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Scientific Publications: Retracted Publications and Related Topics

Definitions from Ethical Dilemmas in scientific publication: pitfalls and solutions for editors

Ethical dilemmas in scientific publication: pitfalls and solutions for editors

Laragh Gollogly; Hooman Momen 
World Health Organization. Geneva, Switzerland

 

ABSTRACT

Editors of scientific journals need to be conversant with the mechanisms by which scientific misconduct is amplified by publication practices. This paper provides definitions, ways to document the extent of the problem, and examples of editorial attempts to counter fraud. Fabrication, falsification, duplication, ghost authorship, gift authorship, lack of ethics approval, non-disclosure, 'salami' publication, conflicts of interest, auto-citation, duplicate submission, duplicate publications, and plagiarism are common problems. Editorial misconduct includes failure to observe due process, undue delay in reaching decisions and communicating these to authors, inappropriate review procedures, and confounding a journal's content with its advertising or promotional potential. Editors also can be admonished by their peers for failure to investigate suspected misconduct, failure to retract when indicated, and failure to abide voluntarily by the six main sources of relevant international guidelines on research, its reporting and editorial practice. Editors are in a good position to promulgate reasonable standards of practice, and can start by using consensus guidelines on publication ethics to state explicitly how their journals function. Reviewers, editors, authors and readers all then have a better chance to understand, and abide by, the rules of publishing.

 

Some definitions:

  • Ghost Authorship exclusion of authors who did contribute significantly to the study. Ghost authorship usually involves people hierarchically junior to the author(s) such as postgraduate students, postdoctoral fellows and visiting researchers (often from another country). Here the author hopes to gain greater credit for his own work by not recognizing the contribution of others, who may either have left his team by the time the work is published or be too junior to protest. The authors normally belittle the contributions of others by classifying these as merely the collection of data, the supply of biological specimens, the provision of reagents or not worth acknowledging, when in fact the ghost author may have made a significant contribution to the study.
  • Gift Authorship Inclusion of authors who did not contribute substantially to the study. Gift authorship usually involves inclusion of people hierarchically senior to the author(s) such as their supervisor, team leader, head of department or director of institute. Their names may be included as a recognition of their contribution to the research topic, the provision of funding for the research, granting of laboratory space to carry it out or general advice. Although these contributions can be acknowledged they do not by themselves constitute criteria for authorship. Less charitably, these names may have been included for fear by the authors of retribution if they were left out, to please those in power, or in the belief that the addition of prestigious names may aid in the acceptance of the manuscript for publication. All of these are clearly unethical actions. Another form of gift authorship occurs between colleagues and collaborators. In this case a name of a colleague is unjustifiably added to the manuscript in the expectation that the favor will be returned. In this way both authors unethically increase the number of their publications.
  • Non-disclosure Editors can largely prevent this problem by asking authors to provide all related papers, including those in press and under review, when submitting a manuscript. Journals generally expect authors to furnish copies of any papers that overlap by more than 10% with the current submission. Editors can educate their authors that good publication practice is to provide full disclosure, full citation and full discussion of their related work.
  • Conflicts of Interest Conflict of interest (COI) exists when there is a divergence between an individual’s private interests (competing interests) and his or her responsibilities to scientific and publishing activities such that a reasonable observer might wonder if the individual’s behavior or judgment was motivated by considerations of his or her competing interests. COI in medical publishing affects everyone with a stake in research integrity including journals, research/academic institutions, funding agencies, the popular media, and the public. Journals are interested in COI as it relates to a specific manuscript.
  • Plagiarism Plagiarism is the use of others' published and unpublished ideas or words (or other intellectual property) without attribution or permission, and presenting them as new and original rather than derived from an existing source. The intent and effect of plagiarism is to mislead the reader as to the contributions of the plagiarizer. This applies whether the ideas or words are taken from abstracts, research grant applications, Institutional Review Board applications, or unpublished or published manuscripts in any publication format (print or electronic).
  • Self-plagiarism refers to the practice of an author using portions of their previous writings on the same topic in another of their publications, without specifically citing it formally in quotes. This practice is widespread and sometimes unintentional, as there are only so many ways to say the same thing on many occasions, particularly when writing the Methods section of an article. Although this usually violates the copyright that has been assigned to the publisher, there is no consensus as to whether this is a form of scientific misconduct, or how many of one's own words one can use before it is truly "plagiarism." Probably for this reason self-plagiarism is not regarded in the same light as plagiarism of the ideas and words of other individuals. If journals have developed a policy on this matter, it should be clearly stated for authors.
  • Editorial misconduct includes failure to observe due process, undue delay in reaching decisions and communicating these to authors, inappropriate review procedures, and confounding a journal's content with its advertising or promotional potential. Editors also can be admonished by their peers for failure to investigate suspected misconduct, failure to retract when indicated, and failure to abide voluntarily by the six main sources of relevant international guidelines on research, its reporting and editorial practice. Editors are in a good position to promulgate reasonable standards of practice, and can start by using consensus guidelines on publication ethics to state explicitly how their journals function. Reviewers, editors, authors and readers all then have a better chance to understand, and abide by, the rules of publishing.
  • Overlapping publications Overlapping publications are another topic which frequently provide ethical issues for the editor to resolve. They can be classified into four categories: duplicate publication, duplicate submission, competing submissions, sibling publications.

    • Duplicate publications A duplicate publication is considered redundant when it substantially overlaps with an already published article. Redundant publications are considered unethical for many reasons: they waste the time of peer-reviewers and editors, consume journals' resources and fill pages, increase the work of indexing and abstracting services, distort the academic rewards' system and inflate the scientific literature, all for no benefit other than to the author. Duplicate publications may also infringe on copyright, and contribute to flawed meta-analysis.

    • Duplicate submissions The simultaneous submission of manuscripts to more than one journal is considered unethical as there is both a potential for disagreement over the right to publish among the journals and the possibility of unnecessary duplication of peer review and editing. Co-publication is permissible when it is the result of the deliberate synchronization of content, (usually editorial) by editors who are using their respective journals to achieve the broadest possible dissemination of particular content. Most of the editorial guidelines, written by consensus of editorial groups, have been announced in this way.

    • Competing submissions Secondary publication may be acceptable for certain kinds of papers such as guidelines, articles in different languages or in commemorative journal issues. However, certain requirements have to be met, including approval from the editors of both journals, prominent citation of the primary publication, obviously distinct readerships, and accurate reflection of data and interpretations of the primary version. The ICMJE recommends that a footnote on title page of the secondary version should state the primary reference such as "This article is based on a study first reported in the J. …

    • Sibling publications Sibling publications are related papers submitted to different journals with no cross citation. They are often the result of a researcher dividing up the results of a study into as many papers as possible with a view to increasing publication counts - also called "salami" publication. This practice is also unethical as it fragments the scientific record and is unhelpful to readers. [see also: salami publications]

Ethical dilemmas in scientific publication: pitfalls and solutions for editors Electronic Document Format (Vancouver) Gollogly Laragh, Momen Hooman. Ethical dilemmas in scientific publication: pitfalls and solutions for editors. Rev. Saúde Pública [serial on the Internet]. 2006 Aug [cited 2013 May 20] ; 40(spe): 24-29. Available from: http://www.scielosp.org/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0034-89102006000400004&lng=en. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0034-89102006000400004.

Scientific Misconduct (PubMed Medical Subject Heading)