Medical journals have customs for retraction of invalid publications that have been published. However, the rules for so-called retraction are neither uniform nor entirely clear, and such retraction occurs relatively seldom. In section III.B of the Vancouver group’s guidelines, the guidelines for corrections, retractions and expression of concern are stated as follows:
“III.B. Corrections, Retractions and "Expressions of Concern"
Editors must assume initially that authors are reporting work based on honest observations. Nevertheless,
two types of difficulty may arise.
First, errors may be noted in published articles that require the publication of a correction or erratum of part
of the work. The corrections should appear on a numbered page, be listed in the contents page, include the
complete original citation, and link to the original article and vice versa if online. It is conceivable that an
error could be so serious as to vitiate the entire body of the work, but this is unlikely and should be handled
by editors and authors on an individual basis. Such an error should not be confused with inadequacies
exposed by the emergence of new scientific information in the normal course of research. The latter require
no corrections or withdrawals.
The second type of difficulty is scientific fraud. If substantial doubts arise about the honesty or integrity of
work, either submitted or published, it is the editor’s responsibility to ensure that the question is
appropriately pursued, usually by the authors’ sponsoring institution. However, it is not ordinarily the task
of editors to conduct a full investigation or to make a determination; that responsibility lies with the
institution where the work was done or with the funding agency. The editor should be promptly informed
of the final decision, and if a fraudulent paper has been published, the journal must print a retraction. If this
method of investigation does not result in a satisfactory conclusion, the editor may choose to conduct his or
her own investigation. As an alternative to retraction, the editor may choose to publish an expression of
concern about aspects of the conduct or integrity of the work.
The retraction or expression of concern, so labeled, should appear on a numbered page in a prominent
section of the print journal as well as in the online version, be listed in the contents page, and include in its
heading the title of the original article. It should not simply be a letter to the editor. Ideally, the first author
should be the same in the retraction as in the article, although under certain circumstances the editor may
accept retractions by other responsible persons. The text of the retraction should explain why the article is
being retracted and include a full original citation reference to it.
The validity of previous work by the author of a fraudulent paper cannot be assumed. Editors may ask the
author’s institution to assure them of the validity of earlier work published in their journals or to retract it.
If this is not done editors may choose to publish an announcement expressing concern that the validity of
previously published work is uncertain.”
3.7 In detail on education of researchers/training of researchers and the supervisor role
Since 1993, the national regulations called Regulations for PhD Degrees with Requirements as to an Organized Education of Researchers have formed a common basis for organized education of researchers in Norway. The organized researcher education implies that the traditional PhD in arts and sciences gradually is to be replaced by doctor degrees specific to special subjects, mandatory course teaching was introduced to make the researcher education wider, and the relationship between the PhD candidate and his/her supervisor was to be formalized through written agreements.
The universities have an overall responsibility for the education of researchers in Norway. Yet, an estimated third of the PhD candidates have their main place of work at other institutions, and to a considerable degree receive supervision by persons who are not employed at the universities. In addition to the PhD candidates’ own intellectual qualities, it is the supervisors’ and the research community to which the candidate is related that is of the most importance for the quality and efficiency in the education of researchers. The relation between supervisor and PhD candidate is here a crucial item.
Analyses of development in the organized education of researchers show large variations as regards adaptations to the common regulations, in its practicing, in the interpretation of the professional
requirements to a PhD degree, in attitudes to supervision and how the scope and organization of the course part is viewed. Variations are in particular related to various lingering subject-specific traditions, and tensions between the requirements as to an independent research effort and the requirements as to the supervisor’s contribution in the work with the dissertation often seem to arise.23
To be a research recruit means essentially to complete a researcher education with the achievement of a PhD degree as the final goal. Seen this way, the PhD candidate will be in an education situation, having a role with certain similarities to the role as a student.
On the other hand, the PhD candidate has completed his/her university education at master level, and he/she also often has a certain work experience. The main part of the PhD degree education consists in fact of more or less independent research. In this respect, the PhD degree student may be compared with ordinarily engaged scientific and/or clinical staff. This tends to make the research recruit’s position close to that of ordinary scientific employees regarding rights and obligations.
As a starting point it may therefore be natural to consider the recruits as students when they study and participate in courses/seminars and the like, and as employed scientific staff when they otherwise are engaged in research.
The personal responsibility of the recruits, however, must be decided concretely in relation to the individual situation. Some candidates work rather independently and appear as de facto project managers for their PhD degree project, for which they also have a considerable/the main responsibility for the planning, implementation and completion. Other recruits will often be in a far more subordinate relationship, in which typically the supervisor is also the project manager, co-researcher and holder of the day-to-day responsibility for the PhD candidates’ projects from inception to end, without this excluding a personal responsibility also for the recruit.
Thus, to be a supervisor is a central task in the education of researchers. In spite of the guidelines mentioned above, there are clearer and more unambiguous rules for the role of the supervisors as regards training in good research practice in a wide sense (vocational ethics for researchers). The supervisor role and the status held by the supervisor is to a large degree based on customs in the research communities, adapted to special circumstances at the individual institution, the individual professional and research community, and not least specific agreements between and circumstances related to the individual supervisor and/or candidate relationship. In the booklet PhD guidelines, an idea booklet prepared by three Danish medical researchers, the following is stated on page 8:
“The purpose of the guide is, in a master study situation, to inspire and comment on the PhD candidates’ personal effort and the work emerging thereof. In addition, as a supervisor one is to act as a personal
support. The aim of the guide is not primarily to disseminate knowledge relating to methods, but rather to be a catalyst for the candidates’ development as a researcher . … Supervising is a process, in which by a combination of inductive and deductive pedagogy shall help the PhD candidate to acknowledge problems and find solutions to them.”24
These general remarks seem to have some relevance also in a Norwegian context.
