Obligation to publish negative studies
Editors will consider seriously for publication any carefully done study of an important question, relevant to their readers, whether the results are negative or positive to avoid publication bias. Many studies that purport to be negative are, in fact, inconclusive; publication of inconclusive studies is problematic, since they add little to biomedical knowledge and consume journal resources. The Cochrane Library may be interested in publishing inconclusive trials.
Corrections, retractions and “expressions of concern”
Editors assume initially that authors are reporting work based on honest observations. Nevertheless, two types of difficulty may arise.
First, errors may be noted in published articles that require the publication of a correction or erratum of part of the work. The corrections will appear on a numbered page, be listed in the contents page, include the complete original citation, and link to the original article and vice versa if online. It is conceivable that an error could be so serious as to vitiate the entire body of the work, but this is unlikely and will be handled by editors and authors on an individual basis. Such an error will not be confused with inadequacies exposed by the emergence of new scientific information in the normal course of research. The latter require no corrections or withdrawals.
The second type of difficulty is scientific fraud. If substantial doubts arise about the honesty or integrity of work, either submitted or published, it is the editor’s responsibility to ensure that the question is appropriately pursued, usually by the authors’ sponsoring institution. However, it is not ordinarily the task of editors to conduct a full investigation or to make a determination; that responsibility lies with the institution where the work was done or with the funding agency. The editor should be promptly informed of the final decision, and if a fraudulent paper has been published, the journal will print a retraction. If this method of investigation does not result in a satisfactory conclusion, the editor may choose to conduct his or her own investigation.
As an alternative to retraction, the editor may choose to publish an expression of concern about aspects of the conduct or integrity of the work. The retraction or expression of concern, so labeled, will appear on a numbered page in a prominent section of the print journal as well as in the online version, be listed in the contents page, and include in its heading the title of the original article. Ideally, the first author should be the same in the retraction as in the article, although under certain circumstances the editor may accept retractions by other responsible persons. The text of the retraction should explain why the article is being retracted and include a full original citation reference to it. The validity of previous work by the author of a fraudulent paper cannot be assumed. Editors may ask the author’s institution to assure them of the validity of earlier work published in their journals or to retract it. If this is not done editors may choose to publish an announcement expressing concern that the validity of previously published work is uncertain.
Most journals will not consider manuscripts that are simultaneously being considered by other journals. Among the principal considerations that have led to this policy are: (1) the potential for disagreement when two (or more) journals claim the right to publish a manuscript that has been submitted simultaneously to more than one; and (2) the possibility that two or more journals will unknowingly and unnecessarily undertake the work of peer review and editing of the same manuscript, and publish same article. However, editors of different journals may decide to simultaneously or jointly publish an article if they believe that doing so would be in the best interest of the public’s health.
Redundant (or duplicate) publication is publication of a paper that overlaps substantially with one already published in print or electronic media. Readers of primary source periodicals, whether print or electronic, deserve to be able to trust that what they are reading is original unless there is a clear statement that the article is being republished by the choice of the author and editor. The bases of this position are international copyright laws, ethical conduct, and cost-effective use of resources. Duplicate publication of original research is particularly problematic, since it can result in inadvertent double counting or inappropriate weighting of the results of a single study, which distorts the available evidence.
Most journals do not wish to receive papers on work that has already been reported in large part in a published article or is contained in another paper that has been submitted or accepted for publication elsewhere, in print or in electronic media. This policy does not preclude the journal considering a paper that has been rejected by another journal, or a complete report that follows publication of a preliminary report, such as an abstract or poster displayed at a professional meeting. Nor does it prevent the Journal considering a paper that has been presented at a scientific meeting but not published in full or that is being considered for publication in a proceedings or similar format. Press reports of scheduled meetings will not usually be regarded as breaches of this rule, but additional data or copies of tables and illustrations should not amplify such reports.
When submitting a paper, the author must always make a full statement to the editor about all submissions and previous reports that might be regarded as redundant or duplicate publication of the same or very similar work. The author must alert the editor if the manuscript includes subjects about which the authors have published a previous report or have submitted a related report to another publication. Any such report must be referred to and referenced in the new paper. Copies of such material should be included with the submitted paper to help the editor decide how to handle the matter.
If redundant or duplicate publication is attempted or occurs without such notification, authors should expect editorial action to be taken. At the least, prompt rejection of the submitted manuscript should be expected. If the editor was not aware of the violations and the article has already been published, then a notice of redundant or duplicate publication will probably be published with or without the author’s explanation or approval.
