Publication Ethics Research Paper

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Publication ethics as a subject is a part of a wider field called ethics in science or responsible conduct in research. Its beginnings can be traced to the nineteenth century. This field basically encompasses research ethics, research misconduct issues, and publication ethics. Although a bit different and separate from each other, these fields are intertwined. This contribution gives a historical overview of the field and highlights the main ethical issues and documents related to publication ethics.


Publication ethics is a field that emerged with the advent of science and the ethics in science. Although it seems that it is a new field, its beginnings can be traced to the nineteenth century. At first the issues surrounding publication ethics were not as prominent in public debates because the issues related to ethics of research dealing with adequate protection of research subjects and informed consent were more prominent and urgent to address. Later with the rise in publications and advent of modern scientific journals and bibliometric science and their influence on scientific advancements, the publication ethics issues became more pronounced. Nowadays, this field is a hot topic in many scientific circles. This contribution aims at presenting the development of this field and highlighting the main ethical issues in publication ethics.

History And The Development Of The Field

Publication ethics as a field is a part of wider field of ethics in science or responsible conduct in research. Ethics in science applies to all types of scientific research ranging from those using bioinformatics methods and different experimental theoretical models to those involving animals and people. This field basically encompasses research ethics, research misconduct issues, and publication ethics. Although a bit different and separate from each other, these fields are intertwined (Missa 2002). One cannot publish a good scientific paper if one has not conducted research according to ethical standards that are applicable to research on human subjects and animals, without fabricating, falsifying, or plagiarizing data and with an appropriate authorship and publication practices in place.

The first documents dealing with ethics in science and publication ethics issues can be traced to the nineteenth century. In 1830 the British mathematician and scientist Charles Babbage published an essay entitled The Decline of Science in England where he addressed the issues that are nowadays very important for publication ethics – research misconduct issues (fabrication, falsification, data manipulation). The issue of plagiarism, also an important issue when it comes to publication ethics, was reported many times through the history of science (Resnik 2014). One of the first cases happened in discovering digitalis in the eighteenth century. Withering (1741–1799), an English botanist, geologist, chemist, and physician, first noticed the use of digitalis in treating congestive heart failure in a practice of an old woman, a folk herbalist in Shropshire. This woman used a polyhedral formulation containing over 20 different ingredients. Withering deduced that digitalis was the “active” ingredient in the formulation. Over nine following years, he carefully experimented with different preparations of various parts of the plant (collected in different seasons). He documented 156 cases where he had employed digitalis, describing the effects and the best – and safest – way of using it. At least one of these cases was a patient of Darwin (1731–1802), a physician and the grandson of Charles Darwin. Darwin had asked Withering for his second opinion. In January 1785, Darwin submitted a paper entitled “An Account of the Successful Use of Foxglove in Some Dropsies and in Pulmonary Consumption” to the College of Physicians in London. A postscript at the end of the published volume of transactions containing Darwin’s paper states that “Whilst the last pages of this volume were in the press, Dr Withering of Birmingham… published a numerous collection of cases in which foxglove has been given, and frequently with good success” (Lehrer 2007). This is a very early example of medical academic plagiarism.

With the advent and the development of scientific publications and journals especially in the second half of the twentieth century, the issues of publication ethics became even more prominent because now the quality and number of publications became important for scientific and academic advancements and post obtainment. In 1981, a scientific misconduct committee found John Darsee, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, guilty of fabrication and falsifying data on 17 papers and 53 abstracts coauthored with faculty at Harvard University, Emory University, and Notre Dame University. The case raised serious questions about the responsibility of his coauthors since much of his hoaxes could have been discovered and be obvious to an expert (Resnik 2014).

Through the recent years, there have been numerous cases of research misconduct that impacted scientific journals. Nowadays, when one looks at the number of retracted papers on the web, one is amazed by the stories behind those cases.

The Council of Science Editors (CSE) is a US-based nonprofit organization that supports editorial practice among scientific writers. The organization was established in 1957 by the National Science Foundation and the American Institute of Biological Sciences as the Council of Biology Editors (CBE), being renamed as the “Council of Science Editors” in 2000. The CSE publishes a style guide for scientific papers, though it is not widely used. They also deal with publication ethics issues.

