Skip to main content

New COPE guidelines on publication process manipulation: why they matter


Manipulation of the publication process is a relatively new form of misconduct affecting the publishing industry. This editorial describes what it is, why it is difficult for individual journal editors and publishers to handle and the background to the development of the new COPE guidelines on how to manage publication process manipulation.

These new guidelines represent an important first step towards encouraging openness and collaboration between publishers to address this phenomenon.

Peer Review reports

10 years ago, a retraction of an article was a rare thing. We know that the rate of journal retractions has been rising [1]. It has been argued that the increasing number of journals and the ‘pressure to publish’ have been the driving unethical practices such as data falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism [2]. There have been calls to address this by changing the way research success is measured, for example, by changing the way journal and article quality is measured and rewarded [3] in the hope that, by removing the pressure, unethical practices might decline.

About 4 years ago, a new problem began to emerge. Even those of us who are used to seeing all sorts of misconduct related to research were surprised. The problem was not due to the actions of individual researchers behaving unethically on individual publications, but something very different, systematic, and organized. The problem was of researchers or third parties systematically manipulating publication processes to either boost their own publication records or to exploit the ‘publish or perish’ culture of scientific research for profit. The process involved manipulating the publication process to ensure articles passed peer review and, in some cases, collecting a fee from the authors for this service, or offering authorship of the article for a fee. A number of publishers (including the publisher of this journal) have experienced some form of systematic manipulation of their publication processes and have retracted the affected articles (for example, [4,5,6,7]).

Publication process manipulation is an industry-wide problem. The full extent of it is yet unknown and many publishers will have little experience of how to identify and manage it. For individual journals and editors, it is extremely difficult to spot. Even if detected, the competitive environment of commercial publishing together with confidentiality issues naturally discourage individual publishers from disclosing their methods of investigation, findings, and measures taken to prevent manipulation of their systems. However, to effectively tackle publication manipulation, a coordinated and collaborative approach is needed. With this thinking in mind, members of the Springer Nature Research Integrity Group [8], in collaboration with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) [9], ran a workshop on publication manipulation at a COPE Publisher’s seminar in October 2016. At the seminar, a group of publishers were brought together to share their experiences of publication manipulation practices. The ultimate aim of the workshop was to agree a standardized approach to investigating and resolving such issues.

Work has continued since the workshop and, after much collaboration and many iterations, COPE now has new guidelines and flowcharts on publication manipulation [10].

These guidelines provide advice on how to spot and investigate publication manipulation, when to involve institutions, and what actions to take. As well as a valuable addition to COPE’s extensive existing collection of resources, these guidelines are important because, by acknowledging that there is an industry-wide problem of publication manipulation, they represent a first step towards encouraging openness and collaboration between publishers to address this phenomenon.


  1. Johnson R., Watkinson A, Wabe M, The STM report. An overview of scientific and scholarly publishing. 5th edition October 2018 Accessed 7 Nov 2018.

  2. Rawat R, Meena S. Publish or perish: where are we heading? J Res Med Sci. 2014;19(2):87–9.

    Google Scholar 

  3. The Culture of Scientific Research in the UK. Nuffield Council on Bioethics 2014 Accessed 13 Nov 2018.

  4. Stern V. Retraction watch blog, 21 December 2017. Accessed 6 Nov 2018.

  5. Sage Publishing press release.8 July 2014. Accessed 7 Nov 2018.

  6. Stern V. Retraction watch blog, 21 November 2017. Accessed 7 Nov 2018.

  7. Springer Nature press release. 1 November 2016. Accessed 7 Nov 2018.

  8. Springer Nature Research Integrity. . Accessed 7 Nov 2018.

  9. Committee on Publication Ethics website. Accessed 8 Nov 2018.

  10. Committee on Publication Ethics, Systematic manipulation of the manipulation process guidelines. Accessed15 Nov 2018.

Download references





Availability of data and materials


Author information

Authors and Affiliations



JP was the sole contributor to writing this editorial. The author read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jigisha Patel.

Ethics declarations

Ethics approval and consent to participate


Consent for publication


Competing interests

JP is an employee of Springer Nature (of which BioMed Central and Springer are a part) and a member of the Springer Nature Research Integrity Group. She is also on the Editorial Board of Research Integrity and Peer Review journal.

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Patel, J. New COPE guidelines on publication process manipulation: why they matter. Res Integr Peer Rev 3, 13 (2018).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: