No small matter: ACS Nano journal growing alarmed by self-plagiarism
The American Chemical Society (ACS) Nano journal retracted a study, “Retraction of Nanoembossing Induced Ferroelectric Lithography on PZT Films for Silver Particle Patterning,” late last month because of such duplication:
This article was withdrawn at the request of the Editor-in-Chief, with agreement by the authors, due to unacceptable redundant text and figures with a previously published article by the same authors (Langmuir 2011, 27, 5167-5170. DOI: 10.1021/la200377b).
This wasn’t the first such retraction for the journal. In May, they retracted “Conductance Preservation of Carbene-Functionalized Metallic Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes for the same reason:”
This article was withdrawn at the request of the Editor-in-Chief, with agreement by the authors, due to unacceptable overlapwith a previously published paper by the same authors (Small 2011, 7, 1257-1263; DOI:10.1002/smll.201002307) prior to the publication of the article in ACS Nano.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that the editors recently published an editorial titled “Recycling Is Not Always Good: The Dangers of Self-Plagiarism.” In it, they walk through what’s wrong with duplicating your own work and passing it off as new. They don’t say how often they’ve seen the practice, but they describe a number of anonymized cases:
The motivation for self-plagiarism is simple and relates back to the overused saying “publish or perish”.7,8 The conflict of interest inherent in a highly competitive system that “counts” papers when promotions and grant proposals are being evaluated can lead to dangerous temptation.
Some researchers — including a number of commenters on this blog — have said that it’s silly that authors can’t re-use sentences in their methodology sections, for example. But intent is important, write the editors:
It all comes down to the central issue of deception; were the authors trying to deceive the editors, the referees, and the readers into presenting recycled data, text, and figures as entirely new material? We understand that experimental sections may run into difficulties of similar textual descriptions, and while care should be taken with the experimental method descriptions, these have not been the source of problems.
The authors also mention a blog we may have to check out. Duplication is a problem, write the editors, because it
may and likely will conclude with getting caught, and, in the most serious cases, manuscripts will be retracted and featured on the Retraction Watch Web site.9 Retraction Watch is a Web site set up by two science journalists, Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky, who have received international attention for tracking high-profile retractions of papers, many of which were for self-plagiarism. In their invited year-end contribution to Nature entitled “Science Publishing: The Paper is Not Sacred” (December 22, 2011), Marcus and Oransky remind all authors that “peer review continues long after a paper is published”,10 as the scientific community continues to read, to reference, and to scrutinize the literature. With over 150,000 views per month, Retraction Watch has a large following of scientists, editors, and journalists who want to keep the record straight.
Sounds bad! But it’s actually quite simple to avoid ending up on Retraction Watch. Just cite yourself, for goodness’ sake, the editors urge, quoting the ACS’ guidelines, revised last month:
“Authors should not engage in self-plagiarism (also known as duplicate publication); unacceptably close replication of the author’s own previously published text or results without acknowledgement of the source. ACS applies a “reasonable person” standard when deciding whether a submission constitutes self-plagiarism/duplicate publication. If one or two identical sentences previously published by an author appear in a subsequent work by the same author, this is unlikely to be regarded as duplicate publication. Material quoted verbatim from the author’s previously published work must be placed in quotation marks. In contrast, it is unacceptable for an author to include significant verbatim or near-verbatim portions of his/her own work, or to depict his/her previously published results or methodology as new, without acknowledging the source. (Modeled with permission from Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics: Authorial Integrity in Scientific Publication)”11
Hat tip: desantoos