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Is COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) fit for purpose?

Discussion in 'General ME/CFS news' started by guest001, Jan 4, 2018.

  1. guest001

    guest001 Guest

    The following text, which is posted on this thread in 4 parts, was forwarded to me by an advocate who wishes to remain anonymous. The words are theirs, not mine. Each part will be posted in a new comment window for ease of reading.


    What is COPE, and have recent changes made it no longer fit for purpose? (by Anon advocate)

    Part One

    [For those who don’t know, COPE stands for the ‘Committee on Publication Ethics’. It was set up in 1997 https://publicationethics.org/about/history and it’s co-founders were Michael Farthing (then Editor of Gut journal), Richard Horton ( Editor-in-chief of the Lancet, then and now) and Richard Smith (then Editor of the BMJ). It has expanded since 1997 to become a global overseer and advisor in the realm of research ethics with now over 12,000 members, the majority of whom are journals/ editors but include others with an interest in the field of publication ethics. Membership of COPE by journals and their editors indicates a determination to abide by the guidelines on research ethics that COPE sets out, so journals that display their COPE membership are, in effect, demonstrating to their readership that this is their noble aim ....... COPE membership, in effect, affords them ethical credibility. Past COPE Council members include Fiona Godlee (Editor in chief BMJ ) – Chair, 2004-2006, and Trish Groves (now Editor in Chief BMJ Open ) – Council Member 2007-2010, to name just a couple.]

    COPE doesn’t promise (and historically hasn’t promised) to investigate individual cases on behalf of outside complainants, it seems to work more as an advisory body, giving general advice to its members on good ethical practice and procedures, and also as a talking shop, where individual ethical cases can be discussed at COPE Forum meetings BUT ONLY between COPE members and in an anonymized form. One can see how this anonymity of cases could theoretically be helpful and lead to satisfactory outcomes, especially in our current world that is awash with social media interactions and blogs and all the manifestations of free speech via the internet. By not getting embroiled in the detail and potential acrimony (media storm even) of identifiable individual cases, by occupying the higher ground, COPE can theoretically maintain the neutrality it needs and ensure that the advice and direction it gives is fair all round. They can act as observers, and take on board everything that the sometimes complicated and testing ethical cases entail, whilst remaining completely impartial. Their anonymized approach is ideally tailored to cope with all the problems that our modern world could throw at it….. well you would think. But in November 2017 COPE changed the way in which it deals with its complaint procedures. More about this in Part 2.
    Michelle, Barry, Inara and 12 others like this.
  2. guest001

    guest001 Guest

    What is COPE, and have recent changes made it no longer fit for purpose? (by Anon advocate)

    Part Two (of 4)

    In November 2017 COPE changed the way in which it deals with its complaints procedures, in particular the rules governing the way it deals with complaints from outside its organization. Instead of complaints and disputes going to a Complaints Subcommittee they are now dealt with by its newly formed ‘Facilitation and Integrity Subcommittee’. It seems to me that the main significant change is that COPE won't now consider cases that have been raised on social media or blogging internet sites, (more on this in Parts 3 and 4). But according to COPE the change happened for the reasons cited on this webpage - https://publicationethics.org/why-c...e-became-facilitation-and-integrity-committee . The reasons include an apparent need for clarity about the complaint committee’s scope, a need to address misconceptions by COPE members and the wider public on the role of COPE in handling complaints, and a need to also address an apparent lack of an adequate enforcement mechanism. You would have thought and hoped that, with COPE having been in existence for 20+ years, that an adequate and effective enforcement mechanism would have been established long ago.

    The change of committee is intended, it seems, to reiterate/emphasize, (presumably to those unintelligent people who hadn’t picked up on the very clear advice on COPE’s previous website page/s), that COPE’s primary remit is not to evaluate and decide on complaints, but instead to try to facilitate the resolution of disputes in a COPE-appropriate manner. To this end the dispute handling process appears to have been changed in order to make it abundantly clear to those involved in a dispute what exactly their rights are (or aren’t) and what they can expect to happen (or not), and to allow the complaints subcommittee to then concentrate on those cases that are deemed most appropriate for attempts at resolution. (I do wonder what becomes of those cases which aren’t deemed suitable, and what the exact parameters are that decide which cases are suitable and which aren’t). The other stated change to their process is the introduction of a new ‘Sanctions Policy’ for members who fail to adhere to the COPE principles.

