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Research and Publication Ethics to Consider

Introduction

For your work to be published the research has to adhere to research ethics and the manuscript produced has to adhere to publication ethics.

COPE & ICMJ

BMC is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and endorses the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) Policy Statement on Geopolitical Intrusion on Editorial Decisions.

BMC also endorses the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals.

Submission of a manuscript to a BMC journal implies that all authors have read and agreed to its content and that the manuscript conforms to the journal’s policies.

Table of Contents

Ethics for animal experimentation

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Ethical approval is required for all research performed on vertebrates and protected invertebrates (for example, octopuses).

Ethical approval for the work needs to be obtained from the institution’s Animal Ethics Committee (must be local to where the research took place).

If such a committee does not exist you must comply with institutional, national and international guidelines. BMC Series journals will not consider manuscripts that do not have sufficient ethical approval for animal studies.

Where possible, follow the 3Rs principlesReplacement (can this study be done without animals), Reduction (can this study be done with less animals) and Refinement (can the suffering of the animals be reduced).

Research involving human participants

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Similarly to work involving animals, all work involving participants must be approved by a local Ethics Committee, sometimes referred to as an Institutional Review Board (IRB). 

All work involving humans must also be performed in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki, which was developed by the World Medical Association outlining the minimum ethical standards for research on human participants.

All manuscripts which feature human participants or human data must contain a statement on ethics, including the name of the Ethics Committee which approved the study and the reference number. Any exemptions, granted by the Ethics Committee, must also be detailed in the manuscript.

Manuscripts lacking this data will be not be considered by the BMC Series journals.

Case Study: Research Ethics Scenario 1

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New Content Item- The authors carried out a study that included household surveys

- Research has been conducted in accordance to the Declaration of Helsinki

- The authors did not seek any ethical approval as they believed following the guidelines was sufficient

Is this sufficient? 

For the answer click here.

Case Study: Research Ethics Scenario 2

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New Content Item

- The authors carried out a study that included observing patients in numerous Ethiopian hospitals and two Nigerian hospitals

- Research has been conducted in accordance to the Declaration of Helsinki

- The authors sought and received ethical approval from a hospital’s Institutional Review Board based in Ethiopia

- The authors did not seek any other ethical approval as they believed that ethical approval from one location was sufficient

Is this sufficient? 

For the answer click here

Consent to participate in an experiment

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If you study involves humans, in anyway, you need to get their informed consent before you start the study.

Informed consent - permission granted in full knowledge of the possible consequences, typically that which is given by a patient to a doctor for treatment with knowledge of the possible risks and benefits.

Informed consent, ideally, should be written (signed form from each participant) but in some instances verbal consent is permissible. For example, illiterate participants. The type of consent received should be agreed upon with the Ethics Committee.

Taking part in a survey/questionnaire can often be considered as a form of consent, assuming the nature of the research has been explained.  Again, this should be agreed upon with the Ethics Committee.

Journals will ask you to state in your manuscript that informed consent was obtained.

Manuscripts which do not have the required informed consent will not be considered.

Consent for the publication of identifiable data

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Informed consent is required to include any images or identifiable details.

Journals, including the BMC Series, will ask for a comment concerning consent to publish any identifiable information.

What constitutes identifiable information?

1) Combination of indirect identifiers 

  • Place of treatment
  • Sex
  • Household/Family composition
  • Age/Year of birth

2) Images of an individual (black bars over the eyes are not enough to hide identify)

3) Direct quotes from the individual (“The head surgeon was very rude during my presentation to the group on a rare measles case”).

Plagiarism

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Any manuscript submitted to a BMC journal must be original and the manuscript, or substantial parts of it, must not be under consideration by any other journal. 

In any case where there is the potential for overlap or duplication we require that authors are transparent. Authors should declare any potentially overlapping publications on submission. Any overlapping publications should be cited. 

Table 1. Generally permissible and non-permissible forms of duplicate/overlapping publication

Previous publication/deposition Guidance on permissibility

 Abridged articles

At the Editor's discretion, provided there is agreement from the original journal/publisher and the original publication is cited

Abstracts up to 400 words or posters presented at scientific meetings

Yes - published abstracts should be cited

Co-publication in multiple journals

At the Editor's discretion and with conditions, as outlined in the ICMJE guidelines

Cochrane systematic reviews

No, unless original or substantially updated

Datasets in public or restricted access repositories

Yes - datasets should be cited in/hyperlinked from the manuscript if possible

Figures and tables in non-research articles

Yes, if, where applicable, permission has been obtained from the original publisher by the submitting author

Health Technology Assessment reports (NHS Health Technology Assessment etc.)

At the Editor's discretion - contact the Editor for more information

Open science: data posted and discussed on wikis, blogs, online electronic lab notebooks, networking websites incorporated into submitted manuscript

Yes, usually permissible

Preprint servers (bioRxiv etc.), including authors' personal and institutional websites

Yes – this does not constitute previous publication

Study protocol published

Yes - published protocols should be cited

Summary results in clinical trial registries

Yes - accession number should be included in the abstract

Translations into English

At the Editor's discretion, provided there is agreement from the original journal/publisher, no breach of copyright and the original publication is cited.

Authors should be aware that replication of text from their own previous publications is text recycling (also referred to as self-plagiarism), and in some cases is considered unacceptable.

Where overlap of text with authors’ own publications is necessary or unavoidable, duplication must always be reported transparently and be properly attributed and compliant with copyright requirements. 

In collaboration with COPE, BMC has created guidelines for Editors on how to deal with text recycling which provide further detailed information on when text recycling is or is not considered acceptable.

Case Study: Publication Ethics Scenario 1

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New Content Item- Researchers have published an article reporting the primary outcomes of a large trial

- They now want to publish another article reporting the secondary outcomes

- The methods used are the same

How can they report the methods in their new paper?

For the answer click here

Authorship

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Authorship provides credit for a researcher’s contributions to a study and carries accountability. Authors are expected to fulfil these criteria (adapted from McNutt et al., 2018). 

Common issues include:

  • Authorship disputes
    • Being unable to agree upon who should be an author
  • Gift authorship
    • Including someone who took little or no part in the research
  • Ghost authorship
    • Leaving out someone who did take part

Case Study: Publication Ethics Scenario 2

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New Content Item- A paper is submitted to a journal with the corresponding author listing three authors

- When revisions are submitted, the corresponding author leaves one author off

- The Editor pauses the peer review process and asks the corresponding author why one of the authors has been removed

- The corresponding author says that the co‐author was added on by accident and isn't an author

- The Editor asks the authors to complete an Authorship Change Form including:

        * New authorship list and author contributions section

        * Reason for the change

        * Signatures from all authors that they agree to the change

- The authors cannot agree among themselves on who should be listed as authors

Can the Editor resolve this issue on behalf of the authors?

For the answer click here