaboration between major publishers and CrossRef® to prevent plagiarism, simultaneous submission and multiple publication. That enabled us to incorporate into our editorial workflows iThenticate, the software that powers CrossCheck.

For many journals, this software is now indispensable – more than 4,000 editors at 800 Elsevier journals have iThenticate accounts, and editor usage of the software is up 41 percent on last year.  We expect that the upcoming integration of iThenticate into Elsevier’s Editorial System (EES), which will make it possible to automatically run English-language submissions through the software, will see that usage continue to rise. The integration is currently being piloted and the EES team aims to roll it out to all journals by the beginning of next year.

Features of iThenticate

  • Prevents plagiarism by detecting textual similarities which could indicate misconduct.
  • Compares full-text manuscripts against a database of 38+ million articles from 175,000+ journals, books from 500+ publishers, and 20+ billion webpages.
  • Use can be tailored to meet a journal’s needs: screening at the submission phase, pre-acceptance phase, or on an ad-hoc basis when allegations are raised.

The main function of iThenticate is to identify the textual overlap of a manuscript against CrossCheck’s growing database of published works and internet sources.  Such software can only be as good as the database it uses, and this is a large part of the reason that iThenticate is so successful – CrossCheck’s database is arguably the most complete and up-to-date of its kind available, with major publishers and societies contributing full-text content to it.

Caption: The left pane shows an uploaded document while the right pane highlights sources in the CrossCheck database found to have overlapping text. A quick visual scan of the Similarity Report is usually the first step in analyzing the results. iThenticate currently accepts a wide range of file types, now up to 40MB in size: DOC, DOCX, XML, TXT, PDF, HTML, WPD, RTF.


Professor Claes Wohlin

Prof Claes Wohlin

Editor-in-Chief of Information and Software Technology, Professor Claes Wohlin, has been using iThenticate since 2010. He said: “iThenticate helps in identifying textual similarity, but it is very important that the editor uses a sound judgment on the similarities found. It depends very much on whose text is reused and in which part of the paper. There’s a big difference between similarities in the research methodology descriptions and the actual research findings.”

What’s new in iThenticate

Based on your feedback, recent releases have improved functionality. For example, a common complaint was that short, standard phrases in the field could add noise to the Similarity Reports. Since May 2013, users can now specify the length of individual matches, e.g. must be greater than 10 words, which makes the reports easier to interpret and analyze.  The latest release on 24th September this year lets users exclude the Abstract or Materials and Methods sections.

A new viewing mode, Document Viewer, retains the layout of the original document (including figures and equations), making it more straightforward to spot where the overlap is and navigate through the document efficiently. The results from this mode can also be saved and printed to simplify sharing between editors.

A frequent request from editors was to integrate iThenticate with EES to minimize the time needed to upload the files to the software.  We are pleased to report that by the beginning of next year we expect EES submissions to be automatically run through the software. EES will provide a direct link to the full CrossCheck report for each submission.

It’s encouraging to see that journals adopting a screening policy can observe an increase in desk-reject rates and faster decision times, along with an improvement in the quality of papers sent out for review.  For example, at Journal of Materials Processing Technology, thanks to the huge efforts of a strong and dedicated editorial team, desk rejections for scope, quality and plagiarism are now at 78 percent while editorial times from submission to first decision went from 4.8 weeks in 2009 to 3.5 weeks in 2012.

Prof Richard Aron

Prof Richard Aron

Use of iThenticate can also lead to other, less obvious benefits. Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applications Editor-in-Chief, Professor Richard Aron, has found that: “iThenticate helps not only in identifying plagiarism, but also in suggesting possible referees that have been overlooked, or at least not mentioned, in the citations.”

If you don’t have an iThenticate account but would be interested in benefitting from this service, please speak to your publishing contact.

More information on plagiarism detection can be found in PERK (Elsevier’s Publishing Ethics Resource Kit).

Tips for interpreting iThenticate results

  • Human interpretation is crucial to differentiate between:
    • paragraphs or sentences copied from properly referenced sources;
    • text copied from the author’s previous works (often in the Methods section); and
    • paragraphs or sentences copied from improperly or unreferenced sources.
  • Similarities discovered in the Results/Discussion sections can be more concerning than those found in Intro/Methods.
  • You should become suspicious if you discover:
    • Similar strings of sentences or small paragraphs. One may not be an issue, but several could signify a problem.
    • A couple of paragraphs containing identical material. This may indicate improper reuse and should be carefully checked.
    • As much as a full page of matching material. Proceed with extreme caution!