    Read more on the newly formed ‘Facilitations and Integrity Subcommittee’ and the new COPE ‘Sanctions Policy’ in Part 3.
    Michelle, Barry, Inara and 7 others like this.
  3. guest001

    guest001 Guest

    What is COPE, and have recent changes made it no longer fit for purpose? (by Anon advocate)

    Part Three (of 4)

    Let’s look at COPE’s new ‘Facilitation and Integrity Subcommittee’ and the way it operates. https://publicationethics.org/facilitation-and-integrity-subcommittee

    This webpage is well worth a read (it isn’t very long); for those who don’t feel inclined to I will attempt to summarize it here to the best of my ability.

    The page first reminds readers that COPE's role is a facilitator, NOT an adjudicator. In addition, this webpage provides an online form that people with an issue/ grievance or concern about a COPE member (editor, journal or publisher) can complete and submit to COPE. (NB This is NOT a means of reporting individual cases of possible breaches of research ethical guidelines. Concerned parties must take their concerns to the individual member journals and publishers to do that, COPE will apparently NOT deal with individual complaints against individual journals/editors/publishers. )

    The webpage explains that:

    · Those who do submit a complaint can expect that COPE will ‘conduct a fair and objective review’ of their concerns and keep them informed of the progress made in reviewing and/or resolving the case they have submitted, with a summary provided at conclusion to both the complainant and to the member journal/editor/publisher in question.

    · Throughout the process COPE expects the COPE member in question to respond to all the issues raised by COPE 'in a timely manner’.

    · (Last, but not least), COPE expects that the person raising the concern will understand COPE's purpose and remit, and that the complainant will ‘maintain a polite and collegial tone at all times’ and not discuss the case on internet sites. Presumably just in case the complainant missed those points, prior to submission of their form they have to tick a set of boxes at the bottom to confirm that they will live up to these COPE expectations and also to confirm that they understand that the Committee may refuse at any time to consider the case if they fail to live up to them, or if the complaint is considered to be vexatious or ‘questioning editorial autonomy’, (whatever that means).

    There is more in Part 4 about the questions that arise from the above changes and expectations.

    A short note now about the new ‘Sanctions Policy’ document - COPE Sanctions Policy - Committee on Publication Ethics , (it all makes interesting reading if you can manage to access it). The note at the bottom of the Sanctions Policy states that only COPE Council members can suggest a COPE sanction against a COPE member. So apparently any COPE member journal who strongly suspects or can prove wrongdoing by another member cannot even suggest that the offending member is sanctioned unless they happen to be one of the elite Council members. Says it all, doesn’t it?

    Michelle, Barry, Inara and 8 others like this.
  4. guest001

    guest001 Guest

    What is COPE, and have recent changes made it no longer fit for purpose? (by Anon advocate)

    Part Four (of 4)

    As we saw on the COPE ‘Facilitation and Integrity Subcommittee’ webpage https://publicationethics.org/facilitation-and-integrity-subcommittee COPE expects that the person raising the concern to COPE about a COPE member will ‘maintain a polite and collegial tone at all times’, and not discuss the case on internet sites.

    This begs the following questions:

    1. What exactly is the point of anonymizing the cases raised at the Forum meetings (and COPE taking the moral/neutral ‘high ground’ to avoid being drawn into acrimonious quarrels/debates) IF they are then going to exclude anything from review that is being debated (acrimoniously or otherwise) on public platforms? Rather than protecting the general public’s interest against research misconduct this smacks of solely protecting their own members’ interests.

    2. Have COPE considered exactly how they will police the internet to ensure that no social media posts and/or blogs have been put up? How can they possibly ensure fairness in their decisions about which cases they accept or reject unless they can police the entire internet? Even Google and Facebook are unable to do that.

    3. Is it fair that the authors of dodgy research articles/papers, or the journals that publish those articles/papers, can blog and comment on those articles/research to their hearts’ content in newspapers or on the internet whilst those raising concerns about them cannot? And if offending journals/authors wanted to try to prevent COPE investigating their misdemeanours and imposing a sanction all they would need to do is to provoke those with a complaint against them into tweeting or blogging in reply to their own posts, OR alternatively create a fake blog themselves. The perpetrators would be able to post exactly what they wanted, whilst those raising concerns would be effectively silenced if they wanted a COPE complaint case to proceed.

