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Committee on Publication Ethics: the COPE Report 1999
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  1. Alexandra McMillan
  1. Journal ombudsman

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    Hitherto, there has been a lack of a coordinated approach by editors of scientific and medical journals to breaches of research and publication ethics. The publication in this issue of the journal of the guidelines on good publication practice developed by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) is therefore most welcome. Consensus has been reached on what constitutes good research and the guidelines on study design, ethical approval, and data analysis are sensible and clear. In any case, all researchers should already follow these principles. For many years, there has been controversy on authorship, and guidance is given on avoidance of conflict over this issue. The duty of all authors to take public responsibility for the content of their paper is rightly emphasised. Conflicts of interest are not confined to the authors of papers, and editors and reviewers must ensure that any relevant conflict of interest is disclosed; again sound guidance is given in the report. Guidelines are also available on peer review and greater transparency by journals of their review, selection, and appeal processes is suggested. Ultimately, this can only benefit authors. Plagiarism and redundant publication are issues with which editors are only too familiar and, in some cases, these unethical practices can be difficult to identify. Advice to authors on how to avoid possible misconduct is given in the report. Most editors are well aware of their duties, but it is good to see these defined here. The mass media are becoming much more concerned with biomedical research, and the guidelines on media relations are timely.

    Unfortunately, breaches of research and publication ethics occur, and there have been several recent, celebrated cases. It is clear that the authors of the report have given much thought to some of the thorny issues surrounding the investigation of suspected breaches, and …

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