This case came to light when the editors of two journals (J1 and J2) established that the same manuscript (MsA) had been submitted to both journals simultaneously. On bringing this information to the attention of the author, stating the seriousness with which this action was viewed and requesting an explanation, the author apologised and withdrew the manuscript from both journals without offering an explanation.
The editor of J1 then brought this matter to the attention of all of the editors within this field in case they had also received the manuscript. The extent of the matter was then discovered, involving a number of different manuscripts and over half the journals in the field. It was felt that this was not an accident or misunderstanding of the rules of publishing. J1 have told the author that they will not consider a manuscript for publication for five years. Several journals, which currently have manuscripts from this author under consideration, are wondering what they should do.
To summarise the findings in order of discovery.
Manuscript A (MsA): MsA was simultaneously submitted to J1, J2, and J5 after being simultaneously submitted to and rejected by J3 and J4. Author withdrew Ms from J1 and J2 after being asked for an explanation which was not provided.
Manuscript B (MsB): MsB was simultaneously submitted to J1, J3, J6, and J8; submissions dates were staggered and overlap occurred between at least two journals at any one time but not quite all four at once as J1 was the last one submitted, to the day after rejection by J3.
Author letters for three of the journals indicated that the Ms was not under consideration elsewhere. The author withdrew Ms from J6 without explanation. MsB is currently submitted to J7 with outcome pending this investigation. MsB was also submitted to J5 but the dates are not known and the author withdrew the Ms from this journal.
Manuscript C (MsC): MsC was simultaneously submitted to J3, J4, J6, and J8 (and possibly J5—no dates given). MsC was withdrawn from J6, J8, J5, and J4 without explanation. MsC was accepted and published as a letter by J3 in January 2006 online and in May 2006 in print. MsC was also possibly published as a full paper in J9 in June 2006. The abstract from the article in J9 is identical, apart from two sentences, to some of the text in the letter in J3 (the full paper was not available). The data presented in the abstract and letter are identical. It is suspected that this is a redundant publication.
Manuscript D (MsD): MsD was simultaneously submitted to J8, J2, and J7. J2 contacted J8 about possible duplicate submission. J8 rejected MsD based on reviewer reports and also added a note to the author informing them that there had been a report of possible duplicate submission with their Ms.
The abstract of MsD has been found to be identical to the abstract of an article published in June 2005 in J10 with the exception of two additional observations that occur in MsD. Are the authors seeking to publish a redundant publication?
The editors of all of the journals concerned would like advice on how this situation should be handled and what action should be taken. Although one journal has already chosen to ban the author from their journal for five years, is this a suitable course of action?
The committee agreed that the authors clearly knew what they were doing and could not plead ignorance. It was felt that sanctions based on submissions alone could be difficult as the authors could claim that they just wanted to submit their paper (rather than have them published) to several journals, even though the instructions to authors clearly state that duplicate submission is not acceptable. However, the committee was happy to back sanctions for those journals involved in duplicate publication of the papers.
The committee agreed that it was not sufficient to simply not publish the paper. Advice offered was to write to the authors, presenting all of the evidence, and stating that they had repeatedly been asked not to persist with this type of misconduct. The authors’ institutions should also be approached and the situation explained. It might be useful to ask the institution for an assurance that if the authors submit another paper to a journal that it has not been submitted elsewhere. The editor should also write to the authors informing them that he has written to their institutions.
The editors of the journals involved met to discuss this case. The consensus of the group was that this case definitely required action. Research by one of the journal editors had determined that there was no official institution and hence no head of department to write to concerning this matter. It was felt that a letter from all the journals that wished to participate would still be very beneficial as this would help to reinforce the fact that journals and editors do not operate in isolation. The draft letter that was taken to the meeting is to be modified and circulated. In order to prevent over reporting of a singular case, it was agreed that an editorial in all journals that wished to do so on duplicate submission, redundant publication, publishing procedures and ethics in general would be very beneficial.