Journal editors and publishers’ legal obligations with respect to medical research misconduct

Naomi Holbeach*, Ian Freckelton AO QC, Ben W. Mol

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


As the burden of misconduct in medical research is increasingly recognised, questions have been raised about how best to address this problem. Whilst there are existing mechanisms for the investigation and management of misconduct in medical literature, they are inadequate to deal with the magnitude of the problem. Journal editors and publishers play an essential role in protecting the veracity of the medical literature. Whilst ethical guidance for journal editors and publishers is important, it is not as readily enforceable as legal obligations might be. This article questions the legal obligations that might exist for journal editors and publishing companies with respect to ensuring the veracity of the published literature. Ultimately, there is no enforceable legal obligation in Australia, the United Kingdom, or the United States. In light of this, more robust mechanisms are needed to deliver greater confidence and transparency in the investigative process, the management of concerns or findings of misconduct and the need to cleanse the literature. We show that the law disincentivises journals and publishers from ensuring truth in their publications. There are harmful consequences for medical care and public confidence in the medical profession and health care system when the foundations of medical science are questionable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-120
Number of pages14
JournalResearch Ethics
Issue number2
Early online date25 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023

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  • journal editors
  • law
  • medical research
  • publishers
  • Research misconduct


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