Scientific misconduct

There are differing definitions of scientific misconduct. We deal with these problems at BMJ on a case by case basis while following guidance produced by bodies that include the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE).

WAME gives a useful overview of misconduct, using a slightly amended version of the US Office of Research Integrity definition of scientific misconduct and including these behaviours:

  • Falsification of data: ranges from fabrication to deceptive reporting of findings and omission of conflicting data, or wilful suppression and/or distortion of data.
  • Plagiarism: The appropriation of the language, ideas or thoughts of another without crediting their true source and representation of them as one’s own original work.
  • Improprieties of authorship: improper assignment of credit, such as excluding others, misrepresentation of the same material as original in more than one publication, inclusion of individuals as authors who have not made a definite contribution to the work published or submission of multi-authored publications without the concurrence of all authors.
  • Misappropriation of the ideas of others: an important aspect of scholarly activity is the exchange of ideas among colleagues. Scholars can acquire novel ideas from others during the process of reviewing grant applications and manuscripts. However, improper use of such information can constitute fraud. Wholesale appropriation of such material constitutes misconduct.
  • Violation of generally accepted research practices: serious deviation from accepted practices in proposing or carrying out research, improper manipulation of experiments to obtain biased results, deceptive statistical or analytical manipulations, or improper reporting of results.
  • Material failure to comply with legislative and regulatory requirements affecting research: including but not limited to serious or substantial, repeated, wilful violations of applicable local regulations and law involving the use of funds, care of animals, human subjects, investigational drugs, recombinant products, new devices, or radioactive, biological or chemical materials.
  • Inappropriate behaviour in relation to misconduct: this includes unfounded or knowingly false accusations of misconduct, failure to report known or suspected misconduct, withholding of information relevant to a claim or misconduct and retaliation against persons involved in the allegation or investigation.

Many journals, including BMJ’s journals, also include redundant publication and duplicate publication, lack of declaration of competing interests and of funding/sponsorship, and other failures of transparency to be forms of misconduct.

Dealing with allegations of misconduct

We take seriously all possible misconduct. If an editor has concerns that a submitted article describes something that might be considered to constitute misconduct in research, publication or professional behaviour, we may discuss the case in confidence with the BMJ Ethics Committee.

If the case cannot be resolved by discussion with the author(s) and the Editor still has concerns, the case may be reported to the appropriate authorities. If, during the course of reviewing an article, an editor is alerted to possible problems (for example, fraudulent data) in another publication, the editor may contact the journal in which the previous publication appeared to raise concern.

Readers that suspect misconduct in a published article are encouraged to report this to the relevant journal editor and/or the BMJ Publisher for that title.

Journals from BMJ are all members of COPE. Cases of research publication misconduct may also be referred to COPE in an anonymised format.

This section was adapted from an article by Dr Trish Groves, BMJ’s Director of Academic Outreach.
Oral Diseases (2010) 16, 313-315.