Process of Allegation

Ethical issues

Six fundamental ethical issues have been defined, and procedures for responding to misconduct have been outlined below.

Please note that these guidelines are not intended to provide or substitute legal advice. Each ethical issue is followed by recommended actions as advised by COPE for Journal Editors and when available additional reading has been added.

Clicking on the link will give you a flowchart with the actions stipulated. Please note that flowcharts are making a distinction between ethical issues in a submitted manuscript and published article.

  1. (1) Data fabrication / Data falsification

Data fabrication: This concerns the making up of research findings.

Data falsification: Manipulating research data with the intention of giving a false impression. This includes manipulating images (e.g. micrographs, gels, radiological images), removing outliers or “inconvenient” results, changing, adding or omitting data points, etc.

With regard to image manipulation it is allowed to technically improve images for readability. Proper technical manipulation refers to adjusting the contrast and/or brightness or color balance if it is applied to the complete digital image (and not parts of the image).

Any technical manipulation by the author should be notified in the cover letter to the Journal Editor upon submission. Improper technical manipulation refers to obscuring, enhancing, deleting and/or introducing new elements into an image. Generally, if an author’s figures are questionable, it is suggested to request the original data from the authors.

  1. (2) Duplicate submission / publication and redundant publication

Duplicate submission / publication: This refers to the practice of submitting the same study to two journals or publishing more or less the same study in two journals. These submissions/publications can be nearly simultaneous or years later.

Redundant publication (also described as ‘salami publishing’): this refers to the situation that one study is split into several parts and submitted to two or more journals. Or the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper cross-referencing, permission or justification.

“Self-plagiarism” is considered a form of redundant publication. It concerns recycling or borrowing content from previous work without citation. This practice is widespread and might be unintentional. Transparency by the author on the use of previously published work usually provides the necessary information to make an assessment on whether it is deliberate or unintentional.

Note! Translations of articles without proper permission or notification and resubmission of previously published Open Access articles are considered duplications.

  1. (3) Duplication of text and/or figures (plagiarism)

Plagiarism occurs when someone presents the work of others (data, text, or theories) as if it was his/her own without proper acknowledgment. There are different degrees of plagiarism.

The severity is dependent on various factors: extent of copied material, originality of copied material, position/context/type of material and referencing/attribution of the material used.

Every case is different and therefore decisions will vary per case. Ask yourself the following question: Does it concern an honest mistake or is there an intentional deviation from the scientific norm? Please note there are many grey areas between honest, questionable and fraudulent practices.

Whilst reviewing the case consider the following factors:

(a) Author seniority. Junior authors may be asked to paraphrase the copied text if it is believed that they are genuinely not aware that copying phrases is inappropriate. It is expected that a senior author should know better

(b) Cultural background could be an indication for potentially different behaviors concerning the amount of copying which could be seen as plagiarism


The following listing is designed to make you aware of the various possibilities concerning plagiarism:

  • (a) Verbatim copying of another’s work and submitting it as one’s own.
  • (b) Verbatim copying of significant portions of text from a single source.
  • (c) Mixing verbatim copied material from multiple sources (“patchwork copying”). This could range from 1 or 2 paragraphs to significant portions consisting of several paragraphs.
  • (d) Changing keywords and phrases but retaining the essential content of the source as a framework.
  • (e) Rephrasing of the text’s original wording and/or structure and submitting it as one’s own.
  • (f) Mixing slightly rephrased material from multiple sources and presenting what has been published already as new.
  • (g) The work is cited, but the cited portions are not clearly identified. This can be combined with copied parts of text without citation.


However for review papers the above is not directly applicable. Review papers are expected to give a summary of existing literature. Authors should use their own words with exception of properly quoted and/or cited texts and the work should include a new interpretation.

  1. (4) Authorship issues

COPE has written an article with advice on how to spot potential authorship problems. Please visit the below link for more details.

Most authorship problems have to do with authorship without the author’s knowledge and unacknowledged authorship.

  1. (5) Undeclared conflict of interest (CoI)

A conflict of interest is a situation in which financial or other personal considerations from authors or reviewers have the potential to compromise or bias professional judgment and objectivity.

Authors and reviewers should declare all conflicts of interest relevant to the work under consideration (i.e. relationships, both financial and personal, that might interfere with the interpretation of the work) to avoid the potential for bias.

  1. (6) Ethical problems

There are ethical issues that relate to patient consent or animal experimentation and the lack of ethical approval.

Recommended action by COPE for Journal Editors can be referred via the below link for each fraud.

It should be noted there are two distinct situations: serious scientific fraud or errors. Errors could be due to negligence (for example statistical errors) or honest errors which are part of the normal course of doing research. It is therefore important to treat potential cases with care as academic careers could be at risk.

Five steps to follow when encountering possible misconduct:

  • (1) Remain a neutral player and treat all potential misconduct cases confidentially
  • (2) Keep records of written communication including the allegation and the evidence of the complainant
  • (3) Raise the issue with the accused (co-)author in a timely manner
  • (4) Assess what exactly has happened (fact finding) and be transparent and final about decisions
  • (5) In case of potential media attention (e.g. as soon as the media is aware) or legal questions please contact the editorial assistant.


Allegations of research errors and fraud

Fraud is publishing data or conclusions that were not generated by experiments or observations, but by data manipulation or invention. Changing the data measurements to conveniently fit the desired end result is fraud, but excluding inconvenient results is deliberate research error, which in effect is the same end result – fraud.


Recommended action

Note that the procedures below are similar to those for research results misappropriation.

The complainant must be made aware that the matter cannot be investigated unless the journal editor informs the corresponding (or complained-about) author (due process) and the institution or company at which the research took place (especially if fraud is alleged).

In the communication to the corresponding author, the editor should indicate that the matter will likely be referred to the institution or company where the research took place or any other relevant institution or agency (for example a funding agency) unless the author provides a reasonable explanation (accepted as reasonable by the editor).