The booklet also states that a supervisor is not necessarily the same as a project manager. The supervisor may of course be the project manager, but such a double function is not automatic.
Nor is it automatically so that as a supervisor, one is also to be a coauthor or last author on the candidate’s publications, although especially within the medical community a certain tradition for this has developed. The supervisor must like everybody else meet the criteria for authorship to be listed as an author.
Thus the supervisor will basically appear as an advisor and conversation partner, unless more committing responsibilities and rights follow from other circumstances, e.g. that the supervisor also is placed in the line above the candidate and is the closest superior of the latter.
Gradually it has become customary that when admitted to a PhD degree program, the candidate enters into a contract of professional direction in the PhD degree education. On the other hand, these contracts are often so vague that they provide little guidance beyond normal customs. In the absence of clear agreements and rules, the supervisor’s responsibilities and duties must therefore be determined specifically.
According to the PhD degree program at the Medical Faculty, University of Oslo (adopted June 14, 2005), for example, the following rules apply:
Section 8 Supervision
The PhD candidate and the supervisor shall be in regular contact. If the PhD candidate has several supervisors, a main supervisor with the primary responsibility for the professional follow-up of the PhD candidate shall be appointed.
At least one of the supervisors must be employed by the faculty at which the PhD degree candidate is admitted or at another entity at the university approved by the faculty. All supervisors shall have a PhD degree or corresponding professional competence. Both the (main) supervisor and PhD candidate are obligated to report in accordance with the regulations stipulated by the faculty.
The supervisor is, in consultation with the institution, responsible for arranging for the PhD degree candidate’s regular participation in an active research environment. For PhD degree candidates being associated to another institution, an agreement shall be entered into between the institution awarding the degree and the cooperating institution which shall regulate the working conditions which shall include ensuring the PhD degree candidate’s participation in an active research environment.
The frequency of the formalized supervisor contact (individual supervision and group supervision) shall be set forth in the agreement.
At least one supervisor is to be associated to the medical faculty at the University of Oslo.
The supervisor shall:
Advise on the formulation and delimitation of the subject and problem for discussion
Discuss and consider hypotheses and methods
Assist the candidate in finding his/her way in the relevant literature and raw data (library, archive, etc)
Discuss the arrangement and execution of the presentation (disposition, language, documentation, etc.)
Keep updated on the progress of the candidate’s work and evaluate it in relation to the work plan
Assist in introducing the candidate to relevant scientific environments
Discuss results and their interpretation
Guide the candidate in research-ethical questions related to the dissertation
The PhD degree candidate shall:
Submit reports or drafts of parts of the dissertation to the supervisor in accordance with the PhD degree agreement
In his/her work comply with the research ethical principles applicable to the subject area.
The parties are obliged continuously to inform one another of all matters of importance to the accomplishment of the PhD degree education. The parties are obliged to actively follow up circumstances that can cause a risk of a delayed or failing accomplishment of the PhD degree education, in order that the education as far as possible may be accomplished.
The PhD degree candidate and supervisor may, if they agree, ask the admitting body to appoint a new supervisor for the candidate.
If a PhD degree candidate or supervisor should find that the other party does not comply with his/her duties, the party alleging that there is a breach of obligations is obligated to bring this up with the other party. The candidate and supervisor shall jointly try to find a solution to the situation that has occurred.
If a PhD degree candidate or supervisor finds that the other party does not comply with his/her duties, and the parties’ following discussions have not agreed on how to solve the situation, the candidate or supervisor may ask to be released from the supervisor agreement. A request to be released from the supervisor agreement shall be addressed to the medical faculty and forwarded via the basic entity. A copy of the request shall be sent to the other party by the party bringing the case. Any decision to release the PhD degree candidate and supervisor from the supervisor agreement shall be made by the medical faculty.
It lies to the medical faculty to approve a change of supervisor when the supervisor or the PhD degree candidate has asked for such a replacement.
The supervisor may not in any case step down until a new supervisor has been appointed.
Accordingly, in the application form for admission of Jon Sudbø on the PhD degree program in December 2000, an agreement was entered into on professional supervision with the following main elements:
5. THE SUPERVISION RELATIONSHIP
In the professional supervision, the supervisor shall in particular:
Give advice on the formulation and delimitation of the subject and presentation of the problem
Discuss and evaluate hypotheses and methods
Give assistance in getting acquainted with literature and raw data (library, archives, etc.)
Discuss the arrangement and preparation of the presentation (disposition, language, documentation, etc.)
Keep informed of the progress of the candidate’s work and evaluate it in relation to the work plan
Assist in introducing the candidate to relevant scientific environments
Discuss results and their interpretation
The PhD candidate undertakes to submit reports or drafts of parts of the dissertation to the supervisor, as the case may be in connection with seminars, every ….
Both parties in the supervision relationship are entitled to regular contact and information on the progress of the work. The framework for this is to be determined by the body approving the annual progress report, cf item 4.