Ethics cases can be less obvious than they appear so whenever in doubt, check with your publishing contact to make sure you follow due diligence in any accusation of research or publishing malpractice.

The pie chart shows the types of ethics cases reported at Elsevier in 2012, as per figures submitted to STM, the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers.

The pie chart shows the types of ethics cases reported at Elsevier in 2012, as per figures submitted to STM, the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers.


Author biographies

Laura Schmidt

Laura Schmidt

Laura Schmidt
Laura joined Elsevier in 2010 as a Managing Editor for a physics journal. She is currently a publisher for mathematics journals, and frequently works with editors to support and assist them in handling plagiarism and other misconduct cases.  Earlier, she held a postdoctoral research position at the University of Twente in The Netherlands after receiving her PhD in Physics from the University of Chicago in 2008.

Gaia Lupo

Gaia Lupo

Gaia Lupo
Gaia joined Elsevier in 2011 as a Managing Editor after graduating from the University of Perugia in Italy with a PhD in Mathematics. Gaia is currently working as a publisher and is responsible for a portfolio of 16 journals across the areas of manufacturing processes and systems. Her role includes defining and implementing journals’ long-term strategies and being the primary contact for editors seeking advice on publishing and ethics issues.


Making the most of your COPE membership

In 2008, all Elsevier journals were enrolled in the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), so editors would have an alternative information resource when faced with research misconduct cases. In this interview, current COPE Chair, Dr Virginia Barbour, discusses recent changes to the organization and outlines some of the benefits that membership can bring. When a […]

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In 2008, all Elsevier journals were enrolled in the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), so editors would have an alternative information resource when faced with research misconduct cases. In this interview, current COPE Chair, Dr Virginia Barbour, discusses recent changes to the organization and outlines some of the benefits that membership can bring.

When a handful of medical editors set up the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) back in 1997, they hoped that pooling their knowledge would help them tackle the ethics cases they were witnessing on their journals.

Fast forward 16 years and COPE can claim more than 8,700 members spanning a variety of disciplines across the globe.

While the organization has undergone tremendous change – particularly over the past five years – that original goal of editors offering their peers non-judgmental advice remains central to all COPE’s activities, says current Chair, Dr Virginia Barbour.

She explained: “COPE acted as a sort of support group for those early members and that really hasn’t changed. COPE provides the resources so that editors can make their own decisions – we aren’t here to tell them what to do.”

COPE at a glance:

COPE provides advice to editors and publishers on all aspects of publication ethics and, in particular, how to handle cases of research and publication misconduct. It also provides a Forum for its members to discuss individual cases.

COPE does not investigate individual cases but encourages editors to ensure that cases are investigated by the appropriate authorities (usually a research institution or employer).” *

* Taken from the About COPE page on the organization’s website.

Dr Barbour became aware of COPE in 1999, when she was working on The Lancet in the role of Molecular Medicine Editor – The Lancet Editor-in-Chief, Richard Horton, was one of COPE’s founding members.

In 2004, she left to join the Public Library of Science (PLOS) and was invited to join COPE’s Council. Dr Barbour said: “At that time, we were launching PLOS Medicine. Before our first paper was published we encountered some ethics issues so I realized COPE’s help would be important.”

At that stage, COPE still had a fairly relaxed structure, with no formal constitution. In the years that followed, membership expanded, a constitution was established, internal communications evolved, and the Council became more global. A group of officers was appointed (all voluntary) – the Chair, a Vice Chair, Treasurer and Secretary – and paid staff were added. These have all become crucial to the smooth running of what is now quite a complex organization.

Since taking over the reins as Chair 18 months ago, one of Dr Barbour’s key aims has been to increase that internationalization. She said: “Until recently, London was the location for all our quarterly Forum meetings (where cases submitted to COPE are discussed). One of the first things I did was to hold two Forum meetings by webinar – opening up the opportunity for all COPE members to attend, wherever they are based.  The success of the virtual Forums has been such that we have decided to hold all of our quarterly Forums by webinar.  We will also be holding workshops around the globe where members can meet in person to discuss cases and publication ethics issues.  We feel that it is important to retain that personal contact with our members, as well as opening up our services to more of our global membership.”

Another two important steps have been the introduction of online consultation sessions (still in early testing) and an International Advisory Group.

The online sessions are designed to supplement the quarterly Forums; they will be held on a regular basis, dictated by the needs of members. Dr Barbour said: “Cases can be submitted in the usual way (via the COPE website) and we will post them on a secure section of the site. We will then hold a two-hour session where anyone from the Council can login and comment on them. As with the Forums, a written summary of feedback will be provided to the submitting editor.”