    This, of course, is a ludicrous situation and COPE may as well disband their ‘Facilitation and Integrity Subcommittee’ now, or immediately change its rules, because it cannot possibly act fairly under these newly imposed restrictions.

    Now if we were going to be generous we might say that those responsible in COPE just haven’t thought all this through, that they are reacting defensively to the social media and internet age and are endeavouring to secure a nicer and better environment in which research ethical practice can be scrutinized and poor practice driven out. It is interesting though, and rather suspicious in my opinion, that this significant change to their complaint procedures appears to be dated 20th November 2017, just one week after the case entitled “Service evaluation as research in a controversial area of medicine” https://publicationethics.org/case/service-evaluation-research-controversial-area-medicine was discussed at the 13 November 2017 COPE Forum meeting. At this meeting, in relation to this particular case, one piece of advice offered by the Forum members was for the COPE member journal/journal editor concerned not to respond to a ‘high profile blogger’ who had raised ethical concerns about the published paper. The paper had reported on a study claiming it to be a ‘service evaluation’ rather than ‘research’. Hmmm…… COPE couldn’t now be acting to ensure that no sanctions are imposed on that particular journal because a high-profile blog has been written about the case, could they?

    To conclude, I am reminded of some of the lines from the fifth verse of Bob Dylan’s ‘Slow Train Coming’ https://bobdylan.com/songs/slow-train/ but I won’t quote them here lest my quotation is used out of context. I wouldn’t want them to be somehow magically transformed into an allegedly abusive email.
    Michelle, Barry, Inara and 18 others like this.
  5. Peter Trewhitt

    Peter Trewhitt Senior Member (Voting Rights)

    Thank you to the annonymous advocate for taking the trouble to prepare this information and sharing it here via @Lilpink

    This serves to reinforce the idea that an aparantly insignificant quibble about the failure of one author to have appropriate ethical aproval of an obscure and unimportant research project that she misrepresented as service evaluation has much wider implications for the governance of research and scientific publication.

    It was worrying that once concerns were raised a UK professor willfully misled people by presenting documentation relating to a totally unconnected study, however further her Russell Group university and an internationally renowned UK medical journal appear to be colluding in her obfuscation of the issue.

    Now it seems that the issue having been raised with COPE has resulted in the weakening of the process of monitoring scientific research/publication ethics internationally. What is happening that Prof Esther Crawley's problems understanding ethical issues and failure to address honestly valid criticism so needs to be protected that an international body seemingly must change its own structure and procedures?
    Michelle, Barry, Inara and 19 others like this.
  6. guest001

    guest001 Guest

    Barry, Inara, Solstice and 11 others like this.
  7. Sean

    Sean Moderator Staff Member

    Extraordinary the lengths that the establishment are going to to protect these transgressors.

    You have to ask: Why, and who benefits?

    It sure ain't patients or the general population.
    Barry, Inara, Solstice and 19 others like this.
  8. Peter Trewhitt

    Peter Trewhitt Senior Member (Voting Rights)

    Reading this through it sounds like I am becoming a conspiracy theorist. In general I believe most supposed 'conspiracies' are in fact short sightedness and inefficiency combined, resulting from judgement unconsciously impaired by self-interest, rather than any conscious plot. I suspect Prof Crawley probably made a genuine mistake which she continues to fail to analyse objectively. The University of Bristol and the BMJ find it easier to uncritically accept Prof Crawley's account and feel annoyance at the complainants rather than making any genuine attempt to understand to the complaint.

    Given the overlap between COPE and the institutions involved and the genuinely complex issues involved in dealing with social media are they too just trying to make the whole thing go away by not responding to the bigger implications?

    However if COPE is to meaningfully address genuine concerns, when in this situation the only realistic channel for most people is social media, they need to find a way of engaging with that social media, rather than rewriting their procedures to enable them to pretend it does not exist.
    Michelle, Barry, Paul Watton and 11 others like this.
  9. Keela Too

    Keela Too Senior Member (Voting Rights)

    Here's a thought. To acknowledge a problem of this magnitude will mean the repercussions are far far reaching. Some individuals, it seems, are too big to be challenged, because challenging them challenges the whole thing.