Acceptable secondary publication
Certain types of articles, such as guidelines produced by governmental agencies and professional organizations, may need to reach the widest possible audience. In such instances, editors sometimes choose deliberately to publish material that is also being published in other journals, with the agreement of the authors and the editors of those other journals. Secondary publication for various other reasons, in the same or another language, especially in other countries, is justifiable, and can be beneficial, provided all of the following conditions are met.
The authors have received approval from the editors of both journals; the editor concerned with secondary publication must have a photocopy, reprint, or manuscript of the primary version.
The priority of the primary publication is respected by a publication interval of at least one week (unless specifically negotiated otherwise by both editors).
The paper for secondary publication is intended for a different group of readers; an abbreviated version could be sufficient.
The secondary version faithfully reflects the data and interpretations of the primary version.
The footnote on the title page of the secondary version informs readers, peers, and documenting agencies that the paper has been published in whole or in part and states the primary reference. A suitable footnote might read: “This article is based on a study first reported in the [title of journal, with full reference].” Permission for such secondary publication should be free of charge.
The title of the secondary publication should indicate that it is a secondary publication (complete republication, abridged republication, complete translation, or abridged translation) of a primary publication. Of note, the National Library of Medicine does not consider translations to be “republications,” and does not cite or index translations when the original article was published in a journal that is indexed in MEDLINE.
Competing Manuscripts Based on the Same Study
Publication of manuscripts to air co-investigators disputes may waste journal space and confuse readers. On the other hand, if editors knowingly publish a manuscript written by only some of a collaborating team, they could be denying the rest of the team their legitimate co authorship rights; they could also be denying the journal’s readers access to legitimate differences of opinion about the interpretation of a study.
Two kinds of competing submissions are considered: submissions by coworkers who disagree on the analysis and interpretation of their study, and submissions by coworkers who disagree on what the facts are and which data should be reported. Setting aside the unresolved question of ownership of the data, the following general observations may help understand these problems.
Differences in Analysis or Interpretation
If the dispute centers on the analysis or interpretation of data, the authors should submit a manuscript that clearly presents both versions. The difference of opinion should be explained in a cover letter. The normal process of peer and editorial review of the manuscript may help the authors to resolve their disagreement regarding analysis or interpretation.
If the dispute cannot be resolved and the study merits publication, both versions will be published. Options include publishing two papers on the same study, or a single paper with two analyses or interpretations. In such cases it is likely that we will publish a statement outlining the disagreement and the Journal’s involvement in attempts to resolve it.
Differences in reported methods or results
If the dispute centers on differing opinions of what was actually done or observed during the study, the journal editor will refuse publication until the disagreement is resolved. Peer review cannot be expected to resolve such problems. If there are allegations of dishonesty or fraud, editors will inform the appropriate authorities; authors should be notified of an editor’s intention to report a suspicion of research misconduct.
Competing Manuscripts Based on the Same Database
Editors sometimes receive manuscripts from separate research groups that have analyzed the same data set, e.g., from a public database. The manuscripts may differ in their analytic methods, conclusions, or both. Each manuscript should be considered separately. Where interpretations of the same data are very similar, it is reasonable but not necessary for editors to give preference to the manuscript that was received earlier. However, editorial consideration of multiple submissions may be justified in this circumstance, and there may even be a good reason for publishing more than one manuscript because different analytical approaches may be complementary and equally valid.
Journals should provide its readership with a mechanism for submitting comments, questions, or criticisms about published articles, as well as brief reports and commentary unrelated to previously published articles. This will likely, but not necessarily, takes the form of a correspondence section or column. The authors of articles discussed in correspondence should be given an opportunity to respond, preferably in the same issue in which the original correspondence appears. Authors of correspondence are asked to declare any competing or conflicting interests.
Published correspondence may be edited for length, grammatical correctness, and journal style. Authors should approve editorial changes that alter the substance or tone of a letter or response.
Although editors have the prerogative to sift out correspondence material that is irrelevant, uninteresting, or lacking in cogency, they have a responsibility to allow a range of opinion to be expressed. The correspondence column will not be used merely to promote the Journal’s, or the editors’, point of view. In all instances, editors must make an effort to screen out discourteous, inaccurate, or libelous statements, and should not allow ad hominem arguments intended to discredit opinions or findings.