You have finalized the draft of your new manuscript and are prepared to submit it to your coveted journal. You have provided proper citation, given due credit, and avoided plagiarism by following the editorial guidelines. However, there are still a few aspects of the journal’s duplicate publication regulations that can easily escape your attention or that you might not even be aware of. When should you specifically inform the editors about your linked manuscripts that are being considered elsewhere? While you wait for the decision on one publication, can you submit the same or a portion of the work to other journals? Here is an ethical guideline for scholarly publishing with special attention to duplicate publication that you need to know as an author.
What is duplicate publication in research?
A duplicate publication is one that overlaps substantially with an already published paper of the same author without acknowledging the same. Duplication can range from republication of the same paper in another journal or reusing certain texts and datasets and plots from a published work as a new paper. Splitting one complete piece of research that can go as a single publication into redundant smaller publications with overlapping datasets is also considered unethical. Duplicate publication can also be seen as a type of “self-plagiarism” and is considered to be an ethical malpractice in scholarly publication. This is despite the fact that it differs from plagiarism, which involves unacknowledged copying of someone else’s work or an attempt to misattribute original authorship and accounts for scientific misconduct.
Why is duplicate publication a problem and who can it affect?
Duplicate publication is more serious a threat than it appears to be.
- It skews scientific evidence leading to erroneous recommendations in health practices. For instance, in 2014, an overestimation of information in three research studies that were published 14 times with the same material resulted in an erroneous and potentially harmful medical recommendation regarding the effectiveness of immunosuppressants on patients who had liver transplants!1
- It is a wastage of finite resources both in terms of editorial efforts and the publishing process.
- It leads to copyright violation; although this issue is becoming relaxed with the introduction of open access journals, where the author does not have to hand over copyright.
Overlapping or duplicate publication can adversely affect a wide range of people in the research community, starting from researchers to research organizations, funding organizations, editors, publishers and the general public.
What if duplicate publication is discovered?
Mostly, the journal editors assess each case of duplicate or concurrent publications on their individual merits. There are software tools and services for “similarity checks” that are often used by journals to detect non-originality in papers, but it is essential to instill ethical norms to avoid occurrence of such malpractice. Once found, duplicate publications must be retracted, and duplicate submissions, if discovered by journal editors, are usually rejected. Some journals have stringent policies that can have drastic consequences on the authors, e.g., black-listing the authors from further submission in the journal. However, depending on the type of article and the journal, the rules can be slightly relaxed. For example, some journals might allow resubmission of a manuscript that contains content from an academic thesis that has been previously published in accordance with the standards of the organization awarding the qualification.
How to avoid duplicate publication in research
Coming back to where we began from, you have your manuscript finalized and ready for submission to a chosen journal. Here are a few tips to help you avoid any unintentional ethical errors:
- If your submission is similar to work reported elsewhere then cite that work and mention that in your cover letter. Even if your work has appeared as a presentation or abstract before, do reference it anyway.
- If your work is under consideration by any other journal, you must disclose this at the time of manuscript submission. Even if a part of the paper has been sent for publication elsewhere and has not yet been accepted, you must disclose the details of the same to the editor while writing the cover letter.
- It is possible, in some circumstances, to partially reprint some content if the major result, conclusion, or indications are not apparent from the other work. If the copyright holder gives consent, it is possible to reuse a figure from another source. Reproducing something that was written in a language other than English could also be allowed. In all these cases, the authors should explain the situation in the cover letter at the time of submission.
- Instead of dissecting results into minimally publishable pieces, give preference to publishing a potentially comprehensive article. It is the quality of work that matters, not quantity.
Finally, engaging in scientific misconduct might be more prevalent than most of us would want to acknowledge. The biggest loss is the dilution of science, but one must eventually pay the price. The way out instead, is to make a commitment to advancing the highest standards of research ethics and integrity.
- Fairfield C. J., Harrison E. M., Wigmore S. J. Duplicate publication bias weakens the validity of meta-analysis of immunosuppression after transplantation. World J Gastroenterol. 23,7198-7200 (2017).