The complainant must be made aware that the matter cannot be investigated unless at some point the journal editor informs the corresponding (or complained-about) author (due process).
The first stage must be a simple comparison of the relevant (two) texts. A simple side-by-side comparison by the editor for the simpler forms of plagiarism - a more thoughtful analysis by the editor if paraphrasing or types of ‘self-plagiarism’ are alleged.
What if the editor reasonably determines that there is significant overlap of text?
Then the editor should correspond with the corresponding (or complained-about) author. In some cases for confidentiality purposes it may be best for the editor to summarize (rather than simply forward) the complaint. It may be useful for the editor to involve other peer reviewers, editorial board members, or experts in the relevant field (anonymously as to the complainant and if possible as to the identity of the complained-about authors), using standard peer review procedures, to review the texts (especially if the allegation is a more complex form of plagiarism). Legal review may be appropriate if the complainant or their publisher is alleging copyright infringement (Elsevier legal will provide this).
In the communication to the corresponding/complained-about author (see Form letter A1), the editor should indicate that it is possible 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). Note that the editor may believe that referral to the institution or agency is not necessary (unlike with respect to claims about authorship or fraud, where the institution has responsibility for the conduct at their institution and an obligation to investigate, plagiarism may simply be a mistake - perhaps a type of unattributed copying - or may be considered to be the personal responsibility of the author rather than an institutional responsibility).
What if the corresponding/complained-about author accepts the position of the complainant? Then a corrigendum or retraction would be the normal remedy. Note that there may still be disagreement concerning the appropriate description.
- It is normally sufficient to simply indicate that the complained-about work included substantial parts copied without attribution from a prior work.
- Although the complainant may feel a stronger statement would be more appropriate - and if in fact the wrong-doer simply ‘passed off’ someone else’s paper as their own, a stronger statement would most likely be appropriate, but 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.
What if the corresponding/complained-about author rejects the position of the complainant? 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).
What if the corresponding/complained-about author has not responded in a timely fashion (approximately 30 days) to the editor’s correspondence?
Then it would be fair for the editor to draw an inference that there is some substance to the complaint.
What if the editor has decided to involve the employing institution or company, and if that institution or company responds and indicates they will investigate and mediate the result? Then the editor must inform the corresponding (or complained-about) author and complainant that the journal will seriously consider the decision of the institutional review. Note, however, that the editor may still determine that the result of the institutional review is insufficient or inaccurate.
As with authorship or fraud complaints, what if an institution is contacted and responds negatively or does not respond? Then this should be reviewed with the complainant (perhaps the complainant is better placed to make the complaint directly with the institution).
What if a funding agency is involved?
To determine this, the editor should review disclosure statements or acknowledgments in the article. If so, the editor may wish to consider contacting the agency (using Form letter E).
What if the complainant and authors, or if relevant the 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 the reasonable judgment of the editor, as to the underlying facts, and to make a recommendation to Elsevier (and possibly the society for a society journal), which Elsevier staff will implement normally through a corrigendum or the retraction process.