Case Studies on Ethics
Case 1: Suspected data fabrication and image duplicationCase
While reviewing the author’s manuscript, our publication expert made the following observations:
1. The study documented a novel surgical procedure that was complicated and had high animal mortality. Such research is usually performed on a large number of animals (to account for animal death during the procedure). Moreover, at the end, the experimental groups have unequal numbers. However, in this specific study, the animal numbers were uniform in all groups. This seemed highly improbable and was an issue that the authors needed to account for.
2. Two figures appeared to have been taken from the same slide. Both images had the same cellular distribution, which was unlikely because the paper mentioned both slides as having been stained with two different antibodies.
Our publication expert communicated these concerns to the author and intimated him of the possible problems if the paper was found to be violating ethical standards of publication. When the author expressed his desire to continue with his submission to the target journal, our expert requested him to offer a clear explanation for the data’s credibility to the journal.
Data fabrication and image manipulation are issues that cannot be spotted through the use of any software. They are best identified by a trained eye in the field. At Editage, we try our best to get subject-specialist expert editors to work on a paper so that our clients’ papers are free from ethical concerns.
Case 2: Suspected duplicate publicationCase
A major concern with the manuscript was that the study appeared to be exactly the same as a previous study by the same authors published in a Chinese journal. The original Chinese study had not been cited or discussed in the manuscript. Our expert concluded that the similarities/differences between the two studies needed to be highlighted transparently.Action
Our expert informed the authors that they needed to disclose the existence of the previous paper, which would imply that their manuscript was a duplicate paper (and thus a potentially redundant publication). We recommended that this disclosure be made in the cover letter to the English-language target journal. The authors seemed to believe that using parts from their own previously published paper was perfectly acceptable and were very much surprised by our information. Our expert shared links to a number of Editage resources on publication ethics to help them understand the issue better.
Lack of awareness about the do’s and don’ts of ethical publication practices is a serious contributor to the incidence of apparent misconduct, especially among early-career researchers who are non-native-English speakers and unfamiliar with industry ethical guidelines. In such cases, Editage uses the opportunity to share the essential know-how on various missteps that a young researcher might make in the academic publication process.
Case 3: Suspected lack of informed consentCase
The study proposed a new wound-healing technique and involved needle puncture on patients from two medical centers. The paper mentioned that an institutional ethical review board had given ethical approval for the study. However, the processes of puncturing, healing, and cleaning vascular access were performed without informed consent.Action
On being informed of the need for patient consent, the authors asked if they could correct the situation by obtaining informed consent retrospectively. Our expert explained to the authors that journals would have an issue with human experimentation conducted without active consent of the subjects and that this requirement ought to be fulfilled before experimentation.
Any study on patients, patient groups, and/or volunteer participants requires informed consent, which must be documented in the paper before submission to a journal. This is a non-negotiable requirement for experiments/studies that involve human subjects. At Editage, we try and make authors aware of all the ethical requirements of scientific research so that their work is not rendered ineligible for publication because of an ethical lapse.