The International Advisory Group, which is in the process of being launched, comprises a worldwide panel of individuals experienced in publication ethics. Dr Barbour explained: “Although our current Council is global and very active, by necessity it can’t cover every area of the world. To remedy that, we have sought people who are interested in helping us think about ethics issues in their country; if an ethics issue arises that is of importance to their region, we will be able to call on their expertise.”

She added: “The kind of internationalization we are discussing can only be achieved with appropriate software and technology so another major focus has been the introduction of those tools.”

Dr Barbour has also steered COPE through a strategic review which involved having a “hard think” about what its principles should be. She said: “COPE’s primary purposes are now much clearer; we exist for the support and education of members and we enable them to solve cases – on their own. That last point is absolutely the thing that members appreciate.

“Another point I would like to make is that we are not a regulatory body – this isn’t the General Medical Council. We do get people writing to us about the behavior of editors. We do have a Code of Conduct and can work with editors to look at how they can better comply with it but we don’t feel it is our role to rule on an editor’s conduct from a regulatory point of view.”

What happens when a case is submitted to COPE

When editors approach COPE for advice on a case, the first step is to direct them to the resources on the COPE website. Dr Barbour said: “Many of the problems they experience we will have encountered before, for example, authorship issues are tremendously common.” The website contains flowcharts to help editors make decisions on many publishing ethics dilemmas, such as ‘What to do if you suspect redundant (duplicate) publication’ and ‘What to do if you suspect a reviewer has appropriated an author’s idea or data’. There is also a database containing details of, and advice given on, the 500+ cases COPE has discussed since its inception in 1997. Work is currently being carried out to increase the effectiveness of the database’s search function. COPE also hopes that an ongoing reclassification exercise will help it understand which areas of research misconduct are becoming more prevalent and require more focus.

Dr Barbour continued: “If an editor feels their case is not so simple, or they need a bit more support, e.g. they are a first-time editor, or are under pressure from someone, then we suggest they bring the case to one of our quarterly Forums, where it can be discussed by up to 60 editors. Another option shortly will be to submit it for an online consultation session.

“Both these avenues can lead to a divergence of members’ views – not in a combative way, but you will find one editor says ‘this has always helped me’ while another favors an alternative approach. Sometimes members will say ‘exactly the same thing happened to me’ and they can explain how they dealt with it. We collate all the feedback received and provide a written (anonymized) summary to the editor who submitted the case. It is up to them to decide on the next steps.”

Dr Barbour has seen firsthand the value that discussing a case at the Forum can bring. She explained: “At one North American Forum, a member mentioned that they were puzzled by the behavior of an author who had fabricated, or inaccurately reported, references on a paper. It sounded odd, but minor. Then another member said ‘that’s weird’ and related a similar story. It turned out that the reference fabrication was just one aspect of a wider case and between them they uncovered misconduct going back years.

“Similarly, last year at two or three Forums we heard about incidents where authors had fabricated reviewers. It was strange, nobody had ever heard of this happening before and then suddenly there were three cases in six months. That was sufficient for us to send a warning to all our members.”

Plans for the next few years include a focus on making COPE more proactive in leading debates on publication ethics. The first steps have already been taken with the introduction of a ‘discussion’ about a topical ethics issue at the start of each Forum. She said: “Our ultimate goal is to be an organization that leads the debate on publishing ethics.”

COPE – how it can help

The automatic COPE membership Elsevier extends to all its journals brings a number of benefits. As an editor you can:

  • Receive advice on individual (anonymized) cases from members of the Council and other COPE members at Forum meetings each quarter.
  • Access advice on a more regular basis via the new online consultation service.
  • Attend the COPE seminars (free for members) where real-life, anonymized cases are debated.
  • Access the recently revamped eLearning course, and invite co-editors to participate.
  • Use the ethics audit tool to see how well your journal matches COPE’s guidelines (log-in required).
  • Use the COPE logo in your journal.
  • Apply for COPE research grants.
  • Stand for election to COPE Council.
  • Receive the new eNewsletter, COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice.
  • Use COPE’s range of sample letters (log in required).

