COPE – The committee on publication ethics

Here’s a vital organization I learned about through the Sacker colloquium I attended in D.C. in March:  COPE.

COPE stands for the Committee on Publication Ethics–it’s mission is to help peer-reviewed journal do right in serving their mission–how to handle peer review issues, research misconduct, retractions, etc.  There are training materials for new editors, flow-charts for different tricky ethical situations, etc.

The COPE website is a great resource–especially because it contains summaries of different ethical cases COPE has helped editors think their way through.  It’s fascinating!  Here, for example, is a COPE case in which a systematic review paper cited and analyzed a manuscript that was actually a satire rather than a real clinical trial.  This caused a dispute among authors and editors–as the editor of the journal which published the review was upset to discover the gaffe but equally upset to discover that satire was published in a serious biomedical journal.  The author of the satire, however, pointed out that it was up to the systematic review researchers to carefully read and understand their sources, and that the nature of the paper was self-evident and clearly stated at the end of the manuscript.  COPE weighted in: a) it is fine to publish satire, b) it is helpful, though, if satire is very clearly identified to avoid all chance of confusion, and c) the systematic review authors failed in their due diligence to read and understand their sources.

Who would have thought?  Really, you can get lost in these case files; there’s probably a novel in their somewhere.  Here’s the link to the case I mentioned:


I'm a teacher, researcher, and gadfly of neuroscience. My research interests are in the neural basis of learning and memory, the history of neuroscience, computational neuroscience, bibliometrics, and the philosophy of science. I teach courses in neuroscience, statistics, research methods, learning and memory, and happiness. In my spare time I'm usually tinkering with computers, writing programs, or playing ice hockey.

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