Many contributors to the Journal of Investigative Dermatology
are called on often to write about their areas of research interest. We write original reports, review articles, invited book chapters, and grant applications. Often there are limits on the number of words allotted to describe the field’s background, medical importance, and current directions. Over time, we hone our writing to convey this information in as compelling and condensed a manner as possible. We repeat these sentences when giving oral presentations of our work. The words are stored in our minds and in our word processors, there when we need them in a hurry. The result: rampant text recycling (
Recycling portions of text from the same author/s previously published papers in psychology: an exploratory study.
)—also referred to as “self-plagiarism” or “duplicate publication.”
Twenty years ago, perhaps even five years ago, the concept of text recycling was unfamiliar to most academics, even those who regularly practiced it. What harm or impropriety was there in using one’s own words? Closely paraphrased and even verbatim introductions appeared in article after article of many well-regarded investigators. Few failed to indulge at least occasionally. The practice went largely unnoticed and was rarely commented on, although concerns were documented as early as 1993 (
). Increasingly, however, computer software programs such as iThenticate and eTBLAST (which compare a target text against previously published material, matching strings of words) have identified the widespread repetition of entire paragraphs, even several paragraphs, in articles with common authorship, often attributable to the senior author.
There is one clear concern regarding this practice. Many journals copyright everything they publish. Some provide authors explicit permission to reproduce their work elsewhere (although usually stipulating that their copyright be acknowledged), but many require that their permission be obtained for any subsequent use of copyrighted material. In typical cases of text recycling, this is not done. Beyond this legal consideration, however, the ethics of reusing portions of already-published writings is unclear, at least to us. What good is accomplished by finding a different way to say the same thing when a clear, concise way has already been found? Although we wish to ensure that all material published in JID reports original findings, we agree with Scanlon that in practice “We do and should give writers legal and ethical latitude for limited self-copying, although certainly not for egregious duplication” (2007, p. 65). The alternative of omitting duplicate statements from the new publication and instead referring the reader to the earlier publication inconveniences the reader and disturbs the logical progression of thought within the new publication.
Nonetheless, as Roig has pointed out, the mission of most journals is “to publish original research” (2008, p. 249). When portions of previously published material are included without an indication of their reuse, the authors of such material thwart this goal. In its 2010 publication manual, the American Psychological Association addresses text recycling directly, stating that plagiarism can occur even when “presenting your own past work as a new idea” (
, Section 4, p. 1). In addition, JID
’s own Instructions to Authors have long required that authors, upon submission of their work for consideration, state that “the data in the manuscript is original and the manuscript is not under consideration elsewhere” and that “none of the manuscript contents have been previously published except in abstract form.”
The situation does raise difficult questions for the publishing world, and journal policies are evolving in response (
Checking for plagiarism, duplicate publication, and text recycling.
). At present, it is JID
’s policy to screen all articles at the time of acceptance for matching areas of text in other already-published articles, using the iThenticate software. (Created by CrossRef, a not-for-profit initiative supported by scholarly publishers to facilitate reference linking throughout online scholarly literature, the iThenticate software checks article text against CrossRef’s underlying “CrossCheck” database.) Short sections in Materials and Methods identical to one’s own earlier publications are allowed, as are brief portions from one’s own previous introductions or discussions from papers on similar topics, as well as general statements of fact. However, entire paragraphs, hundreds of identical words, are called to the attention of the corresponding author with the invitation that the text be revised to achieve “best practices.” These include the following:
Assuring the Editors in writing that no copyright has been violated
Proper attribution of the previous work
Appropriate use of quotation marks (for 40 words or fewer) or indented text (for more than 40 words) to offset the work that is quoted directly (in such cases, the page number from which the text has been drawn must be included, e.g., Smith and Jones, 2002, p. 235)
Alternatively, paraphrasing in an author’s own words and ideas what has been published before—and always with proper attribution
Any duplication of text in the Results from their own prior publications will require an explanation from the authors, as will any duplication of text from the work of others. An unsatisfactory response may trigger an investigation for scientific misconduct. JID’s Instructions to Authors have recently been updated to include a description of this policy. And, critically, in addition to text recycling, any reuse of data, figures, or tables from prior publications is unacceptable without proper attribution and copyright permission. Even then, this should occur only under very unusual circumstances and outside the Results section.
We have found the American Psychological Association’s policy in this area to be of considerable help, and our policy is drawn from it in large part.
We are eager to receive the thoughts of JID
’s readership on this matter, and we welcome your feedback via e-mail to [email protected]
(use the subject line “Text recycling”).
© 2013 The Society for Investigative Dermatology, Inc. Published by Elsevier Inc.