An interview with a COPE Co-Chair on Publication Ethics

Connecting with the Community interview with Geraldine Pearson
By Mimi Nguyen, Marketing Manager, SAGE Publishing

Geraldine Pearson is an associate professor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and the editor of the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (JAPNA) (which we are proud to publish) and volunteers as the Co-Chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Established in 1997, COPE provides advice to editors and publishers on all aspects of publication ethics, including issues of research and publication misconduct. It also provides a forum for its members—about 10,000 worldwide—to discuss individual cases.

We recently interviewed Geraldine to learn more about her experience working with COPE and supporting ethical scientific publication. Read on for the full interview.

Q: How important is the existence of something like COPE? What would you expect to be the publication ecosystem without it?

Geraldine Pearson

First, thanks so much for inviting me to participate in this!  Your first question is a very interesting one.  I’m obviously very immersed in COPE and publication ethics issues in general and right now, particularly, it’s hard to imagine NOT having COPE around to provide guidance, education, and support to anyone involved in publishing, whether editors or authors.  I became involved with COPE several years ago after a fairly serious publication ethics violation involving the nursing journal that I previously edited.  This violation involved three journals, three editors, and one author, and when I queried COPE, the advice and guidance was enormously supportive and helpful.  It offered practical steps towards resolution of the issue.

Now, as I think about the publishing landscape, the changes in the past decade have been enormous with the advent of open access, the proliferation of journals globally, and the increasing questions about many topics including what constitutes authorship, models of peer review, the process of retractions, and identifying research misconduct.  COPE tries to provide the guidance and information that editors and authors need as they navigate this increasingly complex arena.  I strongly believe that COPE’s existence is important.  If the day comes when there are no publication ethics dilemmas, COPE’s work will be done.  I don’t see that happening in the near future.

Q: What’s the “State of the Nation,” so to speak in publication ethics? What are recent successes and failures? Are we going in the right direction?

I think my colleagues at COPE would agree with me that the state of publication ethics is somewhat of a moving target.  It is in the process of change on one side and yet, on the other side, the bedrock values of maintaining integrity and ethics in the process of publishing remain clear and steady.  In 2015, Ginny Barbour, the previous chair of COPE stated that “we need a culture of responsibility for the integrity of the literature…it’s not just the job of editors.”  This implies the need to continually educate and guide researchers and authors about that culture, recognizing that the shifting world of publishing models is going to influence this.  All of COPE’s activities are aimed at fulfilling that mission of supporting all those who aim to promote integrity in research and its publication.  In COPE it means member access to a variety of guidelines, flowsheets, a database of past cases, an eLearning course of 10 modules on ethical issues and many other resources.  There are also many free resources for non-members of COPE and these can be accessed at publicationethics.org.

The successes of COPE include an expanded Council and Trustee Board that is completely international, a blend of editors and publishers who work together as volunteers around publication ethics.  The group is thriving as evidenced by a global influence and increasing requests for information and assistance around publication ethics.

The failures probably involve the egregious violations of research integrity in multiple journals that have been so heavily publicized in recent years.  We often discuss the range of errors that authors and researchers make from inadvertent errors made from lack of knowledge to the extreme of overtly malicious ethics violations involving many publications.  Regardless, if there is a need for guidance or education around these issues involving publication ethics, there is a role for COPE and I think we are definitely going in the right direction.  While it is a challenging time with a whirlwind of changes in publishing models, it is also very exciting to be part of the dynamic and intelligent group of diverse individuals that comprise COPE.

Q: In your tenure as a chair of COPE, have you seen issues related to publishing ethics change? How so?

I have only been the Co-Chair of COPE since early June so my perceptions are based more on my role as Co-Vice Chair over the past two years.  I’ve shared that distinction with Chris Graf, a Wiley Publisher, and we are now early in our term as Co-Chairs.

I think that one of the most influential issues involves the explosion of social media and the multiple platforms for individuals and groups to express their opinions in a fairly uncensored arena.  At the same time, many groups are paying a lot of attention to publication ethics realizing that it is a key hallmark of research integrity.

Q: Based on what you have witnessed, do ethical concerns differ by discipline?

Personally, I don’t think that basic ethical premises around publication ethics should differ much by discipline.  Certainly particular nuances around authorship, peer review, and publishing models will exist according to discipline and culture.  But in the end the core principles, as detailed by COPE’s Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing, transcend these cultural and discipline-specific differences.  COPE is in the process of exploring these concepts as they apply more specifically to humanities versus biomedical journals, but I still think there is a commonality across disciplines.

Q: What advice would you give to editors wanting to uphold the highest standards of publishing ethics? What about article authors?

I would urge editors to ascertain if their publishing company is a member of COPE and if not a member, consider advocating that they join.  When publishers or individuals become members of COPE they agree to adhere to a standard of publication ethics.  They then receive a COPE logo that can be freely displayed on journals.  SAGE Publishing and most of the other larger publishing houses are all members.

Editors can do much to uphold publication ethics standards.  For example, they can make sure their journal-specific submission and review processes and criteria for publication are clearly written and transparent to any author considering a submission.  Any publication fees need to be clearly stated.  An appeal process to a manuscript rejection should be delineated.  The key is transparency of the process.

Also, utilizing the best editorial board members and peer reviewers in making editorial decisions will help ensure that publishing ethics standards are upheld.  Perhaps the most important behavior involves an editor with concerns utilizing the resources of the publisher while speaking with colleagues.  The thorniness of publication ethics dilemmas should not be handled alone and there are numerous resources freely available to editors.  Ask the questions, watch the process, and value transparency.

Q: As the editor of the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, what best practices can you share from personal experience?

I am honored to be the editor of this journal and to have the opportunity to work closely with JAPNA and with all the authors who are sharing their manuscripts for publication and valuing the journal as a resource for psychiatric nurses.  I try and live by the tenets I cited in the last question.  I also try to stay humble, realizing that there are publication ethics issues that I probably can’t even imagine out there.  The key best practice is being honest in management and in utilizing every available resource in trying to resolve these issues.  I also freely note that no one is perfect and when I make a mistake I want to own it and correct it in the most ethical manner possible.  Personally, I am continually learning about the vast world of editing a journal and it is challenging and fascinating!  I really appreciate having SAGE as the publisher of JAPNA.

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