Assessment of the Prevalence of Integrity Issues in Submitted Manuscripts

Damian Pattinson,1 Chrissy Prater1

Objective There has been much discussion about the increase in articles with serious integrity breaches that are submitted to science journals. Anecdotally journals are handling a growing number of these breaches, but their prevalence and distribution is unknown in part because most articles are rejected before publication.

Design Research Square is a company that works with publishers to perform detailed editorial checks to catch basic integrity issues before peer review. Articles that pass the checks that are performed by Research Square staff members are awarded a “badge” to show that they meet high standards of integrity. Each failed check is recorded using a standardized checklist, allowing analysis of the prevalence of various integrity issues, including plagiarism, figure manipulation, undisclosed competing interests, problems surrounding permissions, and lack of ethical approval or funding statements.

Results Of 2892 checklists from manuscripts submitted to 2 mid-sized open access life science journals (Impact Factors of 3 and 2, respectively), 628 (22%) passed all checks. Of the article with applicable checklists, 22% of submissions were returned for rewriting because of plagiarism and 22% of applicable manuscripts failed figure checks, with the top 3 reasons being improper manipulation, duplication, and poor quality. Other common issues included an inability to verify author identities (35%) and missing statements of approval for human participantion in research (71%) (Table). While many issues could be solved with author queries, 161 submissions (5%) contained serious flaws that placed the veracity of the article in doubt, including defamatory content, extensive plagiarism from published works, and suspicion of fabrication. Results varied by journal.

Conclusions Duplicate publication, figure concerns, inability to verify authors, and missing human participant approval were the most common of integrity concerns at 2 life science journals. Additional analyses of attributes of articles that failed integrity checks and their authors might yield insights into how to improve the detection of such issues in the future, especially when applying the checklist to journals in a broader range of subject areas.

1Research Square, Durham, NC, USA, damian.pattinson@researchsquare.com

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: All authors are employed by Research Square, a private company that provides language and editorial services for publishers and authors.

Funding/Support: None reported.

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