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Table of Contents
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 86-87

Publication ethics

Centre for Community Medicine, AIIMS, New Delhi, India

Date of Web Publication31-Dec-2022

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Shashi Kant
Centre for Community Medicine, AIIMS, New Delhi
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijcfm.ijcfm_66_22

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How to cite this article:
Kant S. Publication ethics. Indian J Community Fam Med 2022;8:86-7

How to cite this URL:
Kant S. Publication ethics. Indian J Community Fam Med [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 May 28];8:86-7. Available from: https://www.ijcfm.org/text.asp?2022/8/2/86/366551

The noblest motivation for publication is to share new scientific evidence that would advance the promotion of health, prevention of disease, and alleviation of illness. However, many other reasons, for example, the requirement for career progression, recognition among peers, contractual obligation toward funders, moral obligation to participants, etc., may also act as motivating factors. Irrespective of the motivating factor(s), all publications must be done in an ethical manner. Ethics is a branch of philosophy that deals with distinctions between right and wrong with the moral consequences of human actions. Ethics cover all aspects of human actions, for example, business ethics, social ethics, organizational ethics, etc. Publication ethics is a part of the overarching domain of bioethics.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) was formed in 1997 to educate researchers about ethical research and publication ethics. The guideline issued by COPE provides an excellent overview of how to avoid common pitfalls. Early career researchers would be well advised to read COPE's “Guidelines on good publication ethics” before submitting their manuscripts to a medical journal. The starting point of ethical publication is ethical research. Approval of the study by the local institutional ethics committee/review board is, therefore, necessary.

Serious research misconducts include fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. Making up data that does not exist is fabrication. This obviously is a fraud where the author(s) consciously and deliberately intend to deceive the readers. Fabrication is the most serious research misconduct. Mercifully, it is the least commonly occurring serious research misconduct. Falsification involves deliberate omission or concealment of inconvenient data. There may be selective use of the statistical method. The researcher presents the data so that it yields a predetermined conclusion. Shorn of all niceties, such action can be dubbed as lying. To guard against fabrication and falsification, editors require an undertaking from the researcher that the raw data will be provided if so asked. Hence, it is important that the researcher retains the original dataset. Although the duration of the retention period may vary, most clinical trial sponsors now require that the raw dataset be preserved for 15 years. Researchers should acquaint themselves with the specific legal requirements and comply with them.

Claiming credit for someone else's work as one's own is plagiarism. It is akin to stealing. Hence, when quoting work or ideas of other persons, it is required that the same is acknowledged. The citation must be correct and complete so that others can locate the original source if required. If the verbatim quote is provided, then quotation marks should be used mandatorily. Nowadays, many software are available that detect word match with already published work, including gray literature. A researcher could use any one of these software to assess the quantum of match. As a rule of thumb, most editors would not object if the word match is <5%, excluding the references. The cutoff limit, however, may differ among journals. Some lenient editors may accept the article if the word match is <10%. One way to avoid the problem of plagiarism could be first to understand the main message of the original article, and then write it in one's own words, i.e., to paraphrase the idea, method, process, result, conclusion, etc., as the case may be. Care, however, must still be exercised to give credit to the original source, even if the source is one's own previous publication. It is inappropriate to unnecessarily cite one's own work where the sole intention is to increase the citation index. If a substantial portion of a previously published work or an illustration is to be reproduced, then prior permission from the original author should be obtained in writing.

Many of the errors which result in research misconduct may occur due to recklessness or negligence on the part of the researcher. Therefore, researchers need to educate themselves on publication ethics. Researchers should exercise due diligence and prudence while trying to publish their work. A more serious situation arises when the researcher deliberately tries to mislead the readers into believing something that is actually untrue. Research misconduct can result in several consequences, which would depend on the journal's policy and the gravity of the research misconduct. Starting from a warning being issued to the researcher, it may escalate to the employer being notified, editors of other medical journals being informed, and publication of notice in the journal or even retraction of an already published article.

Repeating an already published study is unnecessary and is often called “redundant publication.” However, such studies are permitted if further confirmation of the previously reported finding is required. Changes in the study setting, study period, methodology, or any other relevant factor may be further justification for repeating the already published work. In addition, the same study can be published in a different language as well. In such a circumstance, a disclosure should be made and reference is provided to the original publication. To avoid multiple publications of the same article, the researcher should submit the manuscript to one journal at a time. The researcher may write to the journal's editor if there is inordinate delay in informing the decision on the submitted manuscript. The researcher should withdraw the submission, in writing, before submitting the manuscript to another journal. The proof of the withdrawal letter should be preserved, in case there is controversy at a later stage regarding multiple publications of the same article. Redundant publication is the most frequently occurring violation of publication ethics.

All authors share the responsibility for the integrity and ethical conduct of the study. Therefore, a researcher should neither offer nor accept authorship unless one has contributed substantially to the body of the work. Many journals require that the specific role played by individual authors be clearly spelled out. This forms the part of the publication. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) prescribes that all of the following four criteria should be met to qualify as an author:

  1. Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work
  2. Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content
  3. Final approval of the version to be published
  4. Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

This guideline is available at: https://www.icmje.org/recommendations/browse/roles-and-responsibilities/defining-the-role-of-authors-and-contributors.html

For a publication to be ethical, it is of utmost importance that there should be full disclosure of all relevant materials. Among others, it is important to disclose the role of the funding agency. Furthermore, any financial relationship of the authors or their immediate family members with the sponsor of the study including stock or share held in the concerned commercial entity. Authors should also disclose if they have availed any pecuniary benefit. Many journals have an extensive checklist for declaration of conflict of interest which all authors have to sign individually.

Remember that honesty is the bedrock of ethical publication. A researcher is expected, above all, to be honest while publishing his/her work.


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