You will also have access to a variety of resources available to members and non-members alike. These include:

Contributor bio*

Dr Virginia Barbour

Dr Virginia Barbour
Virginia Barbour joined The Lancet in 1999, becoming Molecular Medicine Editor in 2001. She joined the Public Library of Science in 2004 and was one of the three founding editors of PLOS Medicine. She was Chief Editor until September 2013 and is now Medicine Editorial Director for PLOS. She initially studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, and then Medicine at University College and Middlesex Hospital School of Medicine, London. After training in hematology at the Royal Free Hospital, London, she continued her studies at the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford, before carrying out postdoctoral work in the Division of Experimental Hematology at St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Alongside her role as Chair of COPE, Dr Barbour is a member of the Ethics Committee for the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME). She has participated in discussions on revisions to CONSORT statements, the QUOROM statement and was involved in the first meetings of the EQUATOR initiative.

* Dr Barbour was interviewed for this article by Linda Willems, Editor-in-Chief of Editors’ Update.


The art of detecting data and image manipulation

“… a false statement of fact, made deliberately, is the most serious crime a scientist can commit.” English Chemist and novelist, Charles Percy Snow (1905-1980) Over the years, numerous initiatives have been launched to educate authors about the dangers of manipulating data and images in their journal submissions — in fact, we discuss two of […]

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“… a false statement of fact, made deliberately, is the most serious crime a scientist can commit.” English Chemist and novelist, Charles Percy Snow (1905-1980)

Over the years, numerous initiatives have been launched to educate authors about the dangers of manipulating data and images in their journal submissions — in fact, we discuss two of our own programs in The importance of author education in this Ethics Special.

Biochemical PharmacologyWhile many of these have met with success, there is no doubt this kind of behavior remains more common than we would wish. In this article, we focus on some of the tools and processes developed to detect data and image manipulation. Dr Jacques Piette, Editor of Biochemical Pharmacology, shares his eight-point plan to control submitted Western Blots, while Dr John Dahlberg, of The Office of Research Integrity (ORI), talks about how his organization can help identify manipulation and offers insight into the techniques used by its investigators. Dr Dahlberg has also kindly offered to share with readers a program the ORI uses to identify potentially fabricated numbers — further details of which you will find below.

But most of all, we hope this article proves the starting point of a wider discussion on this topic — we want to hear your views. Please let us know your thoughts on how data and image manipulation can be better managed in your field by posting your comments below.

The International Federation of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine (IFCC) offers the following guidance on graphics editing:

“For clarity, figures may be adjusted to better see the item being discussed as long as such changes do not obscure or eliminate information present in the original image. However any changes (brightness, contrast, color balance, etc.) must be made overall, and mentioned in the figure caption. An original image file must be retained in case it is required by the peer-review process. Do not remove or move anything in an image, or clean up an image.”

Tools to detect fraud at The Office of Research Integrity (ORI)

The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) is responsible for oversight reviews of investigations into allegations of research misconduct that involve research funded — at least in part — by agencies of the US Public Health Service.

John Dahlberg

Dr John Dahlberg

According to John Dahlberg, PhD, Deputy Director of the ORI, an oversight review is essentially a “de novo review of the institutional record” and is carried out by the ORI’s Division of Investigative Oversight (DIO); ten scientists and physician-researchers with a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds.

He said: “The pace at which they are being asked to examine research is increasing dramatically. Over the years, DIO employees have developed a number of computer-aided approaches to examining data and other research records to strengthen the evidence for research misconduct in cases where findings appear warranted.”

Here, Dr Dahlberg guides us through some of those tools and processes, many of which are available to the public, and shares some useful tips from the team.

ORI’s forensic image tools

Forensic droplets: First posted on the ORI website in 2005, droplets are small desktop applications in Adobe Photoshop that automatically process files dragged onto the icon. They are available to download from ORI’s website and allow you to quickly examine the details of a scientific image in Photoshop while reading the publication in the full text (html) form or in the PDF form in an Internet Browser.

The droplets have a variety of uses and can help you to:

  • Find out whether an image’s light or dark areas have been adjusted
  • Evaluate whether two images may have been obtained from a single source
  • Compare two images

Photoshop Actions: ORI also posted a number of Photoshop actions in 2005 and an advanced set of these has been developed for later Photoshop versions. The actions differ from the droplets in that they pause to allow the user to make a choice in how to proceed with the analysis of the image(s).

Other image tools used by the Division of Investigative Oversight (DIO):

Adobe Bridge: This software can generate libraries of images for rapid screening — images can be organized by date or file size, and the large thumbnail size allows careful viewing of each image. This is particularly useful when searching for sequential versions of files that have been modified, where they are likely to be very similar in size and their time-date stamps are closely spaced.

