An author submitted a review to journal A in February 1997. It was accepted for publication in November, after peer review. The same author submitted a review on a similar topic—sufficiently similar that there was substantial overlap of content—to journal B in September 1997. Journal B accepted it in January 1998, after peer review. Neither journal editor knew of the parallel paper.
Journal B published its review in March 1998. The editor of journal A saw this paper and contacted the author. The author claimed that during negotiations in 1997, journal A had led him to believe that his review was not acceptable for publication.He had then contacted journal B.
In January 1998,the author,realising that he should inform journal B about the paper with journal A, sent a letter to the negotiating editor explaining that there was a similar review (which he claims was enclosed) elsewhere. That letter was received and filed but not seen by an editor. There is no record of the paper having been received. The editor of journal A has now rejected the review that he had accepted. The author believes that this editor should honour his earlier decision and publish his review. The paper, he claims, is sufficiently different to merit a separate publication. What should these editors do next?
Journal B is at fault for for failing to act on receipt of the letter from the author.
The authors are also at fault for failing to tell journal B until much later.
Journal B should get an independent expert to assess the degree of overlap of the two papers first, and if found to be acceptable, contact the author apologising for the administrative error.
A paper describing an outbreak of infectious disease was submitted to three journals. The submission to one journal described the index case; the submission to another included investigation and follow up of other cases and contacts in the country where the outbreak had occurred. The third paper looked at the spread of the disease into other countries.
A considerable amount of the epidemiological data had been repeated in all three papers. Additionally, the authors did not submit copies of all three papers when making their submissions to each journal. The most important problems were the discrepancies between the papers: the nationality of the patient differed; the time of readmission differed;even the final diagnosis differed. There were also inconsistencies in the details of the secondary cases. What should the editors do?
It was noted that specialist journal editors are in a more difficult position as they are part of the “community.”
Write to the authors submitting copies of all three papers, asking for an explanation.
Write to the heads of the institutions,submitting copies of the papers,plus the correspondence and ask for an investigation to be conducted.
All three editors met up and wrote to the authors (letter signed by all three).This elicited a trenchant response and elaborate explanations. The consensus was that the institution should investigate the case further and the case was referred to the chief executive.
Two of the journals asked the chief executives of the organisations to investigate.They did, and found that things had not been done correctly. However, they did not think that any sanctions were necessary, but they revised their guidelines on authorship.
The paper discussed the use of drug X in condition Y, submitted to journal A. It is a double blind randomised controlled trial, presenting the 1 year result in 129 women. It finds that drug X helps in condition Y. The authors published a similar paper in journal B, 2 months before submission of this paper to journal A. The journal B paper studied the same question in 601 women with a 2 year follow-up. The only new feature in the journal A paper is that all the women have a level of index greater than 1 standard deviation below the mean. The journal B study included those between -2.2 and +2.0 standard deviations. There was therefore some overlap of the inclusion criteria in the two trials. The journal A paper does not make explicitly clear whether the women described form part of a subgroup of the cohort discussed in journal B. In fact, they make only passing reference to that paper, but do not discuss its relation to the paper they are submitting to journal A. The authors did not supply a copy of the journal B paper when submitting the journal A paper. What should we do now?
The two sets of data overlap and the authors have not been explicit about this. The editor was advised to go back to the authors for an explanation and seek independent assessment of the degree of overlap.
I received a letter from a reader in November 1997, pointing out that a paper published in the BMJ in 1996 was substantially the same as a paper published in another journal in 1994. We have examined both papers and discovered: (1) The papers describe the same cohort. There are the same numbers of patients, recruited in the same year; they have the same range of starting and finishing blood pressures. They are give the same drugs in the same hospital and had the same length of follow-up. The same outcomes are presented in both papers. (2) There is no lifting of text verbatim. (3) No substantially different or new material is presented in either paper in comparison with the other. A little more information on deaths and dropouts appeared in the BMJ paper in response to questions by the statistical reviewer. (3) Neither paper was referenced to the other, and the authors did not inform us of the existence of the paper in the other journal. (4) All authors signed the copyright form (5) The BMJ paper includes two authors who were not included in the other paper. This seems a very straightforward case of redundant publication. We have asked the authors for an explanation, and our expectation is that we will need to publish a notice of redundant publication. I have also written to the editor of the other journal.
The authors pleaded ignorance when challenged by the editor. This is no defence: the editor to publish a notice of redundant publication.
A paper was submitted to one journal on 7 March, revised on 20 May, submitted to another journal on 21 March, revised on 29 May, accepted on 2 July and published in December 1997. The content of both papers is identical but each has different reference styles so were clearly intended for two different journals. The submission letter to the first journal clearly states that the material has not been submitted elsewhere. What should the two editors do now?
The committee felt that this behaviour was clearly wrong. They suggested that the two editors should write initially to the authors inviting an explanation and saying that they were considering sanctions. They should invite a reply by a certain date and if they had not heard enact the sanctions. - They suggested writing to all the authors, not just the corresponding author. - Another suggestion was peer review to ensure that the two publications were duplicates. Suggested sanctions included: - A notice of duplicate publication, including details of any further sanctions. - Consider refusing to consider papers for 2 years. - Writing to the head of department/institution.
