Rob Siebers: Inadvertent duplicate publication

Rob Siebers Duplicate or highly similar publications are unethical and unacceptable in the biomedical literature. Déjà Vu, a freely accessible database of highly similar and duplicate publications, is a valuable tool for journal editorial staff to identify whether a submitted article has previously been published and has the potential to be a powerful deterrent to this behaviour. This database also has the potential to check whether reviewers have previously engaged in this type of behaviour.

Déjà Vu states that the results in this database should be interpreted with caution and a recent Editorial in Clinical Chemistry points out the high number of false positives in this database and cautioned that the reputations and careers of (honest) scientists has the potential to be damaged. In their study, Rifai et al lists nine types of articles incorrectly identified as potential duplicate or highly similar publications. Top of their list is duplicate articles published because of a publisher error.

I would like to share our experience as authors who are listed in Déjà Vu as having a duplicate publication, despite this being due entirely through the publisher’s error.

In 2003 we had an article published in the journal Indoor Air. To our surprise, the very same article, unchanged, appeared in the following issue of that journal. We contacted the Editor and an erratum was published in a subsequent issue (4) stating “The above article was published in both Issues 2 and 3. The publisher apologises for any confusion or inconvenience caused by this oversight”.

Despite this, both the articles are listed on PubMed. Our problem is that we are listed as authors with duplicate publications. Because of this, editors of journals we may submit to could be reluctant to process our submitted articles or view us as potential reviewers for their journals thus potentially damaging our academic careers.

As a widely published author, as an editor of a peer-reviewed journal (New Zealand Journal of Medical Laboratory Science), and as a Board Director of the World Association of Medical Editors I strongly condemn the practise of duplicate publication. As editor, I check authors of articles submitted to our journal with a number of databases, including Déjà Vu, and in the last 14 years have identified two articles submitted to our journal as previously having been published in peer-reviewed biomedical journals.

Rifai et al state “a large number of authors may have to defend themselves to free their names from such unfounded allegations”. I would like to know if other authors have experienced the same problem of inadvertent publications through no fault of their own and what mechanisms might be available to us to rectify this problem and restore our reputations.

Rob Siebers is a Senior Research Fellow with the Wellington Asthma Research Group at the University of Otago School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Wellington, New Zealand. He has been Editor of the New Zealand Journal of Medical Laboratory Science since 1994, is a Board Director of the World Association of Medical Editors and is Chair of its Small Journal Task Force. He has published over 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals.