Research results misappropriation
Authorship of research results is generally a verifiable question of fact. If there is any question as to whether research results reported in a submitted article are original to the purported author or authors, you should make inquiries of the authors and/or their institutions. You, as the editor, are well positioned to know what research is being carried out at any particular time, at any particular place, and by whom. This knowledge should assist you in directing inquiries to the appropriate individuals and institutions to verify whether a research claim is genuine. In addition, you may want to seek guidance from other specialists in the field of research.
Note that the procedures below are similar to those for authorship complaints, although in essence this type of complaint is a complaint of plagiarism.
The complainant must be made aware that the matter cannot be investigated unless the journal editor informs the corresponding (or complained-about) author (due process) and possibly the institution or company at which the research took place.
In the communication to the corresponding/complained-about author (see Form Letter A1), the editor should indicate that the matter may be referred to the institution or company where the research took place or any other relevant institution or agency (for example a funding agency) unless the author provides a reasonable explanation (accepted as reasonable by the editor).
Then a notice, corrigendum or retraction process may be the appropriate remedies. Note that there may still be disagreement concerning how to credit the prior original work or the appropriate description of the wrong-doing.
- It may be appropriate for such a note to simply indicate that the work reported in the article actually represented work done by the other author as reported in the complained-about article.
- More critical statement may be requested by the complainant or the institution which the editor should reasonably consider (with legal review for defamation).
- Ultimately the editor may need to make a judgment as to the appropriate language for the statement, if there is no consensus, and should do so in consultation with Elsevier staff.
Then the editor will have to consider whether the author’s explanation is reasonable. Normally the editor would also inform the complainant of the author’s explanation and seek comment (see Form letter B).
Then the editor should refer the matter to the institution or company employing the co-authors noting the allegation that the research results are not original (see Form letter C).
What if the institution or company responds and indicates either that they agree the research was not original to the purported authors/co-authors or that they will investigate and mediate the result?
Then the editor should inform the corresponding author and complainant that the institution has taken on such review and that the journal will seriously consider such determination.
To determine this, review disclosure statements or acknowledgments in the article. The editor may wish to consider contacting the agency (using Form letter E).
What if the authors, employing institutions and funding agencies fail to reach consensus or to act in a reasonable time?
Then the editor will be expected to make a determination, in his or her reasonable judgment, as to the underlying facts and to make a recommendation to Elsevier (and possibly the society for a society journal), which Elsevier will implement normally through the retraction and removal process.
It may be advisable for the editor in this fact-finding process to request the views and comments of third parties who may be expected to have knowledge of the facts alleged by the complainant.