Author: Michael Kalichman, 2001
Contributors: P.D. Magnus, Dena Plemmons


In academic life, it is said, one must publish or perish. Publication facilitates the open exchange of information among researchers and exposes research methods and findings to the scrutiny of the larger scientific community. It also documents who is first with new ideas or discoveries, demonstrates productive use of research funds, and provides a record by which a research career can be judged. For these reasons, publication has a prominent role in advancement, promotion, and continued research funding.

In pursuit of publication and, more specifically, of credit, prospective authors can have serious differences of opinion about when to publish, what to publish, and how credit should be apportioned. Some of these issues are discussed below. Ultimately, the centrality of publication in academic life means that it is implicated to some degree in nearly all aspects of the responsible conduct of research.

Regulations and Guidelines

Other than copyright law and federal definitions of research misconduct, nearly all aspects of authorship and publication are covered only by guidelines and unwritten standards. While many professional societies, scientific journals, and institutions have guidelines for publication, the depth and scope of these are quite variable.

Publication Guidelines

One of the most widely cited guidelines for publication is a document from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). In 1978, a group of medical journal editors met in Vancouver to establish guidelines for the format of manuscripts submitted to their journals. A product of that meeting was the ICMJE guidelines, Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals. These guidelines have periodically been expanded and revised to address ethical questions, including authorship (ICMJE, 2006). These guidelines have been adopted by more than 500 biomedical journals, although adherence to these guidelines is not necessarily consistent or reliable.

Copyright law

Extensive international and U.S. copyright laws regulate protection for written works, including research publications. For most published articles and book chapters, authors are required to transfer the copyright to the publisher. In practice, this means that authors of a published paper are in violation of federal law, not just ethical standards, if they attempt to re-publish without first getting permission from the copyright holder, the publisher. Therefore, unless one is legally advised otherwise, it is best to assume that it is never acceptable to reproduce previously published work without permission from both the author(s) and the publisher.


Case Studies

Discussion Questions

  1. For your field of research, list and describe criteria that have an impact on: (a) when work is ready to be published and (b) which data or work should be included in a publication.
  2. What are the costs and benefits to you in choosing to publish fewer, higher quality papers, rather than many smaller publications? What are the costs and benefits to science?
  3. Define and give examples of plagiarism and redundant publication. Under what circumstances, if any, can plagiarism be acceptable conduct? Under what circumstances, if any, can redundant publication be acceptable conduct?

Additional Considerations

There are several things to keep in mind when publishing research data, not the least of which is the central importance of publication to the integrity of the scientific enterprise as a whole. No simple formula can determine the point at which a body of data warrants publication, but the quality of the scientific literature depends on publications that represent new and substantial findings. In short, publication should represent a significant c ontribution to the literature.


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