ImageJ: This program is available for a variety of platforms and can be freely downloaded from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website. It is very versatile and the DIO finds it particularly useful for producing quantitative scans of gel bands, for example.

DIO has also discovered research misconduct in PowerPoint images by using the ‘Reset Picture’ tool. On numerous occasions, this has revealed the use of underlying images and, in several cases, those underlying images turned out to have been scanned from unrelated published papers. It is also possible to reset images in some PDF files viewed in Adobe Acrobat.

Examining questionable data

Review of questioned numbers: Research [1-4] has shown that when people are asked to write random numbers, they do a poor job. James Mosimann, a bio-statistician at ORI in the 1990s, recognized that if sets of numbers in respondents’ notebooks purportedly obtained by transcribing them from instruments such as scintillation counters or spectrophotometers were unaccompanied by the original data printouts, then they might have been fabricated. He also reasoned that while the digits on the left side of a number would be expected to be non-uniform (because they conveyed the results of the experiment) those in the right-most positions ought to be uniformly distributed. He developed a program to calculate chi-square values and corresponding probabilities based on the distribution of right-most digits in sets of numbers sufficiently large enough (>50 digits). Columns of numbers saved as a text file can be imported into his program. The DIO requires control data from similar unquestioned experiments carried out in the same laboratory. In quite a number of cases, while right-most digits from control numbers have been shown to be uniformly distributed, this has not been true of the questioned numbers.

Although not publicly available, the ORI has kindly agreed to provide a copy of James Mosimann's program to interested editors along with instructions. It is usable in Windows through version 7, but does not load in Windows 8. If you would like to receive a copy, please contact Dr Dahlberg at

Issues with spreadsheet files: ORI has made findings in several cases involving the discovery of embedded formulae in spreadsheets that calculate backwards; in other words, a formula is used to calculate the raw data value from the final claimed result. The formula in an Excel cell is visible in the formula bar when a cell in highlighted, while all of the formulae in the spreadsheet can be displayed in Excel (Microsoft Office 2007 version) by pressing the “control + ~” keys (control/plus/grave accent) simultaneously. Pressing the same three keys restores the normal view. Even when formulae have been removed from a spreadsheet, the format of the numbers in the columns may be informative. Calculated values usually have long digit strings to the right of a decimal, and data input values often do not — this can be revealed by setting the cell number format to ‘general’.

Converting graphs back to spreadsheet values: ORI has frequently found it necessary to compare published graph data with raw notebook or computer data to determine if it has been reported accurately. Similarly, they can see if the published standard errors or standard deviations — expressed as error bars — are adequately reflective of the raw data. It is also often desirable to compare graphs published in different grant applications or papers that are labeled as coming from different experiments but which appear to have identical values. To accomplish this, DIO has used computer software [5] to convert images to spreadsheet values.

In several cases, ORI has determined that error bars seem improbably small, or of a fixed percentage of the experimental values. Fixed error bars at, say, 5 percent of the height of the histogram bars in the graphs, are not reflective of typical biological experiments, and warrant a review by the institution to determine if the experiment(s) were actually conducted as described.

Forensic review of sequestered digital data: In recent years, DIO has increasingly relied on the forensic examination of sequestered digital data, particularly of hard drives. This is reflective of increasing reliance by the scientific community on storage of data on computers rather than in notebooks. Whenever possible, ORI advises institutions to acquire forensic copies of digital data, which may involve the expertise of IT personnel and special hardware and software. There are multiple advantages to acquiring image copies in comparison to simply copying files onto CDs or other media; for example, time-date stamps are accurately preserved and forensic software can recover erased files as long as they have not been overwritten by a more recently saved file.

Eight tips to prevent Western Blot manipulation 

Dr Jacques Piette

Western Blots — a highly valuable technique to separate proteins by structure or size — is a widely-used method. According to Dr Jacques Piette, Groupe Interdisciplinaire Génoprotéomique Appliquée Research Director at the Université de Liège, Belgium, and Editor of Elsevier’s Biochemical Pharmacology, it is also a method that is sadly misused and vigilance is needed in evaluating these images [6].

Figure 1: An example of a Western Blot suffering overloading or over-exposure problems, and inappropriate gel cutting. The accompanying paper also lacked quantification and statistical analysis around the WB.

Figure 1: An example of a Western Blot suffering overloading or over-exposure problems, and inappropriate gel cutting. The accompanying paper also lacked quantification and statistical analysis around the WB.

Dr Piette has highlighted eight key points to consider:

1. Pay attention to the overall quality of the Western Blot (WB). The bands should be well-marked. Do not accept a WB with fuzzy or smearing bands.

