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Go with the flowcharts: new tools to help data publishers navigate ethical concerns


  • The FORCE11-COPE Research Data Publishing Ethics Working Group has released 8 new practical flowcharts.
  • These tools guide data publishers through 4 areas in which ethical concerns can arise: authorship and contributorship, legal and regulatory, rigour, and risk.

Following a wave of high-profile retractions in recent years, ethical issues are an ongoing concern in scientific publishing. In an article for Upstream, FORCE11-COPE Research Data Publishing Ethics Working Group’s member Iratxe Puebla presents a series of practical flowcharts, based on the group’s recommendations, which aim to help those dealing with such issues.

A force for change

The FORCE11 Research Data Publishing Ethics Working Group was established in 2021 as a multi-stakeholder effort to support data publishers — including journals and data repositories — in handling ethical concerns raised during the publication process.

Coping with concerns

As Puebla reports, the group collaborated with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) to develop recommendations around 4 key areas of possible ethical concern:

  • authorship and contribution conflicts
  • legal and regulatory restrictions
  • rigour (or completeness of datasets)
  • and potential risks associated with data release.

Following this initial work, the group developed tools to help data publishers to implement the guidance and embed it into everyday practice. As reported by The Scholarly Kitchen, the group recognised that the ‘legwork’ of handling ethical issues is performed by teams at journals and data repositories of varying sizes, with correspondingly variable levels of support and resources. To this end, they produced practical, easy-to-use flowcharts to accompany the recommendations and aid these teams.

Workable ethics

The group produced 8 flowcharts based on the 4 areas of concern identified in the recommendations (a pre- and a post-publication flowchart for each area). These are freely available via the COPE website.

Puebla and the Working Group hope that the flowcharts will be useful to those working in data publishing. They call on the data publishing community to use these tools, to submit any feedback, and to continue to contribute to the discourse around ethical data publishing.


Will your organisation use the new FORCE11-COPE flowcharts when handling ethical concerns relating to data publishing?

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