    It is perhaps easier for those in authority to try and ignore/downplay the problem than properly address it. The ramifications of acknowledging the wrong in the situation are just too great

    To our detriment.
    Michelle, Barry, Inara and 20 others like this.
  10. Alvin

    Alvin Senior Member (Voting Rights)

    I can't read all the above text and i know nothing about them but everything is discussed on social media by somebody, so whats to stop them exploiting this to avoid anything they don't want to investigate?
    Barry, Inara, Luther Blissett and 9 others like this.
  11. guest001

    guest001 Guest

    Yes I think that's the 'take home message'. Could also be extrapolated to stop COPE examining dubious publishing practices around PACE too eh? ;) Also what's to stop the BPS crowd (or any other crowd with a vested interest) choosing to start blogging in order to draw in more social media interactions *simply* to ensure their work can never be referred to COPE? In fact given the way Crawley operates in media-land I can see she is already in front of the curve on this one.

    To quote Sean above: "Extraordinary the lengths that the establishment are going to to protect these transgressors.

    You have to ask: Why, and who benefits?"

    Edit: I take on board Peter's observations re conspiracy versus incompetence. I suppose how COPE proceed with this might be illustrative of which is true?

    Edit 2: Be careful to make the distinction that it is the " person raising the concern to COPE about a COPE member" who mustn't involve themselves in social media discussions.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 4, 2018
    Michelle, Barry, Inara and 15 others like this.
  12. James

    James Established Member (Voting Rights)

  13. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards Senior Member (Voting Rights)

    London, UK
    Barry, Trish, Wonko and 3 others like this.
  14. guest001

    guest001 Guest

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  15. guest001

    guest001 Guest

    Are there any ethical publishers out there who together might create a properly working, moral version of what COPE pretends to do I wonder? It's sorely needed.
    Barry, EzzieD, Trish and 5 others like this.
  16. Valentijn

    Valentijn Guest

    #EthicsExceptForME/CFS :rolleyes:

    So they're really just an unarmed faction of the Tone Police, and they're attempting to repress discussion of ethical matters outside of their group. This would suggest that they think only their members have anything of value to say, and the unwashed masses should keep silent while holding our hats and respectfully waiting for a proclamation. And whoever says "poo" first automatically loses (but only complainants can say lose by saying "poo").

    This is not an ethical oversight committee. This is a group set up solely to maintain the status quo, and giving themselves a name which suggests they are an impartial arbitrator, much like the "Science" Media Centre. But based on their own rules, their only real function is to silence public discussion of ethical misconduct and pronounce that anyone publicly complaining of ethical misconduct has violated their standards of decency.

    COPE is fit for purpose, but its purpose has nothing to do with promoting good ethical standards in research.
    Barry, Klaas van Dijk, Inara and 22 others like this.
  17. ukxmrv

    ukxmrv Senior Member (Voting Rights)

    They think that the end justifies the means.

    Their colleagues cannot possibly be harming patients. All those poor children with no champions. It really doesn't matter what dodgy therapies are used if it gets them back to school. It's a case of convincing them of what will do them good and with all this good publicity more patients will be convinced to try the LP and get better.

    After all EC is "one of them" (privileged class of medics) and she wouldn't be doing this unless it was necessary. She is a good, knowledgeable and educated person from a respected family.

    Like the PACE trial apologists it's all OK because "they" know that the methods used really are getting all these deconditioned and anxious people out of bed and into recovery and work. After all the PACE team talk of the other mentally ill people that they help (i.e. those with a fear of exercise) and if they help the mentally ill like that they must be good people and know what to do to us all. We should be grateful and do as we are told.

    Doesn't really matter how bad the science is behind any of this, that the outcomes get changed or the statistics don't add up. No real need of Ethics approval or international standards. It's all red tape in the end.

    The main thing is that this class of people who decide what is best for the mentally ill get to keep doing their good work and helping more patients with the best possible known solutions and away from any stupid ideas from the USA and rogue doctors.
  18. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards Senior Member (Voting Rights)

    London, UK
    Must remember to wash some time next week.
  19. Valentijn

    Valentijn Guest

    We didn't want to say anything :oops:
  20. large donner

    large donner Guest

    Basically this all means that publishers are all one entity and COPE are their Public Relations department.

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