In 1978 a small group of editors of medical journals met in Vancouver, British Columbia Canada, and established the format of manuscripts that were to be submitted to their journals. The group became known as Vancouver group. The requirements for the manuscripts including the format for bibliographic Bibliography : developed by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) were published in 1979. The group later evolved into the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). The ICMJE gradually broadened the focus of their guidelines including also the publication ethics issues. The ICMJE Recommendations (full title, Recommendations for the

Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals), formerly called the Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals (abbreviated URMs and often shortened to Uniform Requirements), are a set of guidelines produced by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors for standardizing the ethics and the preparation and formatting of manuscripts submitted for publication by biomedical journals.

The European Association of Science Editors (EASE) is a nonprofit membership organization for people interested in science communication and editing. It was founded in 1982 in France. EASE now has an international membership from diverse backgrounds and professional experience. They have issued EASE Guidelines for Authors and Translators of Scientific Articles which also deal with publication ethics issues.

The World Association of Medical Editors or WAME is a nonprofit voluntary association of editors of peer-reviewed medical journals from countries throughout the world. It was established in 1995. The idea of a world association of medical editors was conceived in the early 1990s because of the concerns that the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), the Vancouver group, was too small, self-serving, and exclusive and that biomedical journal editors around the world needed help in developing high-quality, peer-reviewed journals. WAME’s resources for editors also include publication ethics policies, general resources for editors, and ethics resources. WAME’s Ethics Committee provides consultation in anonymous format for editors seeking advice on difficult ethical issues and provides an anonymized version online as an educational tool for editors. Additional consultation and discussion (in anonymous format) may be provided to the Committee on Publication Ethics which also issues written opinions.

In 1995 the National Academy of Sciences in the USA issued a document entitled On Being a Scientist Responsible Conduct in Research dealing with ethical issues in sciences and among them with publication ethics as well.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) was established in 1997 by a small group of medical journal editors in the UK but now has over 9,000 members worldwide from all academic fields. Membership is open to editors of academic journals and others interested in publication ethics. Several major publishers have signed up, some as COPE members. COPE provides advice to editors and publishers on all aspects of publication ethics and, in particular, how to handle cases of research and publication misconduct. It also provides a forum for its members to discuss individual cases. COPE does not investigate individual cases but encourages editors to ensure that cases are investigated by the appropriate authorities (usually a research institution or employer). In 1999 they have issued guidelines, in 2003 the Code of Conduct and in 2007 the Best Practice Guidelines. In 2001 they have combined all these documents in the Code of Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines for Journal Editors. The COPE Code of Conduct for Journal Editors is designed to provide a set of minimum standards to which all COPE members are expected to adhere.

Main Ethical Issues

Through different publications, journals, and books, people involved in their creation, publishers, editors, reviewers, and authors, should strive to eliminate in all their work the following problems that may arise.

Conflict Of Interest

Conflict of interests is a very important and often a debated question because it can lead to serious mistakes in research and publication of research results. It can cause harm to the subjects, raise suspicions regarding the truthfulness and credibility of results of scientific research, but also cause irreparable damage to science and its perception in public.

The conflict of interests is a situation in which financial and other hidden influences can bias professional scientific objectivity and judgment. Both individuals and institutions can be subject to the conflict of interest, but individuals can have both personal and institutional conflict of interest in certain situations. It should be stressed that conflict of interest exists regardless of its impact on decision making. Obvious conflict of interest exists in situations where a reasonable person can notice partiality in professional decision making. Potential conflict of interest exists when there is a possibility of a conflict of interest. Conflicts of interest can be touchable or untouchable. Untouchable conflict of interest is mostly related to scientific advancements which is why it is commonly referred to as academic conflict of interest. Touchable conflicts of interests are more noticeable and can be quantified and measured. Financial gain lies at the basis of most touchable conflicts of interest.

A series of guidelines and legislation concerning conflict of interest have been put in place. The US Public Health Service, which includes the NIH and National Science Foundation (NSF), created a document called “Responsibility of Applicants for Promoting Objectivity in Research.” The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), American Association of Universities (AAU), and Council on Governmental Relations (COGR) in the USA have similar sets of guidelines. Majority of prominent scientific journals demand that their authors clearly state whether the conflict of interest regarding their research exists and if so, what it is, when submitting a scientific article for publication. Same rules apply to reviewers reviewing submitted scientific papers. When accepting the scientific article for peer review, they have to report the existence of any kind of conflict of interest that might influence their peer review. It is necessary to stress that the conflict of interest does not fall under the same category of scientific misconduct as fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism.

