What to do when misconduct is beyond the means of Journal Editors to investigate?
If allegations of scientific misconduct cannot be resolved or if the response received from the parties involved is unsatisfactory or if the misconduct is beyond the means of the Journal Editor and Board to investigate (often occurring in cases of data fabrication/falsification, stolen data, and author disputes amongst others), you are advised to refer the case to the author’s institution (or employer or other regulatory body) and request an investigation. For more information on the cooperation between research institutions and journals, see Cooperation between research institutions and journals on research integrity cases: guidance from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).
Further resources that are helpful in order to be able to deal with potential misconduct
Next to the flowcharts, COPE has a searchable database that contains over 400 cases with advice from the Committee and follow-up information. This database can provide helpful insights on how cases were handled in order to help solve your own case.
Sample letters for contacting relevant parties are available from:
If you have trouble resolving a case taking into account the COPE guidelines, flowcharts and database, please refer the case via the COPE website (http://publicationethics.org/cases/submit) for further advice. COPE has quarterly meetings where complex cases are discussed.
Also other editorial associations or policy-producing bodies provide excellent guidelines on dealing with suspected misconduct.
Please note there are many more discipline-specific organizations that provide ethical guidelines.
Before taking any follow-up steps, always inform your Springer Publishing Editor.
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.
Recommended action by COPE for Journal Editors:
For more information on image manipulation see also the following useful links: