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Confidentiality in Allegations of Scientific Misconduct

Ethical and Legal Considerations

Annette Flanagin

Confidentiality in Allegations of Scientific Misconduct

Allegations of scientific misconduct (fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism) must be considered carefully vis-à-vis rules of confidentiality. In cases of credible allegations of such misconduct, an editor may need to disclose specific confidential information in a very controlled and limited manner.3 For example, after a credible allegation of scientific misconduct, an editor may need to contact an author’s or a reviewer’s relevant institutional, funding, or governmental authority (eg, an academic president, dean, or ethics/integrity officer) to request a formal investigation. In this situation, the editor will need to identify the person about whom the allegation was made. This is best done by a telephone call or a brief formal letter marked confidential. During such investigations, editors should avoid including details of such cases in e-mails that can be widely circulated and should avoid posting details, even if rendered anonymous, in e-mail lists or blogs. For more details on how an editor should handle such an allegation, see 5.4.4, Scientific Misconduct, Editorial Policy and Procedures for Detecting and Handling Allegations of Scientific Misconduct.

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