Questions Of Cooperation, Authorship

 Cooperation and authorship are frequently debated issues in the publication ethics. Planning and financing of scientific projects, together with authorship and publication of scientific papers, often cause poor interpersonal relationships between scientists. Cooperating scientists frequently encounter problems at the beginning or at the end of the research, when deciding on parts of the scientific project that each of them will work on, their contribution to the specific research, or the order in which the names of authors should appear in a publication. That is why it is necessary to decide beforehand on the respective contributions of each participant and, according to it, on the order of the names of authors in a publication. Financial relationships between participants of a scientific cooperation should also be clearly defined. Authorship implies a significant intellectual contribution to the work, some roles in writing the manuscript and reviewing the final draft of the manuscript, but authorship roles can vary. Who will be an author and in what sequence should be determined by the participants early in the research process, to avoid disputes and misunderstandings which can delay or prevent publication of a paper.

The appearance of ghost writers, authors who write scientific papers for others without being listed as authors, is a common problem when it comes to authorship of scientific publications. Moreover, authorship is often conferred on those that did not participate in the research or made a significant contribution to the research ghost authors. Honorary authorship when authorship is granted as a favor to someone powerful or prestigious who would not have qualified for it otherwise should be discouraged. This description of author contributions should be printed with the article.


Citation of sources is also a problem. Due to its importance for scientific advancement, authors often reference their own papers without just cause in order to increase the number of their own citations. In some cases, other scientists’ results and ideas are used but not referenced, thereby creating an illusion that they are original. There are also groups of people involved in certain research coming from certain laboratories that in order to boost citation rates of their works cite each other. There are some journals who in order to boost their citation indexes ask authors who publish in their journals to cite papers form their journal even if they have no important relevance to the issues discussed in the paper nor did the authors consider them to be relevant.

Double Publication

Another issue that from time to time plagues the scientific community is the issue of double publication. Here, we have authors who usually publish a paper and then republish it again in another journal or in a book as a book chapter without mentioning that it has been already published. This usually happens when authors publish first in their own language for the local audience and then in English thinking that the first publications, because of the foreign language that not many could read and check and the low visibility of their first publication, will not be noticed. One should avoid such situations. When one is asked or wants to republish something for the second time, one should first ask the permission of the first publisher to republish, and then when republishing, clearly cite that this is a republication of an article that was already published in a certain journal or book.

Data Acquisition And Processing

Irregularities related to data acquisition and processing can cause a number of ethical problems when publishing a scientific paper. If those problems are not addressed in the right way, they may cause retraction of a scientific paper. Data should be acquired in an ethically acceptable way. That means that the correct methodology was applied, that no human or animal subjects were abused, and that data were appropriately processed. When using animal subjects, it is important to respect the three R principle (refinement, reduction, and replacement): to use the smallest number of animals necessary to confirm a scientific hypothesis, to apply sophisticated methods to additionally reduce that number when necessary, and to use other types of research such as bioinformatic models whenever possible. When creating research protocol for research on human subjects, it is important to include research types that cause least discomfort and damage to subjects without interfering with the ability of research to confirm scientific hypothesis. Minors and people with diminished legal capacity (psychiatric patients, people with dementia) should be avoided as subjects. If performed at all, research using these groups of subjects should be carefully planned and bring immediate benefit to individuals and groups used as subjects. When conducting research including humans, getting an informed consent from each human subject is crucial. Data collected in a research should be used only as results of that research for which the subjects have given their consent. If one wants to use them for other purposes, he or she has to ask for new consent from the subjects. During data acquisition, processing, and publication, the identity and privacy of subjects need to be protected. The journals usually, in order to see if the already mentioned data acquisition procedures have been scrutinized with competence, ask contributors if a research presented in a paper underwent through a review by a research ethics committee (Missa 2002).

Fabrication, Falsification, Plagiarism

Daniele Fanelli has conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of surveys asking researchers about misconduct. He was able to include 21 surveys in the systematic review and 18 in the meta-analysis and found that nearly 2 % of scientists had themselves fabricated or falsified data and a third admitted to questionable research practices. (The review does not include data on plagiarism.) When asked about other researchers, those surveyed said that 14 % had fabricated or falsified data and nearly three-quarters were guilty of questionable research practices (Fanelli 2009).

Fabrication of data is forgery of parts of research or of an entire research presented to the public. This means that the data are completely fictitious and are not gathered in any research.

