Liz Wager: Something of rascality

Liz WagerAt COPE (the Committee on Publication Ethics) we regularly receive cases of duplicate publication and undisclosed conflicts of interest. I was therefore intrigued to come across an accusation of publication misconduct in Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’ relating to the year 1769, which suggests such crimes have a long history.

“Johnson spoke unfavourably of a certain pretty voluminous author, saying “He used to write anonymous books, and then other books, commending those books, in which there was something of rascality.”

It reminded me of a case in which an author cited some international guidelines in support of his position but was adamant that he had no conflict of interest, and did not need to disclose anything, despite having chaired the group that produced the guidelines. Dr Johnson’s case also resembled an audacious instance of redundant publication that I discovered when writing a review article. Not only had the authors published the same findings in different journals, but they referenced the earlier version in the later version, noting that the two papers reached similar conclusions – apparently confident that nobody would check the reference and spot the fact that it referred to the same study. That definitely had ‘something of rascality’ about it!

Liz Wager
is a freelance medical writer, editor, and trainer. She is the current chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).