Research standards violations
Research standards violations normally come to light when a referee sees that there was no informed consent on human subjects, or that animal protection protocols were not followed for a piece of research.
It is somewhat more difficult with animal protection, as different countries (e.g. USA) and geo-political regions (e.g. European Union) have different standards from official organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO).
If doubt exists whether the research was conducted in accordance with the relevant national or international guidelines, the authors must explain the rationale for their approach, and demonstrate that the institutional review body explicitly approved the doubtful aspects of the study. When reporting experiments on animals, authors should be asked to indicate whether the institutional and national guide for the care and use of laboratory animals was followed.
Note: the procedures below are similar to those for research fraud.
The complainant must be made aware that the matter cannot be investigated unless the journal editor informs the corresponding (or complained-about) author (due process) and possibly the institution or company at which the research took place.
In the communication to the corresponding author (see Form letter A1), the editor should indicate that the matter is likely to be referred to the institution or company where the research took place, the standard-setting body (if relevant), the institution or company which provided undisclosed financial support (if relevant), or any other relevant institution or agency (for example a funding agency) unless the author provides a reasonable explanation (accepted as reasonable by the editor).
Then a note, corrigendum or journal retraction procedures are appropriate remedies (there may still be disagreement concerning the appropriate description of the wrong-doing) unless the privacy rights of an individual have been violated (one of the few instances where article removal may be appropriate).
It may be appropriate to simply say that the research work reported in the article violated certain standards (such as treatment of research subjects) accepted in the field (if the results would not be affected).
If the violations errors are more critical, or if privacy rights have been seriously infringed and remedial consent cannot be obtained (in the judgment of the editor), then a more critical statement may be appropriate (with legal review for defamation).
Ultimately the editor may need to make a judgment as to the appropriate language for the statement, if there is no consensus, and should do so in consultation with Elsevier staff.
Then the editor will have to consider whether the author’s explanation is reasonable. Normally the editor would also inform the complainant of the author’s explanation and seek comment (see Form letter B).
Then the editor may refer the matter to the institution or company employing the author/co-authors noting the allegation of misconduct, and possibly if relevant the standard-setting body or funding entity (see Form letter C).
Then the editor should inform the corresponding/complained-about author and the complainant that the editor will seriously consider the determination of the institution (through a corrigendum or Elsevier's retraction and removal procedures).
This should be reviewed with the complainant (perhaps the complainant is better placed to make the complaint directly with the institution).
Then the editor will be expected to make a determination, in his or her reasonable judgment, as to the underlying facts, and to make a recommendation to Elsevier (and possibly the society for a society journal), which Elsevier staff will implement normally through a corrigendum or the retraction and removal process.
It may be advisable for the editor in this fact-finding process to request the views and comments of third parties who may be expected to have knowledge of the facts alleged by the complainant.
These are available for a second opinion (*) . This is often the time for the editor to discuss the case with his/her publishing contact within Elsevier and agree what action, if any, needs to be taken.