2. Do not accept a WB with over-loaded or over-exposed bands because they are impossible to quantify.

3. Request that the WBs be quantified and statistically analyzed.

4. Do not accept a WB where the samples to compare have been loaded on more than one gel.

5. Do not accept a WB without the proper loading controls:

  • They should not be over-exposed.
  • They should be made using proteins extracted in the same conditions as the analyzed proteins. Example: if a nuclear protein is analyzed, the loading control should be made with a nuclear protein and not with a cytoplasmic protein - quite often the case!

6. Pay attention to the fraudulent use of the same loading controls in several different WBs.

7. Primary and secondary antibodies must be described in the Materials and Methods section. If the antibodies are not of commercial origin, their characterization must be described.

8. If there are doubts about a WB, do not hesitate to ask the authors to provide an image of the full WB.

The Guide for Authors of many journals do not carry any information around submitting Western Blots. Biochemical Pharmacology is one of the few that does. If a journal receives a large number of Western Blots, the editor might consider amending the Guide accordingly. Any editors interested in working together on a common text on Western Blots should contact me, Anthony Newman, at

Author biography

Anthony Newman

Anthony Newman

Anthony Newman
In September 1987, Anthony moved from London to Amsterdam to join Elsevier. He has always been interested in ethics, and was one of the original project team that founded PERK (Publishing Ethics Resource Kit), and brought COPE into Elsevier. Apart from managing a dozen or more journals, he is also a member of the International Federation of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine (IFCC) Task Force on Ethics, where he recently published a white paper, and he has given workshops on publication ethics at various IFCC-sponsored events worldwide.




[1] Mosimann J E, Wiseman CV and Edelman RE, “Data Fabrication: Can People Generate Random Digits?”, Accountability in Research4:31-55, 1995.

[2] Mosimann J E and Ratnaparkhi M V, “Uniform occurrence of digits for folded and mixture distributions at finite intervals”, Communications in Statistics25(2):481-506, 1996.

[3] Mosimann J E, Dahlberg J E, Davidian N M and Krueger J W, “Terminal digits and the examination of questioned data”, Accountability in Research9:75-92, 2002.

[4] Dahlberg J E and Davidian N M, “Scientific forensics: how the Office of Research Integrity can assist institutional investigations of research misconduct during oversight review”, Sci. Eng. Ethics, 16:713-735, 2010.

[5] There are various programs that can be used, and although ORI cannot endorse any, it has used SigmaScanPro, sold by Systat Software Inc.

[6] Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky, “Can We Trust Western Blots?”, Lab Times, 2-2012, 41


Working together: a précis of roles and resources

When an ethics case arises on one of your journals, establishing who is responsible – and for what – may not seem clear cut. In truth, it isn’t; much will depend on the specifics of each situation including the type of case and its severity. While creating a ‘one size fits all’ set of instructions […]

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When an ethics case arises on one of your journals, establishing who is responsible – and for what – may not seem clear cut. In truth, it isn’t; much will depend on the specifics of each situation including the type of case and its severity.

While creating a ‘one size fits all’ set of instructions may be a challenge, there are a few basic guidelines, which you will find outlined below. This article also highlights some of the resources Elsevier has available to support you when faced with ethical issues relating to journal articles.

Whose job is it anyway?

As Mark Seeley points out in his Guest Editorial in Part I of this Ethics Special, the journal editor plays a central role in resolving ethics allegations. The ultimate decision should be based on the editorial and scientific integrity of the article and the journal, and should not be swayed by business or legal concerns.  Elsevier also has a critical role to play in working through each ethics issue with the journal editor.  Elsevier’s role is to:

  • Guide - help the editor decide how to evaluate and investigate the allegation and provide the best available tools and resources.
  • Support – we can aid editors to implement editorial decisions.
  • Defend - stand behind the editor before and after the decision is made and implemented.

Elsevier has a variety of experts available to assist the editor in handling ethics disputes:

  • Journal publisher: The publisher provides first-line support on any journal matter, including questions relating to ethics.
  • Publishing ethics team: Elsevier has recently formed a small team of publishing ethics experts to support our journals. These experts will assist journal publishers and editors, expand the tools and resources available for identifying and resolving ethics issues, and support further author education aimed at preventing future ethics breaches.
  • Legal staff: Elsevier’s legal department is available to advise as needed with respect to issues of process and legal rules.
  • Corporate relations: Elsevier’s corporate relations team assists in handling media inquiries or other information requests related to ethics disputes and decisions. See Talking to the media – who is responsible? in this issue for further details.

