Publication facilitates the open exchange of information among researchers and exposes findings and methods to the scrutiny of the community. It also documents who is first with new ideas or discoveries, shows productive use of research funds, and provides a record by which a research career can be judged. In academic life, it is said that one must 'publish or perish.' Publication has a prominent role in advancement, promotion, and continued research funding. Therefore, it is central to many discussions about responsible conduct of research. Other than copyright law and federal definitions of research misconduct, nearly all aspects of authorship and publication are covered only by discipline-specific guidelines and unwritten standards, the depth and scope of which are quite variable.
Principles of Publication
- Research is not complete until it has been reported. Published reports, and other formal documentation, are the necessary first step in the dialog with other researchers about the approach and significance of the work.
- Publication is not merely a matter of credit. Publications should present some substantive and new result or analysis, and should not merely serve to increase the author's number of publications.
- The author is ultimately responsible for the integrity of published research. Although errors can occur, authors should endeavor to publish an accurate, complete, and unbiased representation of their work, regardless of intent.
Extensive international and U.S. copyright laws regulate protection for writings such as research publications. For most published articles and book chapters, authors are required to transfer the copyright to the publisher. In practice, this means that authors of a published paper are in violation of federal law, not just ethical standards, if they attempt to re-publish without first getting permission from the copyright holder, the publisher.
Contribution to the literature
A researcher's reputation is largely based on the quality of published work, as opposed to the quantity of publications. Dividing research findings into the smallest publishable units works against the interest of the research community, and should therefore be avoided. Each publication should represent new and substantial findings.
Publication of data in more than one location gives findings more visibility, but it may also mislead readers into believing that the publications represent distinct data sets. Any data set, either in whole or in part, should not be published twice without making explicitly clear which of the data have been published previously, as well as where and when the work was published.
For the submission of papers, most journals require that the work not be submitted simultaneously elsewhere for consideration. Submission of a paper is tantamount to provisionally giving the selected journal copyright to the work, and it initiates considerable expense of time and effort in reviewing the manuscript. Only when an article has been rejected by or withdrawn from consideration in one journal may it be submitted elsewhere.
However, some exceptions to the injunction against redundant publication may be justified. It's acceptable to publish a paper that was published previously only as an abstract, although authors should disclose the prior publication and avoid the suggestion that the two represent distinct results.
In some circumstances, the case can be made that two completely different audiences can be reached only by separate publications. For example, a work may warrant publication in two different languages. Even in such cases, however, the editor and the publisher for both papers must approve the arrangement.
In all forms, plagiarism represents serious research misconduct. Even with proper citation, repeating the words and/or research methods of other authors is constrained by the fair use provisions of copyright. To use the words or research methods of another author, either clearly state the original work or else reproduce the original publication text with well-cited attribution to the original author.
It should never be assumed that is is acceptable to take credit for words written by someone else. This issue becomes particularly important when a manuscript is co-authored. Opinions about the extent to which collective ownership of jointly-written materials varies. Therefore, it is essential to clearly document the terms of ownership before any collaboration begins.
Just as a thorough reference search is the foundation for responsible research, appropriate reference citation is the foundation of responsible reporting. Because future readers will rely on the references listed, an author has the responsibility to ensure the accuracy of each citation.
Usually, readers will not have access to the raw data a researcher has used to test hypotheses. Therefore, they will rely on the results of the author's statistical analyses to reach relevant conclusions. It is essential that authors not only design and analyze experiments appropriately, but also that they clearly and openly describe their methods.
Errata, corrections, and retractions
The decision to submit a correction or retraction is not an easy choice to make. However, admitting error is typically perceived as a sign of concern for the highest standards in research. Conversely, failure to admit to an error can be devastating if the problem with the manuscript is first discovered by others. Rapid correction of misleading or mistaken information is the only course of action that preserves the integrity of the researcher.
If errors are discovered after a manuscript has been published, then the authors should decide on a response based on the significance of the error. The following processes are recommended:
- For minor errors discovered in the manuscript, submit a letter describing the errors to the journal that published the article.
- For unintentional errors that are significant enought to undermine a portion of the report, submit a letter to the journal explaining the errors as a correction to the publication.
- For unintentional errors of such a magnitude as to invalidate or seriouly jeopardize the entire report, retract the paper by contacting the editor of the publication.