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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 64  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 3-5
Publication ethics: An important key for a successful and effective publication

MD; FIC Path; MIAC, DHA, Professor, Department of Pathology, Rohilkhand Medical College and Hospital, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, India

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Date of Submission28-Nov-2020
Date of Decision01-Dec-2020
Date of Acceptance03-Dec-2020
Date of Web Publication8-Jan-2021

How to cite this article:
Agrawal R. Publication ethics: An important key for a successful and effective publication. Indian J Pathol Microbiol 2021;64:3-5

How to cite this URL:
Agrawal R. Publication ethics: An important key for a successful and effective publication. Indian J Pathol Microbiol [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Jul 5];64:3-5. Available from: https://www.ijpmonline.org/text.asp?2021/64/1/3/306494

There are multiple steps in the publication cycle to be taken care of, one of which is considering ethical factors before submission of the manuscript. There are various forms of unethical practices that authors may resort to, sometimes intentionally and sometimes accidentally. Being aware of these publication ethics helps the authors to avoid such misconducts and submit honest and ethical publications. It prevents the article to be rejected and also saves the authors from embarrassments. This editorial insight is to generate awareness among the authors, reviewers, and the editorial team about the possible sources of errors and also as to how this information may help in preventing the mistakes to occur.

The different steps involved during publication include framing of the study design, conduction of the study, data collection and analysis, and finally drafting the article for publication. Ethical code of conduct is laid down for the researchers at all the steps. Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) is an international platform for the editors and publishers of peer-reviewed journals providing the “code of conduct” and “best practice guidelines” related to publication ethics. Also, there exist guidelines for the editors on dealing with incidents of publication misconduct.[1],[2] [Table 1] enlists all the significant areas where publication ethics need to be taken care of.{Table 1}

Before starting a study it is vital to seek permission from the place of work, that is, the institution where the study would be conducted. Now all the institutions have an ethical committee which after looking into all the aspects grants their permission to conduct the study and also publish the data thus obtained. Before commencing a registered clinical trial it is mandatory to get approval from the Clinical Trials Registry of India. Informed consent should be obtained from all the study participants. The submitted article contains personal medical information about an identifiable living individual so it requires a written consent from the patient or their relatives. The consent form should include the rights of the patients written in a clear language understandable by them. For a deceased or untraceable individual, if the consent cannot be obtained then publication can be carried out with the information anonymized. Anonymization means that neither the relatives nor anyone else can decipher the identity of the patient. The consent form may be asked by the journal for cross-checking at any point of time. The form should be maintained for a minimum of 5 years even after the completion of the study.[3],[4]

When the result and conclusions mentioned in the manuscript are not generated by the study it is termed as 'fabrification' or when they are generated by manipulation of the data with the intention of providing a wrong impression it is termed as “falsification.” These publication frauds are applicable both to data as well as the images. Manipulation refers to removal of “inconvenient” results, altering, adding or omitting data, adjusting the brightness, contrast or color balance of the whole or part of the image or else photoshopping the image. Editors or reviewers may ask the authors to disclose the raw datasheets at all times to confirm or refute any suspicion related to data errors. Hence, all the working sheet should be preserved for a reasonably long period.[5]

The use of previously published work by another author in one's own manuscript without their consent, credit, or acknowledgment and stating––as if the work was carried out by them is referred to as “plagiarism.” This is the commonest type of scientific misconduct. Plagiarism can be of two types (a) 'Major' in which there is use of large portions of text and/or data, (b) 'Minor' where copying of short phrases occurs mainly in the discussion part of the article without any data manipulation. Paraphrasing, recycling, or self-plagiarism is when an author uses the same text in multiple papers without citation of the previous work. Another significant offense “salami slicing,” is when the data or study is divided into multiple parts and sent for the publication. Submitting a manuscript with the same hypotheses, data, discussion, and/or conclusion matter as a previously published manuscript is termed as duplicate publication. This is similar to plagiarism, but instead of copying phrases verbatim, the same data, images, and study hypothesis are replicated in the form of a new article. Publication of a separate confirmatory study excluding previously published data and with a larger sample size does not amount to duplicate publication, even though the study hypothesis may remain the same. Publications in regional journals or non-English journals are most commonly used for duplicate publications by authors. Plagiarism detection software are available that can be used to detect such misconducts.[6]

COPE has laid down clear guidelines on the steps to be undertaken to tackle plagiarism when it is detected in the review phase or after publication. COPE advises that the matter of punishment should be decided upon by the author's institute. University Grants Commission (UCG) has prepared a proposal to consider plagiarism as a legal offense in India. Even, International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), World Association of Medical Editors (WAME), and Council of Science Editors (CSE) have framed proper guidelines for all publishing misconducts.[7] The Editor-in-Chief or the Editorial Board has the right to decline to review or accept papers from these authors and write to the concerned institute as well.