In the end, the journal editor and publisher share a common goal: to resolve ethics issues in a way that upholds the reputation of the journal, ensures the integrity of the scientific record as reported in the journal, treats all parties fairly and efficiently, and effectively resolves the situation. Together, we will continue to do everything necessary to protect the record of science.

Importance of validating reviewers suggested by authors

There is one editor role in particular that we would like to take this opportunity to highlight. As part of the submission process for some Elsevier journals, authors are asked to suggest potential reviewers for their paper.  While this can be a great help in fields where editors struggle to find good reviewers, recently we have seen this practice lead to some unethical author behavior. There have been a few, rare cases of authors suggesting fictitious reviewers with fictitious email addresses. This ensures the authors receive the review request and gives them the opportunity to create their own reviews.

To help prevent this, it is essential that editors use Scopus to check the validity of reviewers suggested by authors.  Running through the checklist of questions below can also help to raise any potential red flags.

  • Is the institute listed against the reviewer’s name credible?
  • Is the email address provided that of an institute? A Hotmail email address, for example, may not necessarily be suspect but could be an additional alert if other information doesn’t add up.
  • Has a known reviewer suddenly switched from an institutional email address to another? It could be the case that the name is valid but the email address and reviewer account in EES are not.
  • Are there any indications of a conflict of interest? For example, a suggested reviewer having the same affiliation as the author?
  • Is the reviewer a subject expert? A quick check of the reviewer’s history in Scopus should answer this question.
  • Is the reviewer a regular co-author with the corresponding author? Again, a quick check of the reviewer’s history in Scopus should verify this.

Carrying out these simple checks will go some way towards ensuring fake reviewers are caught prior to being registered and invited.

How can Elsevier help editors when publishing ethics cases arise?

To assist our journal editors in handling publishing ethics cases and to safeguard the scientific integrity of our journals, Elsevier makes available a wide variety of tools and resources.

PERK (Publishing Ethics Resource Kit)

Elsevier’s online PERK resource provides journal editors with a roadmap to take them through the entire process of resolving a complaint of an ethics breach. It includes:

  • General process guidelines, including a description of decision-making process, due process for authors, when to involve the legal department, and discussions relating to potential remedies.
  • Decision trees for each type of ethics issue which guide the editor through the steps needed to resolve the ethics allegation.
  • Form letters to use in ethics-related correspondence.
  • FAQs re. ethics issues and processes.
  • Links to third-party ethics resources.
COPE membership

Elsevier has enrolled its journal editors in COPE, the Committee on Publication Ethics, an independent organization consisting of more than 8,700 editors of peer-reviewed journals.  COPE provides an opportunity for editors to discuss issues relating to the integrity of the scientific record, and supports and encourages editors to report, catalogue and instigate investigations into ethics problems in the publication process.  Other resources and benefits include:

  • A COPE Forum at which editors may receive individual advice on resolving specific disputes from a committee of the organization’s members.
  • A database of all cases considered by the COPE Forum listed by the category of ethics breach (for example, duplicate submission), the advice given, and the outcome of cases - an extremely valuable resource for editors when deciding what to do in similar situations.
  • Newsletters and seminars on special topics.
  • A self-audit tool for use with individual journals.

Enlisting our journal editors in COPE ensures that they have an alternative source to refer to when dealing with publishing ethics issues. In this issue, Chair of COPE, Dr Virginia Barbour, explains in more detail how the organization can help.


Elsevier journal editors may choose to employ CrossCheckTM, third-party software provided by CrossRef® and Iparadigms (iThenticate), which is used to discover similarities between submitted manuscripts and previously published journal articles. This is a database of more than 38 million articles from more than 175,000 journals produced by more than 500 participating publishers.  Elsevier is working closely with the software vendor and other publishers on enhancements that will make CrossCheck an even more efficient and effective plagiarism detection tool for editors. You can read more about this valuable service in How CrossCheck can combat the perils of plagiarism in this issue.

Author education

As part of its commitment to help educate researchers and authors about scientific publishing issues, Elsevier has developed ethics training in collaboration with an independent panel of experts: the Ethics in Research & Publication program.  The program includes online education to teach the ‘ground rules’, as well as the consequences if they’re broken.  It also contains interviews, fact sheets, quizzes, and a Q&A.

In addition, Elsevier hosts more than 350 author and reviewer training workshops per year through the Publishing Connect program, as well as quarterly author webinars. You can find out more about all these projects in the article The importance of author education in this issue.

