The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)

Ethical challenges in academic publishing

The brief

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) aimed to better understand the needs of its Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) members in order to provide appropriate publication ethics support and resources.

COPE partnered with one if its members – Routledge, Taylor & Francis, a leading scholarly publisher – to explore the ethical challenges faced by academic journal editors in AHSS disciplines.

They chose Shift to design and conduct primary research that would help COPE to fulfil their strategy of meeting the needs of the diverse disciplines that they serve, and enhancing their support for under-represented members.

Our approach and methodology

Our research was designed to address 4 key areas: awareness of COPE and its offer; points of pain related to ethical challenges; needs and gaps in provision of support; and communication preferences.  We used a two-stage methodology:

  • First exploring these issues in two online focus groups with academic journal editors from different countries and subject areas.
  • The findings from this qualitative stage informed the next phase, which was looking to quantify the scale and severity of the issues through an e-survey. We used a small number of cognitive interviews with potential respondents to further refine the survey, ensuring that it was well understood, unambiguous and worked well for all respondents.
Delivering results and value to our client

This research culminated in a report that delivered actionable recommendations – outlining challenges and opportunities, especially around awareness and communication:

  • Awareness: establishing which aspects of COPE’s work members and non-members identified as important and relevant.
  • Communication: identifying opportunities to better engage current members.

These findings were used by COPE and Routledge, Taylor & Francis to develop a white paper that addressed the state of ethics in academic publishing in AHSS disciplines.