The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) began unpretentiously in 1997 with an informal meeting of a group of medical editors, all of whom had expressed concern about the lack of clear guidelines as to how to deal with breaches of research and publication ethics.3 At this first meeting it was soon evident that the group had collectively dealt with the full spectrum of research misconduct. As editors we felt an intense sense of frustration because of our extremely limited powers to deal with research dishonesty.
COPE was therefore established as an editors' self-help group, providing a forum in which we could advise each other about the management of difficult cases. All cases are considered anonymously and the final responsibility for action would always remain with the reporting editor. COPE has continued to have only an advisory role to editors. It has no authority to investigate cases of alleged misconduct and has no powers to make judgments or punish offenders. However, it has considered more than 100 cases of possible misconduct in the last three years and has reported its experience in annual reports. In the COPE Report 200019 we list the biomedical journals that are now part of COPE and have produced a draft constitution to ensure sound management and governance of COPE in the future. The experience with COPE has convinced many of us that the current procedures available in the UK to deal with research misconduct are inadequate.12 The GMC considers only the more serious cases of alleged misconduct by medical practitioners and thus another independent body is required to consider the broad spectrum of misdemeanours that might be committed by clinical and non-clinical investigators.
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