Author biographies

Linda Lavelle

Linda Lavelle

Linda Lavelle
Linda is a member of Elsevier’s legal team, providing support and guidance for its companies, products and services. She is also responsible for Elsevier’s Global Rights-Contracts team, and is a frequent speaker on matters of publication ethics.  Linda earned her law degree from the University of Michigan and also has an MBA.  She joined Harcourt in 1995, which subsequently became part of Elsevier.  Before that time, she served in a law firm, and held a number of positions in the legal, scientific, and information publishing industry.

Mihail Grecea

Dr Mihail Grecea
Mihail holds the role of Expert in Publishing Ethics in Elsevier’s STM Journals group. He joined Elsevier in 2011 and was a Managing Editor for our journal Physics Letters A before taking on this new role in May this year. Mihail has a PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of Leiden and before joining Elsevier was a postdoctoral researcher at the Materials Innovation Institute (M2i) and the Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research (DIFFER). 


Welcome to Part II of our Ethics Special edition

When it comes to publishing ethics, one question in particular eludes a definitive answer; are these cases on the rise or are we simply getting better at uncovering them? In Part I of this Ethics Special, Elsevier’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Mark Seeley, was happy to go on record as a supporter of […]

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When it comes to publishing ethics, one question in particular eludes a definitive answer; are these cases on the rise or are we simply getting better at uncovering them?

In Part I of this Ethics Special, Elsevier’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Mark Seeley, was happy to go on record as a supporter of the hypothesis that they are indeed increasing. In his Guest Editorial he stated: "... I think the better view — one more consistent with the evidence on the number of retractions — is that we are seeing an actual rise in volume."

We were keen to hear your views and asked you to vote in our online Editors’ Update poll. Interestingly, the result was fairly evenly split – at the time of going to press, 54 percent of you had voted for a rise in publishing ethics cases, while 44 percent felt that software and experience were responsible for bringing more cases to light.

This poll has now been replaced by a question submitted by an Editors’ Update reader: Is the pressure of grants to publish driving the rise in unethical practices from authors?. Please do take a few moments to visit the right hand bar and let us know your thoughts.

One further request – the Editors’ Update website is currently running a short survey to help us improve our service. If you see the pop-up request below, I would be very grateful if you could take part. As an added incentive, for every completed survey we will donate US$2 to Book Aid International, which supports literacy, education and development in sub-Saharan Africa.


What will I find in this issue?

Before I outline the contents of this edition, I’d like to reflect on the feedback we have received on our Ethics Special Part I. Thanks to all of you who took the time to post comments – one article in particular, Bias in research: the rule rather than the exception?, sparked much discussion, while the most visited article proved to be Research misconduct – three editors share their stories.

And so, on to Part II…we begin with Working together: a précis of roles and resources, a scene-setter for the articles that follow. Find out more about the roles Elsevier and editors have to play and the range of support available to help you.

We then move to The art of detecting data and image manipulation in which we investigate a range of tools and processes. The article contains useful advice (and an offer of free software) from The Office of Research Integrity as well as an editor’s practical tips for checking Western Blots.

All Elsevier journals are enrolled in the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and in Making the most of your COPE membership, current Chair, Dr Virginia Barbour, explains recent changes to the organization and outlines some of the benefits membership can bring.

For many journals, CrossCheck is now indispensable. In How CrossCheck can combat the perils of plagiarism we discover why they wouldn’t be without this software and how integration into EES will further streamline the process for checking papers for plagiarism, simultaneous submission and multiple publication.

Talking to the media – who is responsible? asks Tom Reller, Elsevier’s Head of Media Relations. Media exposure for your journal may be welcome when the coverage is positive, but what about when they want to discuss publishing ethics cases? Reller outlines some scenarios and advises on whether Elsevier or the editor should respond.

If we want to reduce research misconduct incidents, education is key and in The importance of author education we look at two of Elsevier’s early-career training initiatives – the Ethics in Research & Publication Program and Publishing Connect author workshops.

Finally, no edition would be complete without our Editor in the Spotlight feature. This time, Dr Robert Strangeway, Research Geophysicist at University of California, Los Angeles, and joint Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics takes on our regular Q&A.

Looking ahead

Planning is already underway for our 2014 editions. As you can see from the Ethics Special Part I, articles written by editors are extremely popular so I would love to hear from you if there is a topic you are keen to write about. I would also welcome article ideas and any feedback you might have to share. You can email me at

Do you find that authors who have recently published in your journal are more likely to agree to review?

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To sign-up for one or more of these events, visit our registration form.