Note the procedures below are similar to those for research fraud.
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 author (see Form letter A1), the editor should indicate that the matter is likely to be referred to the institution or company where the research took place, the standard-setting body (if relevant), the institution or company which provided undisclosed financial support (if relevant), 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).
What if the corresponding/complained-about author accepts the position of the complainant?
Then a note, corrigendum or journal retraction procedures are appropriate remedies (there may still be disagreement concerning the appropriate description of the wrong-doing) unless the privacy rights of an individual have been violated (one of the few instances where removal may be appropriate).
- It may be appropriate to simply say that the research work reported in the article violated certain standards (such as treatment of research subjects) accepted in the field (if the results would not be affected).
- If the violations errors are more critical, or if privacy rights have been seriously infringed and remedial consent cannot be obtained (in the judgment of the editor), then a more critical statement may be appropriate (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 to the editor’s communication? Then the editor may refer the matter to the institution or company employing the author/co-authors noting the allegation of misconduct, and possibly if relevant the standard-setting body or funding entity (see Form letter C).
What if the institution, company or agency responds and indicates either that they agree there was misconduct or that they will investigate and mediate the result?
Then the editor should inform the corresponding/complained-about author and the complainant that the editor will seriously consider the determination of the institution (through a corrigendum or Elsevier's retraction and removal procedures).
What if the institution responds negatively or does not respond? This should be reviewed with the complainant (perhaps the complainant is better placed to make the complaint directly with the institution).
What if the authors and complainant, employing institutions, standard-setting body or funding agencies fail to reach consensus or to act in a reasonable manner and 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 staff will implement normally through a corrigendum or 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.