Misconduct Investigations—Balancing Collaboration and Confidentiality: A View from the 2014 CSE Annual Meeting*

Continuing a tradition of collaboration between COPE and the Council of Science Editors (CSE), a panel presentation “Misconduct investigations–Balancing collaboration and confidentiality” generated enthusiastic comments on the COPE discussion document “Sharing of information among editors-in-chief regarding possible misconduct.” The panel consisted of Dr. Charon Pierson, COPE Council; Dr. Steven Shafer, Editor-in-Chief, Anesthesia & Analgesia; and Mr. Roy Kaufman, lawyer and Managing Director of New Ventures at the Copyright Clearance Center. The audience was a dynamic part of the discussion, with editors sharing their previous experiences and lessons learned.

Specifically, the legal implications of sharing information about submitted manuscripts was a hotly debated point. According to the COPE document, COPE recognizes that there is an inherent conflict between pursuing misconduct and maintaining confidentiality when the suspect manuscript is in the peer-review process. COPE does recommend “minimizing the harm whilst maximizing the benefit” and provides several suggestions about how to do that. The legal perspective from Mr. Kaufman in this discussion is worth examining. He contended that a lawyer would look at “fact patterns” related to the conduct of all investigations by journals and as long as the process (the fact patterns of the investigation) was the same in every case, journals would be less vulnerable to legal action. Journals must have and follow policies that demonstrate a consistent and transparent approach to all investigations of misconduct. The take-home message was that editors should maintain confidentiality as much as possible, but that duty has to be balanced with an obligation to maintain the integrity of the scientific record. An overriding concern was that certain types of misconduct that put the public at risk must be pursued aggressively while still adhering to consistent and transparent processes. Some additional suggestions from the panel and ensuing discussion included 1) add a statement to the author guidelines that the editor can at his or her discretion inform other journals or institutions about suspected misconduct during the peer-review process; 2) all suspected misconduct should be investigated thoroughly according to COPE guidelines (i.e., be consistent in the approach to all investigations to avoid the appearance of being harsher with some situations or individuals); 3) keep accurate records; and 4) involve the legal department of the publisher as early as possible to avoid escalation of comments and actions that could create legal jeopardy.

CHARON PIERSON, PhD, GNP, BC, FAANP is editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the founding editor of the quarterly journal Nurse Practitioner Forum.

* Originally published in COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. June 2014 (2:6). COPE materials are available to use under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/.