Paper A appeared in a foreign language journal, together with an English abstract. Paper B was submitted to us, and one of our referees alerted us to the similar content.
Closer inspection, including retrieval of the original foreign language manuscript and review by a deputy editor with a working knowledge of that language, and inspection of the tables by the editor and another editor, indicated that the two papers contained largely identical data and had a similar content. The foreign language version included slightly more detail on the research setting, methods, and results compared with the English version, while in the English version there were some additional analyses and minor changes in the title and organisation of the content. Despite these differences, the text of the two versions was similar and the main messages and conclusions were the same.
On submission to us, paper B did not make reference to, acknowledge, or cite the previous foreign language publication. The covering letter to the journal stated: “Please note that neither the entire paper nor any part of its content has been published or accepted by another journal. The paper is not being submitted to any other journal”. When asked to supply the earlier paper, the authors included a covering note pointing to some differences (which we believe to be minor) and acknowledged “the possibility of an overlap between the foreign language paper and the submitted manuscript”.
We believe that parallel publication is quite common and acceptable when the purpose is to disseminate data from a foreign language-only paper more widely, but wonder whether the authors should have been more forthcoming or accurate in their citations and covering letter.
We would be grateful if COPE could advise us on the correct course of action in this case, and also provide more general guidance about the acceptability of publishing similar material in multiple languages.
The committee agreed that it was entirely acceptable to publish a paper in a foreign language journal and then in an English journal provided the first paper is cited in the second journal, and it is made clear to the editor at submission. Both journals should give consent as the first journal has copyright. Although in the case of this particular journal there was no explicit advice on this subject in the instructions to authors, it was felt that this advice is freely available and widely acknowledged.
The committee felt that the authors had deliberately misled the editor. One piece of advice was to write a strongly worded letter to the authors saying that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. Some members of the committee thought that stronger action was required to reflect the seriousness of the matter, and that the authors’ institutions should be informed.
It was suggested that the instructions to authors of the journal should be updated to explicitly state that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. The could be further highlighted in an accompanying editorial.