Publication Ethics

Added by Michael Jubb on 05 January 2007 18:07

One of the interesting pieces I read over the holiday period is a set of best practice guidelines on publication ethics produced by staff at Blackwells. The guidelines reflect a view from publishing staff in particular, and so much of what is said focuses on the processes needed to ensure good decision-making by publishers and editors in dealing with issues and problems that may arise. So there are detailed flow charts setting out what publishers and editors should do in a range of circumstances that may asise, such as if they suspect fabricated data, or if there are requests for changes in the authorship of a paper either before or after publication, or if there are suspicions of plagiarism.

But from a wider perspective, perhaps the most useful element in the guidelines is a series of 15 best practice statements covering a range of issues including transparency about research funding, authorship and acknowledgement, respecting confidentiality, timing of publication, and conflicts of interest.

It strikes me that many of the issues covered are similar to those that some research institutions and funders are beginning to address in producing codes of governance and ethics for researchers (see, for example, the Universal Ethical Code for Scientists produced by the Council for Science and Technology, which the  UK Research Councils responded to last year, setting out their own policies and procedures to uphold the provisions of the code). It seems to me that there is scope for joining up these various attempts to set out in code form what used to be taken as a matter of trust (but cannot any longer be treated simply in that way). Codes can perform a useful function, not least in articulating the key issues and problems ,and in providing practical guidance. But if there are too many of them, they lose their force; and if they cover similar or overlapping territory, they risk causing confusion. This is perhaps an issue that we shall pursue with the RIN’s Research Communications Group when it next meets at the end of this month.

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