Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Q&A: Self plagiarism, ethics and salami slicing

Let's catch up with another good question from a reader today (edited for anonymity):

Hello Eva,

I am Name. I completed my MBBS and MD in anatomy from Country. I am currently an assistant professor in Anatomy in a medical college in Country. I happened to read your article How to turn your dissertation into journal articles. I am confused about this. My thesis topic for MD was Something. I got two important conclusions- both are quite large. As research is at its infancy in parts like ours, I have practically no one to ask for guidance. One conclusion got accepted in a journal and is about to be published. I am planning to send the other one to another journal. And then I heard about this self plagiarism, ethics, and salami slicing.

I really dont understand what these are and I am not sure whether if I publish two parts of my large thesis in two related journals it would be unethical.

Kinldy reply me as to what I should do. Is it that one thesis work can be converted only to one paper and if u need another paper you need to do another work.


My first question here would be: What does your PhD advisor say? Can he give you some guidance in your field?

In my opinion, every original contribution from your dissertation can be a self-sustained article. If I look at my dissertation, this is what I've pulled out of it:
Chapter 2: two companion papers
Chapter 3 + chapter 4 + chapter 6 (parts): six papers
Chapter 5: 1 paper that I am about to submit
Chapter 6: 1 paper
Chapter 7: 3 papers

For example for chapters 3, 4 and 6, I did a large amount of experiments, and I honestly wouldn't even know how to smash them all together into one paper, discuss all the parameters, and compare it to all the codes. Most of these papers do include some additional work as compared to my original thesis, and I have been delving deeper into some topics, also depending on the comments and requests from the reviewers.

For my chapter 2, I tried hard to shrink everything into a single paper - but I just couldn't cut that much, so I ended up writing two companion papers. Am I salami slicing? I tend to think I need my 10000 words for explaining a certain concept...

And as for self plagiarism: of course publishing the same content in different journal is a big no. But, at least from my perspective, when you introduce the broader scope of your work, it is very well possible that you repeat the same thing (perhaps highlighting different aspects, but still...). I don't know how many times I've mentioned the expansion of the Dutch road network following the Second World War, and that the bridges were built at that time are now reaching the end of their service life.

For those universities that require a PhD by publication of papers, they also seem to require 4 to 6 accepted papers (depending on the field) - so I don't think that what you are doing is unethical.

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