The editors of both journals simultaneously published an editorial in their May issues the following year, explaining to readers why they minded about duplicate publication. Both editors also retracted the publication and informed the author that they would not be accepting any further papers from him for 2 years. Nothing further has been heard from the author.
Dr A submitted an article to journal X that was published in 1996. Dr B wrote to the editor in January 1997, pointing out an error by Dr A. Shortly afterwards, Dr B submitted a longer editorial to the journal discussing the issue raised by this error in a much wider context. Dr B then withdrew the article and submitted it to journal Y at the end of March, with a covering letter in which he wrote: “We are unaware of any other papers that have described this problem ….The paper is not under consideration elsewhere.” At the beginning of May, journal Y sent Dr B’s article for peer review. Meanwhile, the letter from Dr B to journal X was accepted at the beginning of June. A revised paper from Dr B was returned to journal Y on 10 June. The editor wanted Dr A to reply and asked Dr B if he had objections to this. Dr B faxed back the following reply on 1 July: “Please feel free to ask Dr A to respond if you wish. We had corresponded with him when we found the error. Note, however, that we wrote a letter to the editor of X about this error and expect that he and his colleagues will respond to that.” The editor of journal Y decided not to pursue a reply from Dr A on the grounds that Dr A would eventually have a reply in journal X. On 15 July, the letter from Dr B was published in journal X, together with a strong rebuttal from Dr A. On 8 November, Dr B’s article was published in journal Y. No mention of either his letter or Dr A’s response in journal X was made, and the editor of journal Y had seen neither piece of correspondence. The editor of journal X complained to his colleagues at journal Y that this episode represented dual publication, for which he plans to publish a notice to this effect. (1) Is he right to do so? (2) What more should he do? (3) What should be the response of the editor of journal Y?
· The author should have referenced the letter and the rebuttal.
The editors of both journals should come clean and publish a notice of duplicate publication in journal Y as soon as possible.
Dr A had dealt with a rebuttal and Dr A could be invited to respond if he wishes.
The editor should tell Dr A what is being done and then get all the evidence together and tackle Dr B for not being explicit
Neither Dr A nor Dr B have responded, and this case has been left unsolved.
Seven authors sent us a paper on hospital infections in children. We sent the paper to two reviewers, one of whom sent back a detailed comparison between the paper submitted to us and a paper published in another journal in 1996. The reviewer’s comments were:
“Unfortunately, there is strong evidence that the study and its results have been published previously, comments with some further detail only provided here.” The authors did reference their previous paper in their introduction to their present paper, but did not make clear that there was substantial overlap with the previously published paper and did not send us a copy.
I have asked the authors for their comments. Assuming that the two papers do turn out to be substantially the same, should we contemplate some punishment?
We sent a paper to a reviewer, who suggested that we should reject the paper, principally because he thought it “virtually identical to a paper in press by the same authors”. We rejected the paper with these comments. The author came back to us saying that he did not believe that he had had a fair review of his paper because, he thought, the reviewer had a conflict of interest. He wrote: “The individual involved is situated in a rival institute with my department and is presently undergoing negotiation to merge his and my department. This puts us in direct conflict with each other both academically and with regard to administrative details. Therefore I do not believe we have received a non-biased review of our paper.” He also wrote: “comments on our paper, most of which were unfavourable, have been cited by this individual to other senior academics and editors of other journals.” The author did not make any response to the accusation of duplicate publication. I wrote back to this author saying that if he has correctly identified the reviewer (which seems likely), then I am disturbed that the reviewer did not declare a conflict of interest. I also asked him to respond to the point of possible redundant publication. I haven’t heard from the author. What should I do now?
The reviewer should be told of the author’s allegations. At a minimum, the reviewer should have revealed his conflict of interest and probably not have reviewed the paper. There is fault on both sides: conflict of interest and redundancy. The reviewer may simply have an interest rather than a conflict of interest. We can not go back to reviewer without the author’s permission. If the author gives it , then the editor is obliged to inform the reviewer of the allegations. Shoddy behaviour on both sides, does the editor have a responsibility or should he walk away? Conclusion It is the duty of the editor to outreach to all parties possibly at fault. Affirmative action should be taken and the obligations of both parties should be defined. (1) Follow up the accusation of redundant publication with the author. (2) If publication is redundant, the author should be reprimanded. A literature search will provide evidence of previous redundancy by the author. If he has done this before then his institution should be informed. (3) If the author gives permission, then the reviewer should be questioned about conflict of interest; without the author’s permission, this would have to be left alone. Further action The editor should write a third time to the author (the earlier letters not having been acknowledged) telling him that he can not let the matter rest. If there is still no reply then the editor should contact the reviewer requesting clarification of the evidence of redundancy.
Neither the author not the reviewer have responded, and the case remains unresolved.