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BAG. Journal of basic and applied genetics

On-line version ISSN 1852-6233

BAG, J. basic appl. genet. vol.34 no.1 Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires July 2023 


Ethical issues in scientific publication

Elsa L. Camadro

In the Note from the Editor published in Vol. XXIX (2): 25-27; 2018 (, I referred to some ethical and legal issues that entail the revision of scientific manuscripts, which have been deepened by the massive access to the internet and the proliferation of electronic publications. That note made focus on the different forms of plagiarism authors may incur, frequently as a result of a simple lack of knowledge. But also for editors and reviewers -the other actors of the editorial process- ethical issues are posed, which can affect the scientific quality of the publications and, as a consequence, the advancement in scientific knowledge and its applications.

Scientific editorials and journals operate under given guidelines (editorial policies) that serve as a base for making editorial decisions, and which allow to control, speed up, and increment the efficiency of the steps that lead to the publication of contents. One of these editorial policies is the Code of Conduct, in which compliance with the scientific quality of publications and the adequate answer to the needs of readers and authors have to be ensured. More recently, and as a requisite for indexation of serial publications in bibliographic databases, scientific journals must publish a Declaration of Ethics and Negligence; this requisite reveals the importance assigned to the editorial practices by the international scientific community. Such a declaration must indicate the scope of the responsibilities and rights of editors, reviewers, and authors, and the consequences that undesirable behaviors carry along.

Some conflictive and ethical issues related to the authors were treated in the previously mentioned Note from the Editor. Therefore, in the present note, I will place focus on the same type of issues but concerning editors and reviewers.


Upon the reception of a manuscript, the general editor may have to face some of the following issues: data fabrication, data falsification, ghost authorship, gift authorship, “salami” or segmented publications, self-citations, duplicated submissions, duplicated publications, overlapping publications, conflicts of interest, plagiarism, among others. Some of these issues are self-explicative, thus, I will focus on those that I consider require further clarification. Nonetheless, it has to be taken into account that some limits are blurred and that potentially conflictive matters might be overcome when appropriately approached.


Even though there are discrepancies among disciplines and thematic areas regarding who can be an author of a scientific manuscript, the following types of authorship are considered unethical or are not accepted criteria of authorship.

1. Ghost authorship: it is the lack of inclusion of authors that substantially contributed to the development of the work. In general, ghost authors are hierarchically in a lower position that the principal author (i.e., thesis students, graduate fellows, visiting professors from other countries), who either ignore the work of others or despise their respective contributions (i.e. data collection) to obtain a larger credit for his/her work.

2. Gift authorship: it is the inclusion of authors that did not either contribute to the work or substantially contribute to it. In general, gift authors are researchers hierarchically superior to the principal author (i.e., heads of a chair, directors of research groups or institutes) who provided space facilities, laboratory equipment, or financial support for performing the research work. The principal author may fear retaliation if not including his/ her superiors or considers that the inclusion of renowned researchers might increase the probability of acceptance of the manuscript. These contributions can be acknowledged in the corresponding section, but are not criteria of authorship

3. Authorship for non-scientific contributions: Scientific illustrators, medical writers, and technical editors, among others, can make substantial contributions to augment manuscript clarity, readability, and general presentation. Their work can be acknowledged in the corresponding section, but this type of contribution is not a criterion of authorship. Furthermore, it is unethical behavior to include colleagues to interchange or return favors to increment the number of publications for gaining personal prestige or increasing competitiveness in the obtainment of financial support or career promotions. Therefore, this practice should be discouraged by evaluation agencies and institutions.


Duplicated submission. This type of submission can generate potential disagreements between scientific journals concerning the right to publish a manuscript that has been processed and already accepted by them. Some journals require a statement from the corresponding author informing that the manuscript is not under evaluation in any other journal. If it were the case, the editorial process would be initiated in more than one journal, generating unnecessary duplications in the processes of revision and edition, with the consequent loss of the reviewers’ and editors´ time and resources.


Following, I will describe the three most frequent types of conflictive or unethical scientific publications.

