Cope Committee on Publication ETHICS
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General duties and responsibilities of Editors
Editors should be responsible for everything published in their journals. They should:
• strive to meet the needs of readers and authors;
• constantly improve the journal;
• ensure the quality of the material they publish;
• champion freedom of expression;
• maintain the integrity of the academic record;
• preclude business needs from compromising intellectual standards;
• always be willing to publish corrections, clarifications, retractions and apologies when needed.
Relations with readers
Readers should be informed about who has funded research and on the role of the funders in the research
Relations with authors
Editors should take all reasonable steps to ensure the quality of the material they publish, recognising that journals and
sections within journals will have different aims and standards.
Editors’ decisions to accept or reject a paper for publication should be based only on the paper’s importance, originality,
and clarity, and the study’s relevance to the remit of the journal.
A description of peer review processes should be published, and Editors should be ready to justify any important
deviation from the described processes.
Journals should have a declared mechanism for authors to appeal against Editorial decisions.
Editors should publish guidance to authors on everything that is expected of them. This guidance should be regularly
updated and should refer or link to this code.
Editors should not reverse decisions to accept submissions unless serious problems are identified with the submission.
New Editors should not overturn decisions to publish submissions made by the previous Editor unless serious problems
Relations with reviewers
Editors should publish guidance to reviewers on everything that is expected of them. This guidance should be regularly
updated and should refer or link to this code.
Editors should have systems to ensure that peer reviewers’ identities are protected — unless they have an open review
system that is declared to authors and reviewers.
The peer-review process
Editors should have systems to ensure that material submitted to their journal remains confidential while under review.
Editors should follow the procedure set out in the COPE flowchart.
Editors should respond promptly to complaints and should ensure there is a way for dissatisfied complainants to take
complaints further. This mechanism should be made clear in the journal and should include information on how to refer
unresolved matters to COPE.
Cogent criticisms of published work should be published unless Editors have convincing reasons why they cannot be.
Authors of criticized material should be given the opportunity to respond.
Studies that challenge previous work published in the journal should be given an especially sympathetic hearing.
Studies reporting negative results should not be excluded.
Encouraging academic integrity
Editors should ensure that research material they publish conforms to internationally accepted ethical guidelines.
Editors should seek assurances that all research has been approved by an appropriate body (e.g. research ethics
committee, institutional review board). However, Editors should recognise that such approval does not guarantee that
the research is ethical.
Protecting individual data
Editors should protect the confidentiality of individual information (e.g. that obtained through the doctor–patient
relationship). It is therefore almost always necessary to obtain written informed consent from patients described in
case reports and for photographs of patients. It may be possible to publish without explicit consent if the report is
important to public health (or is in some other way important); consent would be unusually burdensome to obtain; and a
reasonable individual would be unlikely to object to publication (all three conditions must be met).
Editors have a duty to act if they suspect misconduct. This duty extends to both published and unpublished papers.
Editors should not simply reject papers that raise concerns about possible misconduct. They are ethically obliged to
pursue alleged cases.
Editors should first seek a response from those accused. If they are not satisfied with the response, they should ask the
relevant employers or some appropriate body (perhaps a regulatory body) to investigate.
Editors should follow the COPE flowcharts where applicable (link to flowcharts).
Editors should make all reasonable efforts to ensure that a proper investigation is conducted; if this does not happen,
Editors should make all reasonable attempts to persist in obtaining a resolution to the problem. This is an onerous but
Ensuring the integrity of the academic record
Whenever it is recognised that a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distorted report has been published, it
must be corrected promptly and with due prominence.
If, after an appropriate investigation, an item proves to be fraudulent, it should be retracted. The retraction should be
clearly identifiable to readers and indexing systems.
Relations with journal owners and publishers.
The relationship of Editors to publishers and owners is often complex but should in each case be based firmly on the
principle of Editorial independence. Notwithstanding the economic and political realities of their journals, Editors
should make decisions on which articles to publish based on quality and suitability for readers rather than for immediate
financial or political gain.
Editors should have declared policies on advertising in relation to the content of the journal and on processes for
Misleading advertisements must be refused, and Editors must be willing to publish criticisms, according to the same
criteria used for material in the rest of the journal.
Reprints should be published as they appear in the journal unless a correction is to be added.
Conflict of interest
Editors should have systems for managing their own conflicts of interest as well as those of their staff, authors, reviewers
and Editorial board members.
• A complaint may be referred to COPE by an author, reader, reviewer, Editor or publisher. Cases may only be
referred if the Editor/journal in question is a member of COPE.
• In the first instance complaints against an Editor should be made directly to him or her in writing. If the complaint
is not resolved satisfactorily, it should be passed to the Editor’s overseeing body or ombudsman where one exists.
Only complaints that have been through the journal’s complaint’s procedure can be referred to COPE. In
referring a complaint to COPE, all relevant correspondence should be enclosed.
• COPE will accept referrals made within six months of the journal completing its own complaints procedure.
COPE may consider cases outside this time period in exceptional circumstances.
• COPE will not consider complaints about the substance (rather than the process) of Editorial decisions, or
criticisms about Editorial content.
• COPE will not consider referrals that relate to incidents that occurred before the publication of this code.
When a complaint is referred to COPE:
1. The referrer submits a complaint to the Administrator.
2. The COPE Administrator confirms that the complaint is:
a. against a member of COPE
b. within the remit of the Code
c. unresolved after passing properly through the journal’s complaints procedure
d. relating to an incident that occurred after this code came into force
3. The referrer is asked to provide evidence, with all relevant supporting documents including correspondence
relating to the hearing of the complaint by the journal, in confidence to the Chair of COPE.
4. The Chair of COPE informs the Editor of the journal in question that the complaint has been referred to COPE.
5. A number of potential scenarios may occur:
a. The Editor refuses to cooperate, in which case, the Chair of COPE informs the referrer and the owner of the journal.
b. The Editor replies stating his/her case:
i. The Chair of COPE, with one other nominated Council member, decides that the journal has dealt with the
complaint satisfactorily and advises the referrer and Editor accordingly.
ii. The Chair of COPE, with one other nominated Council member, decides that there is a need for further
investigation, advises the referrer and Editor accordingly, and reports this to an appropriately constituted
sub committee of the COPE Council.
6. The sub-committee considering the complaint will consist of at least the Chair and three other members of COPE
Council. Two of the members must not be Editors. None of the sub-committee members should belong to the
same publishing group as the Editor in question.
7. If the Chair belongs to the same publishing group as the Editor in question, s/he will appoint an appropriate
deputy to oversee the proceedings.
8. When the case comes to the sub-committee, the sub-committee either:
a. dismisses it, and the referrer and Editor are so advised and given reasons
b. reaches the view that a breach of the code has taken place.
When the sub-committee is of the view that a breach of the code has taken place it presents a report to the COPE
Council explaining the nature of the breach and recommending a course of action.
9. The COPE Council considers the report and may modify the recommendations. The Council informs the referrer,
the Editor and the owner of its final recommendations. These recommendations may include:
a. that the Editor apologies to the original complainant;
b. that the Editor publish a statement from COPE in his/her journal;
c. that the journal improve its processes;
d. that the Editor resigns from COPE membership for a period of time; or
e. any other action which the COPE Council feels is appropriate given the circumstances of the case.
Appeals against a COPE recommendation may be made to COPE’s businessperson, contact details for whom will be
provided on request.