Scientific misconduct

There are differing definitions of scientific misconduct. At The BMJ, we deal with these problems 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 selective reporting of findings and omission of conflicting data, or willful 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, willful 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, biologic, or chemical materials.
  • Inappropriate behavior in relation to misconduct: this includes unfounded or knowingly false accusations of misconduct, failure to report known or suspected misconduct, withholding or destruction of information relevant to a claim of misconduct and retaliation against persons involved in the allegation or investigation.

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

If we suspect 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's ethics committee.

If the case cannot be resolved by discussion with the author(s), and the editor still has concerns, s/he may report the case 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 BMJ editor may contact the journal in which the previous publication appeared to raise the concern.

The BMJ is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Cases of research or publication misconduct may also be referred to COPE in an anonymised format.