Below are a sample of case studies to show how LetPub staff address instances of suspected ethical misconduct.
Case 1: Suspected data fabrication and image duplication
Case: In one study, the authors described a prospective study comparing two analgesic treatments. The numbers of patients reported for the two groups differed between the first half of the results section and the second half of the results section. This discrepancy should be explained by the authors.
In another study, two figures showed photographs of cells in culture, following different treatments. Panel 2 in the first figure and panel 3 in the second figure look identical except for the brightness of the photographs. Cells from different cultures should not look identical.
Action: Our managing editor communicated these concerns to the authors and informed them of the possible consequences of violating ethical standards of publication. In the first case, we asked the authors to verify all of their data to eliminate errors before submission. In the second case, we asked the authors to remove the duplicate images and replace them with correct ones.
Summary: Data fabrication and image manipulation can only be identified by experts with a good understanding of the research field and after a careful reading of the manuscripts. At LetPub, we invite editors to review and edit manuscripts that closely match their expertise so that potential data and image errors can be discovered and corrected before clients submit their papers to journals.
Case 2: Suspected plagiarism has occurred in a manuscript
Case: A LetPub editor noticed that several sentences in a manuscript are exactly the same (or very similar) as those in another published manuscript. Additionally, the original study had not been cited or mentioned in the manuscript.
Action: Our editor concluded that the similarities between the two studies needed to be flagged and investigated to ensure that plagiarism (intentional or unintentional) did not occur.
In instances such as these our editor is required to highlight the similar text and notify the in-house editorial team who then upload the manuscript to the iThenticate software dashboard to obtain a copy of the Cross Check Report. The in-house editorial staff are then required to notify the author of the suspected plagiarism and follow up with steps to help the author understand the issue and produce writing that is original and not a duplication of either his or her own work or the work of other authors who have published similar studies.
Summary: The LetPub editorial team is asked to check for suspected plagiarism when editing and handling each and every manuscript. Sentences in question are highlighted and cross check reports are obtained for every instance of suspected plagiarism to help educate authors and prevent plagiarized text from being submitted to our journal partners. Manuscripts are returned to the author requesting that the required steps be taken to rectify issues of suspected plagiarism.
General note: all AAAS-associated manuscript files submitted to LetPub for editorial work are uploaded to the iThenticate software dashboard to obtain a copy of the Cross Check Report to check for any possible suspected plagiarism. We are happy to continue this practice in collaboration with AAAS on future projects.
Case 3: Suspected lack of informed consent
Case: The authors investigated risk factors and predictive indicators for post-stroke dementia in patients admitted to their institution. However, they failed to mention informed consent. It appeared that the authors had either 1) failed to obtain informed consent for experimental work or 2) obtained consent retrospectively in order to publish non-experimental data collected during the course of routine clinical examination.
Action: Authors were notified that the informed consent statement would need to be provided. The provided statement indicated that patients consented to the collection of experimental data, prospectively. However, it was unclear if and how the authors determined whether a stroke patient was capable of providing consent. The editor again followed up with this new concern and explained to the authors that reviewers would expect a complete explanation given the particularly vulnerable patient population utilized. The authors indicated that the MMSE and CDR scores were used to determine if the severity of dementia required consent from a legal guardian or representative.
Summary: Had we accepted the initial impression that the study was a retrospective analysis of data collected during the course of routine medical examination, we would have missed an opportunity to help the authors rectify a major ethical error. We expect our team at LetPub to not only identify the absence of informed consent, but to also be aware of unique issues, such as vulnerable populations, that might require additional explanation by the authors, beyond the routine ethical statements. This is accomplished by ensuring close matching of author–editor field of study.
Case: The authors showed a computed tomography scan image, with the patient's name on the scan. In a table listing all patients in this case series, the patients' names are given in the first column of the table. Identifiable information such as patient names should not be disclosed.
Action: We informed the authors that patient identity should be protected. The authors took our advice and did the following: 1) cut away unnecessary edges of the scan image so the patient name was removed, and 2) used the numbers 1, 2, 3…, instead of names to represent the patients in the table and elsewhere in the paper.
Summary: Regional regulations differ so some of our clients are not aware of some rules regarding reporting patient information in international journals. At LetPub, we educate authors on such ethical concerns and provide suggestions for them to resolve the issues.