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Self Plagiarism

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** Note: 42 CFR Part 93 does not consider self-plagiarism to be research misconduct. **


Given that plagiarism is often conceptualized as theft, the notion of self-plagiarism does not seem to make much sense. After all, is it possible to steal from oneself? In fact, Hexam (1999) has pointed out that it is, indeed, possible to steal from oneself as when one engages in embezzlement or insurance fraud. However, when applied to research and scholarship, self-plagiarism refers to authors who reuse their own previously disseminated content and pass it off as a ”new” product without letting the reader know that this material has appeared previously. According to Hexam, “… the essence of self- plagiarism is [that] the author attempts to deceive the reader.” Let us remember that the concept of ethical writing, upon which the present instructional resource is grounded on, entails an implicit contract between reader and writer whereby the reader assumes, unless otherwise noted, that the material was written by the individual/s listed as authors, and that it is new and is accurate to the best of the author’s abilities. As such, self-plagiarism misleads the reader about the novelty of the material. In this section we review some of the most common instances of self- plagiarism and provide guidelines to avoid these pitfalls.

Self-plagiarism is often described in the context of several distinct practices in which some or all elements of a previous publication (e.g., text, data, and images) are reused in a new publication with ambiguous acknowledgement or no acknowledgement at all as to their prior dissemination. Perhaps the most blatant of these practices occurs when a previously published paper is later published again with very little or no modification. However, less blatant forms of duplication exist and these are sometimes classified with various labels, such as redundant, dual or overlapping publication. In examining these types of malpractices, the reader should keep in mind that the various forms of self-plagiarism are best thought as laying in a continuum in which the extent and the type of duplication can vary from substantial to minor, as does their potentially serious effects on the integrity of the scientific record.

A common practice for authors of trade books is to send their manuscript to several publishers. However, for authors of scientific or scholarly papers the acceptable practice is to submit their paper for publication to a single journal. Of course, an author may submit the same paper or a revised version of it to another journal, but only if it is determined that the journal to which it was first submitted has declined to publish it. Only under specific circumstances (see below) would it be acceptable for a paper published in one journal to appear in another journal.

In spite of these universally accepted practices, redundant publication1 continues to be a problem in the biomedical sciences. For example, in one editorial, Schein (2001) describes the results of a study he and a colleague carried out which found that 92 out of 660 studies taken from 3 major surgical journals were actual cases of redundant publication. The rate of duplication in the rest of the biomedical literature has been estimated to be between 10% to 20% (Jefferson, 1998), though one review of the literature suggests the more conservative figure of approximately 10% (Steneck, 2000). However, the true rate may depend on the discipline and even the journal and more recent studies in individual biomedical journals do show rates ranging from as low as just over 1% in one journal to as high as 28% in another (see Kim, Bae, Hahm, & Cho, 2014) The current situation has become serious enough that biomedical journal editors consider redundancy and duplication one of the top areas of concern (Wager, Fiack, Graf, Robinson, & Rowlands, 2009) and it is the second highest cause for articles to be retracted from the literature between the years 2007 and 2011 (Fang, Steen, & Casadevall, 2012). Many biomedical journals now have explicit policies clarifying their opposition to multiple submissions of the same paper. Some journals even request that authors who submit a manuscript for publication must also submit previously published papers or those that are currently under review that are related to the topic of the manuscript under consideration. This requirement has been implemented to allow editors to determine whether the extent of overlap between such papers warrants the publication of yet another similar paper. If, in the opinion of the editor, the extent of overlap were substantial, the paper would likely not be published.