Ensure Ethical Integrity with COPE’s “Core Practices”

The Woes of an Editor: Handling Plagiarism Concerns

By IGI Global on Oct 1, 2019

For those editors striving to ethically maintain a journal: we salute you. The responsibility of addressing any issues that inevitably occur (often at the most inopportune times) during the management of a journal falls upon the editor’s shoulders. Recently, the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) analyzed a survey the organization issued to ask current journal editors what they see as the most serious ethical issues they currently face. Of the 656 returned surveys, detecting plagiarism, poor attribution standards, fraudulent submissions, and data/image fabrications were deemed the most serious.

Plagiarism, defined by COPE as, “when somebody presents the work of others (data, words or theories) as if they were his/her own and without proper acknowledgment,” is a serious ethical concern (Committee on Publication Ethics, 2019). Not only does it undermine the hard work, preparation, and time researchers put into their experiments, but also the faith of the public. As journal editors are at the forefront for investigating and acting on suspected plagiarism, they must take certain steps when suspected plagiarism is concerned.

The first step, suggested by COPE, would be to collect the evidence and evaluate the degree of plagiarism with the article(s) in question. Once the evidence is reviewed, the editor would determine if the plagiarism in question was a minor offense and contact the author to define the journal’s position and conduct corrections to reference the original content. Afterwards, informing the plagiarized authors of the situation and how it was handled should follow. However, if the now confirmed plagiarized text in question uses large portions of text or data, an alternative route should be pursued.

Starting with a written notice, the editor of the journal must contact the corresponding author and attempt to gain insight into why they plagiarized. If the explanation is reasonable, the editor explains the standard of the journal to all authors of the journal and the future behavior that is expected. If the explanation is unsatisfactory and/or multiple excuses are given, the published piece, after conferring with the other authors, should be retracted, other journal editors should be informed, and the publisher of the plagiarized work should be contacted. Alerting the corresponding author’s supervisors might also be necessary at this point, but the author should also be aware of this action, if taken.

There may be a chance that the corresponding author decides not to respond to a written inquiry regarding their plagiarized material. If no response is forthcoming after multiple attempts, proceeding to alert the author’s supervisors might be necessary. If the author’s supervisors do not respond, other authorities may have to be contacted.

Ethical practices in academics need to be upheld to the highest of standards, but requires researchers dedicated to the task. Editors provide the insight and the knowledge capable of supporting ethical standards for all and, for all that you do to uphold these principles, we thank you. For the COPE guidelines referenced in this article, please see the below references. You can also download the Exploring Publication Ethics Issues in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences PDF here.

Committee on Publication Ethics. (2019). Exploring Publication Ethics Issues in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://publicationethics.org/files/Exploring%20Publication%20Ethics%20Issues%20in%20the%20Arts %20Humanities%20and%20Social%20Sciences_2019.pdf

Committee on Publication Ethics. (2019). Plagiarism. Retrieved from https://publicationethics.org/category/keywords/plagiarism

Wager, L. (2006). Suspected plagiarism in a published manuscript. Committee on Publication Ethics. Retrieved from https://publicationethics.org/files/plagiarism%20B.pdf

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