Submitting the same manuscript to multiple journals at the same time thinking of having an acceptance from anyone of them is another important issue. It is an unethical practice, and the worst scenario is when the manuscript is subsequently accepted and published by more than one journal leading to the state of confusion as to retract which one and how to inform the Editor about this. The best way is to submit the manuscript to one journal and wait for a decision and after rejection or withdrawal from it, submit it to another journal. At this point of time, I wish to clarify that submitting or presenting a paper at a scientific conference does not prevent the authors from submitting the same paper for publication to a peer-reviewed journal. However, at the time of submission a declaration to this effect must be given mentioning the details of the presentation. An author has the right to withdraw a manuscript during the review process. Self–citation is usually a phenomenon when the reviewers or editorial board members enforce upon the authors or the authors themselves cite their previously published work in the papers that are out of context to the present theme. Ultimately the authors are held responsible for this scientific misconduct.[5],[6]

All persons designated as authors should qualify for authorship, based on their substantial contribution in the study either in the conception, designing, data acquisition, statistical analysis, or interpretation; should have drafted or revised the article for its scientific and intellectual content and/or approved the final version of the manuscript.[3] The extent of involvement of each author should decide their placement order in the manuscript. Any dispute or misunderstanding regarding authorship issues should be sorted out at the time of commencement of the study, or before submission for publication. At times we receive requests from individuals stating that they had contributed significantly to the manuscript but were not included in the author list. Such matter should be solved at the author level or by their institutional ethical committee. It is not the role of an Editor to judge these disputes, but they can only communicate the outcome.[3]

Three major types of author misconduct include ghost, gifted, or guest authorships. Ghost authors are usually paid authors who contribute substantially towards the making of the paper but are not included in the authorship list nor are acknowledged in the submitted manuscript. Gift authorship refers to those included in the list of authors simply due to an affiliation to an institute where the research was conducted. It is usually implied for heads of departments or institution even without their contribution to the study. Guest authorship is usually provided to individuals whose presence as one of the author significantly improves the chances of acceptance of the manuscript. Changes in the list of authors either as addition or removal after acceptance or sometimes after publication can be considered only if all the coauthors agree to this amendment and have individually signed the requisition sent to the editorial office. However, ever since the erstwhile Medical Council of India did set the promotion criteria on the basis of authorship there were several such requests received by us. At the time of article submission some other authors were placed at the first two positions but after acceptance request for a change in either the order or addition of new authors poured in. It is at the discretion of the Editor-in-Chief to accept or reject their requests depending on the merit of the case.[3]

Conflicts or competing of interest (COI) include financial, personal, social, or other factors that directly or indirectly influence the decision of the particular manuscript under consideration. Failure to disclose such hidden interests severely affects the outcome.[8] Direct conflict of interest occurs when the author is an employee, a supplier, or own patent of the product such as drug, or device highlighted in the article. Indirect conflict arises when the author receives any honorarium or research grant. Personal interests could be due to being a friend, family member, or relative of the author or co-authors or due to the same ideology or thought process following political or religious reasons. COI does not always stop work from being published or prevent someone from being involved in the review process. However, they must be declared. If COI are detected after publication of the article, this may be embarrassing for the authors and may require a corrigendum or reassessment of the review process. Authors and reviewers should declare all COI relevant to the work under consideration (i.e., relationships, both financial and personal, that might interfere with the interpretation of the work) or may lead to any bias.

There are clear guidelines on steps to be taken by the Editorial team when each of the above-mentioned misconduct is detected. It may include in contacting the authors and informing them that their misconduct has been identified. If the authors acknowledge and accept their fault, the paper may be rejected and the higher authorities in the authors' institution be informed. If the paper is already published, authors are provided with an opportunity of self-confession in the form of an erratum in the journal. If the misconduct is major and confirmed then the editor has the right to revoke the paper and the authors can be blacklisted by the journal. Also this information can be passed on to COPE so that all the other member journals are also informed about the misdeed of the authors and co-authors. If authors deny their misconduct, editors can take cognizance and appropriate action as per the guidelines set forth. Authors can be questioned by the ethics committee of their institutions and suitable punishment can be handed out as per the standard operating procedures laid down by them. At the time of submitting a manuscript most journals seek a written undertaking from the authors that the manuscript is original, not being considered for publication by any other scientific journal and has been approved by all co-authors and responsible authorities at the concerned institute or organization. Even it should be stated that the order of authorship has been consented by all concerned.[7],[9]

All manuscripts undergo a peer-review process and are expected to meet high standards. All sources must be cited at the point they are used, and reuse of wording must be minimal with proper attribution or citation. Errors can occur following negligence especially during statistical calculations or even some errors as a part of the conduction of research. I am sure that this write-up would help in giving an idea to the authors, reviewers, and editorial board members about fair publication ethics and thus reduce hassles during manuscript submission.

   References Top

Wager E. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE): Objectives and achievements 1997-2012. Presse Med 2012;41:861-6.  Back to cited text no. 1
COPE. Code of conduct and best practice guidelines for journal editors. Available from: http://publicationethics.org/files/Codeofconductforjournaleditors1.pdf.  Back to cited text no. 2
Available from: http://www.publicationethics.org. [Last accessed on 2017 Jun 07].  Back to cited text no. 4
Fanelli D. How many scientists fabricate and falsify research? A systematic review and meta––analysis of survey data. PLoS One 2009;4:e5738.  Back to cited text no. 5
Agrawal R. Plagiarism. Indian J Pathol Microbiol 2020;63:175-6.  Back to cited text no. 6
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
Das KK, Vallabha T, Ray J, Murthy PS. Conflict of interest-serious issue on publication ethics for Indian medical journals. J Nepal Med Assoc 2013;52:357-60.  Back to cited text no. 8
Wager E, Barbour V, Yentis S, Kleinert S. Retractions: Guidance from the Committee on publication ethics. Croat Med J 2009;50:532-5.  Back to cited text no. 9

Correspondence Address:
Ranjan Agrawal
MD; FIC Path; MIAC, DHA, Professor, Department of Pathology, Rohilkhand Medical College and Hospital, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/IJPM.IJPM_1375_20

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