1. “Salami” or segmented publication. It is the publication of two or more articles derived from a single study with only one dataset, which has been divided into several segments, each of them long enough to contain results and conclusions (“minimum publication unit”). It is a distinctive form of redundant publication. It is characterized by the similarity of hypothesis, methodologies, or results, but it is not objectively detected with software applications because the articles have different wording. The following are considered exceptions (a) publication of the articles in journals aimed at different audiences (i.e., scientific journals and popular science magazines, o for readers of different fields of specialization), (b) the continuation of previously published investigations, only if new scientific knowledge is provided and the source is declared, (c) the translation of professional guides in several languages.

2. Duplicated publications. An article is considered redundant when it substantially overlaps with a previously published article. Duplicated publications are unethical because they (a) only benefit the author, (b) distort the system of academic rewards, (c) inflate the scientific literature, and (d) may contribute to defective meta-analyses and affect decision-making. Moreover, the editorial processing entails a waste of time for reviewers and editors, journal resources are used to publish already available information and the abstracting work in bibliographic databases is increased.

3. Secondary publications. They can be acceptable for certain types of scientific papers (i.e., guides, translations, commemorative numbers). To not incur ethical issues, (a) the editors of the involved journals have to agree in carrying out this type of publication, (b) the citation of the primary publication has to be prominent, (c) the secondary publication has to be aimed at another audience and must faithfully reflect the data and the interpretations of the primary version.


A manuscript under revision is a privileged communication which, as such, must not be either shown or described to anybody, except to those who asked for the opinion to reach an editorial decision. Some scientific journals or institutions request reviewers to destroy the evaluated material. The name of a reviewer associated with a revision is a certification that the ideas expressed in the revision are his/her own. Notwithstanding, some reviewers ask their graduate students to perform the evaluation for which they had been summoned up. This procedure, which in good faith may be considered formative for the students, poses ethical issues because (a) the opinion was not requested from the students, (b) the principle of confidentiality was violated, and (c) by signing the evaluation, the reviewer gives attest to an act that he/ she did not perform.

To be or seem: Conflicts of interest

To ensure the scientific quality of publications, reviewers have to be summoned up according to the suitability of their background for the topic or thematic area of the manuscript, intellectual honesty, and independence of thought. To guarantee the objectivity of the revision, it is essential to avoid conflicts of interest in their selection. (similar to the selection -by the general editor- of the associate editor that will handle the submission). Conflicts of interest are posed when the reviewer and the author: (a) are competitors in the discipline or the topic of the manuscript, (b) have a financial connection, (c) belong to the same institution, (d) are personal friends, student-professor, married or unmarried couple, previous boss-directed employee. Some scientific journals or institutions request the reviewer to declare any conflict of interest and, if any, if he/she considers that the revision would be objective. If positive, the reviewer´s answer has the character of a sworn declaration.


The general editor may also incur ethical faults if the due editorial process is not followed with the submissions, voluntarily complying with the norms established in the principal international guides. Among these faults, the following can be cited (a) undue delays in making editorial decisions and communicating them to the authors, (b) utilization of inadequate procedures for revision and decision-making, and (c) confusion between the journal´s content and the journal´s potential for publicity or promotion. In addition, the editor must take specific actions when confronted with ethical questionable, or conflictual issues involving authors, reviewers, or members of the Editorial Board because his/her responsibility is to ensure the scientific quality of the published contents and the due recognition to the individual contributions. Nevertheless, there are issues whose resolution is beyond the general editor´s scope. In these situations, it can only be expected that public scrutiny will be a strong deterrent to unethical behaviors. For this, it is essential that all actors of the system know, comprehend and utilize agreed guidelines on ethics in scientific publication, to not voluntarily incur conflictual, ethically questionable, or reprehensible behaviors.


Boss J.M. (2010) The Ethics of Scientific Publishing. In: Dos and Don´ts for Authors and Reviewers, p.8-10. Reprinted from AAI Newsletter November 2009-May 2019. (Consultado: 20 de marzo de 2023) [ Links ]

Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE): https://publicationethics.orgLinks ]

Gollogly L, Momen H. (2006) Ethical dilemmas in scientific publication: pitfalls and solutions for editors. Rev Saude Publica. 2006 Aug; 40 Spec no.:24-9. Doi: 10.1590/s0034-89102006000400004. (Consultado: 20 de marzo de 2023) [ Links ]

International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE): https://www.icmje.orgLinks ]

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