Falsification of data is the act of changing the data to make them better to fit the hypothesis the author wants to confirm or refute.

Plagiarism is the use of another author’s data, results, language, thoughts, or ideas and their representation as one’s own without crediting their true source.

Self-plagiarism refers to the practice of an author using portions of their previous writings on the same topic in another of their publications, without specifically citing it formally in quotes. This practice is widespread and sometimes unintentional, as there are only so many ways to say the same thing on many occasions, particularly when writing the methods section of an article (Borovecki and Lackovic 2014).

Inappropriate Behavior In Relation To Misconduct

This includes unfounded or knowingly false accusations of misconduct, failure to report known or suspected misconduct, withholding or destruction of information relevant to a claim of misconduct, and retaliation against persons involved in the allegation or investigation.

Peer Review

Good-quality peer review is fundamental to the scientific publication process and the dissemination of sound science. Peer reviewers are experts chosen by editors to provide written assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of written research. Their aim is improving the reporting of research and identifying the most appropriate and highest quality material for the journal. Reviewers selected for the journal should be required to meet minimum standards (determined by each journal). Their background in original research, publication of articles, formal training, and previous critical appraisal of manuscripts should be taken into account. Peer reviewers should be experts in the scientific topic addressed in the articles they review and should be selected for their objectivity and scientific knowledge. Individuals who do not have such expertise should not be reviewers. Individuals who have a major competing interest in the subject of the article (e.g., those working for a company whose product was tested, its competitors, those with special political or ideological agendas, etc.) should not review it. Reviews should be professional, honest, courteous, prompt, and constructive. Reviewer’s quality and other performance characteristics should be periodically assessed to assure optimal journal performance. Individual performance data must be confidential. These performance measures should also be used to assess changes in process that might improve journal performance (Publication Ethics Policies for Medical Journals, the WAME Publication Ethics Committee).

Good Editorial Practice

Good editors will base their decisions about a manuscript on its importance, originality, clarity, and relevance to the journal’s scope and content. They will also take into consideration studies with negative results despite adequate power or those challenging previously published work (Publication Ethics Policies for Medical Journals, the WAME Publication Ethics Committee).


In this overview, we tried to present the basic ethical problems of publication ethics. Science has always been considered as one of the most creative areas of human activity, the one leading to human progress. However, modern science oftentimes develops reductionist methodology, abandons an integral perspective of the world, and turns toward the pure aspects of knowledge. That perspective of the world can cause some problems. Scientists should not forget that science is firmly connected to the environment they live in and that only the science that takes into consideration its own influence on the world around is a true alternative to the reductionist value vacuum.

Bibliography :

  1. Ana, J., Koehlmoos, T., Smith, R., & Yan, L. L. (2013). Research misconduct in lowand middle-income countries. PLoS Medicine, 10(3), e1001315. doi:10.1371/ journal.pmed.1001315.
  2. Borovecki, A., & Lackovic, Z. (2014). Responsible conduct in research. Zagreb: School of Medicine, University of Zagreb.
  3. Fanelli, D. (2009). How many scientists fabricate and falsify research? A systematic review and metaanalysis of survey data. PLoS One, 4(5), e5738. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005738.
  4. Lehrer, S. (2007). The flower of English Medicine. In S. Lehrer (Ed) Explorers of the Body. Lincoln: IUniverse.
  5. Missa, J. N. (2002). The duty to experiment: Ethics of experimentation on humans. In R. K. Lie & P. T. Schotsmans (Eds.), Healthy thoughts: European perspectives on health care ethics (pp. 137–170). Leuven/Paris/Sterling: Peters.
  6. Resnik, D. B. (2014). Scientific misconduct and research integrity. In H. A. M. J. ten Have & B. Gordijn (Eds.), Handbook of global bioethics (pp. 799–810). Dordrecht: Springer.
  7. Responsible conduct of research Columbia University. Last accessed 7 July 2014.
  8. Code of Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines for Journal Editors. COPE. Last accessed 7 July 2014. On Being a Scientist Responsible Conduct in Research.
  9. National Academy of Sciences. http://www.fer.unizg. hr/_download/repository/09_-_On_being_a_Scientist_-_Ethics.pdf. Last accessed 7 July 2014.
  10. WAME Publication Ethics Policies for Medical Journals. org/resources/publication-ethics-policies-for-medicaljournals. Last accessed 7 July 2014.

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