Publication ethics

Ethical standards for publication exist to ensure high-quality scientific publications, public trust in scientific findings, and that people receive credit for their ideas. It is important to avoid:

  • Data fabrication and falsification:

Data fabrication means the researcher did not actually do the study, but faked the data. Data falsification means the researcher did the experiment, but then changed some of the data.

  • Plagiarism:

Taking the ideas and work of other scientists without giving them credit is unfair and dishonest. Copying even one sentence from someone else’s manuscript, or even one of your own that has previously been published, without proper citation is considered plagiarism—use your own words instead.

  • Multiple submissions:

It is unethical to submit the same manuscript to more than one journal at the same time. Doing this wastes the time of editors and peer reviewers, and can damage the reputation of the authors and the journals if published in more than one journal as the later publication will have to be retracted.

  • Redundant publications (or ‘salami’ publications):

This means publishing many very similar manuscripts based on the same experiment. Combining your results into one very robust paper is more likely to be of interest to a selective journal. Editors are likely to reject a weak paper that they suspect is a result of salami slicing.

  • Improper author contribution or attribution:

All listed authors must have made a significant scientific contribution to the research in the manuscript and approved all its claims. Don’t forget to list everyone who made a significant scientific contribution, including students and laboratory technicians. Do not “gift” authorship to those who did not contribute to the paper. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors has detailed guidelines on authorship that are useful for scientists in all fields: International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.

Many journals have tools and processes in place to identify researchers that engage in unethical behavior. If you are caught your manuscript may be rejected without review and your institution informed.

Click to download the 'Submitting your manuscript: Cheat Sheet.'