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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-3

Ethical issues while reporting in scientific journals

Department of Orthopedics, University College of Medical Sciences and GTB Hospital, Delhi, India

Date of Submission08-Jan-2020
Date of Acceptance08-Jan-2020
Date of Web Publication05-Feb-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Manish Chadha
Prof. Dr. Manish Chadha, Department of Orthopedics, University College of Medical Sciences and GTB Hospital, Delhi 110095.
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/isj.isj_2_20

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How to cite this article:
Chadha M, Jain AK. Ethical issues while reporting in scientific journals. Indian Spine J 2020;3:1-3

How to cite this URL:
Chadha M, Jain AK. Ethical issues while reporting in scientific journals. Indian Spine J [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Jan 23];3:1-3. Available from: https://www.isjonline.com/text.asp?2020/3/1/1/277800

The literal meaning of Ethics defines it as the study of what is right and wrong in human behavior. In other words, it incorporates the beliefs about what is morally correct or acceptable and is defined as a moral philosophy or code of morals practiced by a person or a group of people. This becomes very important especially in scientific endeavors as being fair, honest, and ethical is one of the basic human needs. As doctors, we need to be guided by our oath that we took upon graduation from medical school, and by the Hippocratic Oath.[1]

An ethical manuscript should be free of unethical research and devoid of any form of plagiarism, duplicate publication, ghost authorship, copyright infringement, any form of bias or conflict of interest, fabrication or falsification.[2] Ethical issues arising in publication can be intentional due to some benefits or accidental due to ignorance. Neither of these can be acceptable excuses.

Medical profession is a noble profession based on trust and integrity and the onus lies with us to uphold these tenants. Medical research directly and indirectly affects human life, hence it is important that highest standards of professional conduct be maintained. This editorial is aimed at sensitizing the researcher on ethical issues and their impact.

  Plagiarism Top

Plagiarism has been traditionally defined as stealing and publishing someone’s idea, thought, language, or expression as one’s own original work.[3] The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has defined plagiarism as “the unreferenced use of others’ published and unpublished ideas ...”[4] Quoting one’s own earlier published work also is not acceptable as it qualifies as self-plagiarism unless requisite permission for the same has been obtained before publication. Editors cannot and should not accept plagiarism and if found guilty of the same it may lead to retraction of an article or worse—debarring of the author(s) for any subsequent submissions. Nowadays commercial software (e.g., iThenticate[5] and Turnitin[6]) are available to guide authors and editors to check for plagiarism before submission/publication. The younger authors need to be educated by the more experienced and senior authors regarding the issue. In case such a misconduct comes to light, then it is the principle authors’ responsibility and may have serious consequences, including reprimanding, retraction, and debarment from future submissions.

Unfortunately in this era of advanced communication and networking, the incidences of plagiarism are on the rise. On the other hand, online tools have also evolved to better detect plagiarism.

  Duplicate Publication Top

Submission or publication of a manuscript by two journals that are identical or overlap substantially with or without acknowledgment to another are called duplicate publications.[7] At the outset, the authors have to give an undertaking that the manuscript being submitted has not been previously published or under consideration by any other journal. Duplicate publications are usually done to increase the number of publications and it results in superfluous reporting of the same data, wasting time of the reviewers and valuable space of published scientific data. Sometimes using the same data, multiple articles are submitted and is called “Salami slicing”.[8] One needs to be aware that duplicate publications and “Salami slicing” result in skewed meta-analysis data and corrupts the authentic scientific literature, and hence need to be condemned. The primary purpose of medical research is to improve prophylactic, diagnostic, and therapeutic procedures and the understanding of the etiology and pathogenesis of disease and one needs to respect that by being ethical.[9],[10]

  Ghost Authorship Top

The World Association of Medical Editors has defined three components required for authorship, namely:

  • i. intellectual contribution to the study;

  • ii. contribution to the writing; and

  • iii. contribution to the final approval of the manuscript as written.[2],[11]

When an individual has not been a party to the aforementioned components but still his/her name is included in the authors list, it is ghost authorship and qualifies as publication/scientific misconduct. This kind of unethical conduct has been reported commonly in clinical trials conducted by medical drug/device companies.

