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Year : 2017  |  Volume : 61  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 269-270  

Salami publishing and ethical dilemmas facing editors

Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care, JIPMER, Puducherry, India

Date of Web Publication15-Mar-2017

Correspondence Address:
Satyen Parida
Qr. No. D (II) 18, JIPMER Campus, Dhanvantari Nagar, Puducherry - 605 006
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ija.IJA_710_16

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How to cite this article:
Parida S. Salami publishing and ethical dilemmas facing editors. Indian J Anaesth 2017;61:269-70

How to cite this URL:
Parida S. Salami publishing and ethical dilemmas facing editors. Indian J Anaesth [serial online] 2017 [cited 2020 Sep 19];61:269-70. Available from: http://www.ijaweb.org/text.asp?2017/61/3/269/202180


While doing a review of an article for a popular Medicine journal, I noticed the evident similarity between a recently published paper in the same journal and the manuscript that had been assigned to me. I, therefore, referred the manuscript to the editorial team to run an independent plagiarism check on the manuscript. The Editor-in-Chief reverted to me in a week's time not only confirming my perception of significant overlap between the two manuscripts but in fact revealing that the authorship of both manuscripts was the same. The published manuscript, as well as the one under consideration by the journal, reported different end points estimating the same outcome, without citing the article already published. This appeared like an evident case of salami slicing, and such 'self-plagiarism' could be a ticklish issue to resolve for editors of medical journals.

Even while working within the ambit of the Committee of Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines,[1],[2] the issue can be extremely vexing. The COPE guidelines suggest that after checking the degree of overlap or redundancy, the authors need to be contacted and clarifications sought. The degree of overlap or redundancy is estimated based on usage of similar data or attempts to camouflage the sharing of data between publications by changing titles, author orders and not citing the previous publication, which are viewed rather seriously. On the other hand, the similarity in the methods section, or re-analysis involving sub-groups, extended follow-ups or discussions directed at a different audience may be viewed as minor follies which need to be acted upon judiciously by the editorial team. Further, detection of salami slicing may itself not be an easy task. There are no available software applications or algorithms for detection of salami publications. Identifying this type of publication misconduct is complex, as salami publications do not include a text plagiarism and hence easily evade software checking.

Based on the results of the assessment thus done, the author may be asked to clarify his stand vis-à-vis the evidence of duplication. The majority of authors might actually be ignorant of the extent of breach of ethical standards that this sort of salami-slicing could lead to. In fact, many of those uninitiated to the COPE guidelines might actually consider this to be eminently permissible since the original work was also their own! The COPE guidelines lay down that if the authors' response to the editor's or reviewer's queries is satisfactory, the editor may decide to proceed with manuscript processing. When the author's explanation is not acceptable and there is reasonable doubt surrounding the author's good intentions or when there is no answer from the author at all, the manuscript shall be rejected, and either the co-authors or the authors' institution shall be informed.

While the Editor-in-Chief would be well within his rights to reject the publication, he might decide to display leniency and proceed with processing the article sans the overlapping sections, along with reference to the previous publication included. However, if the authors instead of complying with the suggestions made by the editorial team chose to withdraw the manuscript instead, how should the latter proceed? Is it reasonable for the editor to share the information that they have been privy to, with editors of other journals in the same field and divulge the names of the authors involved, presuming that the manuscript might be submitted to related journals? Further, can the academic vigilantism be extended further, to place the authors on a list to watch out for?

While withdrawal of a manuscript might well be the prerogative of the author, it does not quite imply the dissolution of the problem of unethical publishing. Thus, the editorial team of the journal would have a responsibility to follow-up the ultimate fate of such manuscript with the author and/or the institution that the author is affiliated to. If the editor strongly suspects professional misconduct, it would be incumbent on him to ask the author's institution to initiate investigations related to the same. Of course, this should be done with a full explanation being provided to the authors as to why these steps are mandated. In the Indian context, this has been exemplified recently by one Institute of National Importance acting against its own faculty. There is no reason why other colleges and institutes cannot follow suit.

However, blacklisting authors or entering them onto a watch list to be shared across journal editorial teams might have serious repercussions including litigations, apart from being inimical to the interests of other authors who might potentially have been associated with the manuscript under scrutiny without being fully aware of the nature of transgressions involved. The fear of litigations serving as a deterrent for journals has been described as 'libel chill' and was addressed in 2008 in a judgement delivered by the Supreme Court of Canada.[3] Further, as poor-quality predatory open access journals continue influencing authors to publish any and every manuscript much in violation of COPE guidelines, it may not be possible to share authors' names across all journals of a particular specialty and expect to completely curb publication of 'salami sliced' results.

Hence, in difficult situations as these, it might behove the Editor-in-Chief of the journal to call for a debate of the editorial team to arrive at a consensus on how to proceed. He might also refer the case to the COPE forum for consultation. Of course, greater awareness amongst authors and commitment to academic integrity would go a long way in overcoming many of these constraints.

In academic publishing, the least publishable unit (LPU) is the smallest volume of data that can be used to bring about a publication in a journal. There is a lack of clarity regarding whether authors could aim to design their publications as LPUs, and it is a concept strongly discouraged by several academicians over a long period of time.[4] Especially, medical authors new to the business of publishing, often start off compiling a few small manuscripts to get used to the nuances of the review process and to boost publication counts early in their careers.[5] However, publication of too many LPUs may not actually create a favourable impression on the discerning scientific community, especially for those seeking promotion beyond the Assistant Professor level. Further, LPUs are definitely not the best way to disseminate information, since they fragment originally good ideas into far too many chunks, thus making the reader browse through too many cross references, which is counter-productive in terms of making an impact. Salami slicing also takes up more print space than an original comprehensive article that incorporates identical erudition. Thus, salami slicing in academic publishing must be earnestly deterred at the editorial level.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

   References Top

COPE Flowchart for Suspected Redundant Publication in a Submitted Manuscript. Available from: http://www.publicationethics.org/files/redundant%20publication%20A_0.pdf. [Last updated on 2016 Nov 09].  Back to cited text no. 1
COPE Flowchart for Suspected Redundant Publication in a Published Article. Available from: http://www.publicationethics.org/files/redundant%20publication%20B.pdf. [Last updated on 2016 Nov 09].  Back to cited text no. 2
(2008) WIC Radio Ltd. v. Simpson [2008] 2 Supreme Court Reports 420, 2008 Supreme Court of Canada 40, at para. 15.  Back to cited text no. 3
Broad W, Wade N. Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science. 1st ed. New York: Simon and Schuster; 1983.  Back to cited text no. 4
Owen WJ. In Defense of the Least Publishable Unit. Washington, DC. Available from: http://www.chronicle.com/article/InDefenseoftheLeast/44761. [Last updated on 2004 Feb 09].  Back to cited text no. 5


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