Annual Meeting Reports

Demystifying Scientific Misconduct Issues through the Instructions to Authors

Scientific misconduct is an important aspect of the instructions for authors of all science, technology, and medicine publications. Instructions must clearly lay out the standards of scientific and publication integrity that are required by a journal and the consequences that may occur if the standards are not strictly followed.

Scientific misconduct may include fabrication of data, falsification, or plagiarism in reporting research results. It does not include honest error or honest differences of opinion.

This session provided examples of instructions for authors of five journals and how they do or do not deal with scientific misconduct and author expectations. Patty Baskin began the session by discussing instructions of the journals Neurology and Blood. Neurology defines what it considers to be scientific misconduct and what editorial actions occur when scientific misconduct is discovered. Baskin noted, however, that although Neurology has good instructions for submitting images, it does not present any information about image manipulation or consequences of it. Baskin noted that Blood’s instructions include links to outside organizations where authors can find more information on scientific misconduct but do not discuss repercussions. Blood instructions include information on plagiarism but do not define the terms specifically or state exactly what will happen if plagiarism is detected. They do include information on submitting images but say nothing about rules or consequences of image manipulation.

Ken Kornfield discussed instructions for the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO) and The Oncologist. He presented JCO’s as doing a fairly good job of covering the various aspects of scientific misconduct except image manipulation. They define what author misconduct is and is not and review the editorial process, potential sanctions, expectations, and recusal guidelines in cases of scientific misconduct. Kornfield pointed out that The Oncologist’s policies on author conduct are fairly thorough—again with the exception of image manipulation—and that these policies are easy to find, which is not necessarily true of other journals. He also noted that The Oncologist is the only journal he could find that discusses cases and consequences of misconduct by Editorial Board members.

Mary Scheetz concluded the panel overview with a discussion of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) instructions regarding scientific misconduct. She noted that ESA’s instructions for authors include a paragraph on ethical practices of authors; however, the text does not go into detail about what will happen if scientific or author misconduct is discovered.

Overall, the session provided information suggesting journals’ instructions for authors should include clear and explicit information that:

  • Defines scientific misconduct.
  • Explains whether and how the journal addresses research misconduct.
  • Reviews processes or procedures that are available for addressing misconduct concerns.
  • Describes whether and how the journal addresses breaches of publication ethics.
  • Explains what actions will be taken if misconduct of any kind is detected by editorial staff.
  • Clarifies how the journal addresses retractions, errata, and other corrections of the literature.

All of the speakers seemed to agree that journals should directly address all aspects of how they deal with misconduct issues and that authors should educate themselves to avoid unintended missteps in research or publication.