Although it is unethical to include an author who has not intellectually contributed, it is equally unethical to leave out an author who has made a significant contribution to the manuscript.[2]

  Copyright Infringement Top

The copyright of any published article lies with the publisher even though the authors own the right to the reported data set. Hence, even the authors need to obtain necessary permission to reproduce their own manuscript, either in part or full, in any language and any violation of the same is an infringement of copyright laws. Needless to say one needs to obtain permission from the publishers for reproducing any image or text from any published article and the same needs to be acknowledged in the manuscript submitted for publication.

  Conflict of Interest and Bias Top

With the increasing use of medical devices and equipment, especially in spine surgery, and the association of surgeons as consultants for industry, there is a need for the authors to faithfully declare any such conflict of interest. This provides the readers with a balanced perspective and they can judiciously interpret the results of any scientific work using their own wisdom. Having an association as described earlier does not imply scientific misconduct, but failure to report such associations is and may be interpreted as being due to malafide intention and construed as scientific misconduct.

  Fabrication and Falsification Top

Fabrication of data is a recording of fictitious data when none exists and falsification is the manipulation of data or experimental procedures to produce a desirous outcome or to avoid a complicating or inexplicable result.[7] A pooled average of 1.97% researchers admitted to have fabricated, falsified, or modified data or results at least once and up to 33.7% admitted questionable research practices. For other colleagues, this figure rose to 14.12% for falsification and up to 72% for questionable research.[12] The conclusions drawn on the basis of such studies may affect future clinical practice and when such studies are brought to light, doubts arise in the mind of the public at large on medical practice and research.

On the basis of the type of research, there are a number of broad consensus statements such as Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT statement) for randomized controlled trials, Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA statement), and Strengthening the Reporting of Observational studies in Epidemiology (STROBE statement) for observational studies, which researchers can utilize as templates not only to increase their chances of publication but also to avoid any ethical misconduct.[13],[14],[15]

The vast majority of medical professionals are true to our chosen profession. This is precisely why any actions that may compromise this truth must be dealt with swiftly and fairly. It is the responsibility of us all to be aware of potentially compromising ethical situations, and to continue our own practices bearing these issues in mind. Only then will we be able to contribute to the joy of formulating new knowledge.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Greek Medicine. Available from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/greek/greek_oath.html. [Last accessed on 2020 Jan 06].  Back to cited text no. 1
Lamk Al L. Ethics in scientific publication: Plagiarism and other scientific misconduct. Oman Med J 2013;28:379-81.  Back to cited text no. 2
Mandal J, Ponnambath DK, Parija SC. Ethics of scientific publication. Trop Parasitol 2016;6:100-2.  Back to cited text no. 3
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
COPE. Promoting integrity in scholarly research and its publication. Available from: http://publicationethics.org [Last accessed on 2020 Jan 06].  Back to cited text no. 4
Available from: http://www.iThenticate.com [Last accessed on 2020 Jan 06].  Back to cited text no. 5
Available from:https://www.turnitin.com/. [Last accessed on 2020 Jan 06].  Back to cited text no. 6
Jain AK. Ethical issues in scientific publication. Indian J Orthop 2010;44:235-7.  Back to cited text no. 7
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
Spielmans GI, Biehn TL, Sawrey DL. A case study of salami slicing: Pooled analyses of duloxetine for depression. Psychother Psychosom 2010;79:97-106.  Back to cited text no. 8
Dhammi IK, Ul Haq R. Ethics of medical research and publication. Indian J Orthop 2017;51:1-3.  Back to cited text no. 9
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
World Medical Association. World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki: Ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects. JAMA 2013;310:2191-4.  Back to cited text no. 10
World Association of Medical Editors (WAME). Publication Ethics Policies for Medical Journals. Available from: http://www.wame.org/resources/publication-ethics-policies-for-medical-journals. [Last accessed on].  Back to cited text no. 11
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. 12
Schulz KF, Altman DG, Moher D; CONSORT Group. CONSORT 2010 statement: Updated guidelines for reporting parallel group randomized trials. Obstet Gynecol 2010;115:1063-70.  Back to cited text no. 13
Moher D, Liberati A, Tetzlaff J, Altman DG; PRISMA Group. Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the PRISMA statement. J Clin Epidemiol 2009;62:1006-12.  Back to cited text no. 14
von Elm E, Altman DG, Egger M, Pocock SJ, Gøtzsche PC, Vandenbroucke JP; STROBE Initiative. The strengthening the reporting of observational studies in epidemiology (STROBE) statement: Guidelines for reporting observational studies. Epidemiology 2007;18:800-4.  Back to cited text no. 15


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