Plagiarism, the misappropriation of the (usually written) work of others in order to present it as one’s own, is universally regarding as academic misconduct. A number of German politicians and even government ministers saw their stellar careers damaged (sometimes beyond repair), and their beloved doctorate degrees occasionally taken away, after they were discovered to have plagiarized large sections of their dissertations.

But what about self-plagiarism, where scientists recycle their own texts and data for new papers, and occasionally even re-publish entire articles (with minor changes)? Most journals, keen to publish original works only, do not allow self-plagiarism. But the science publisher and Open Access pioneer Jan Velterop even suggests that self-plagiarism should be an acceptable or even welcome thing in academic publishing.

Debora Weber-Wulff, professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin and THE specialist for plagiarism detection, disagrees. She is one of the contributors of the anti-plagiarism platform VroniPlag Wiki where the above-mentioned German politicians and many medical doctors were exposed for stealing texts for their own dissertations. Here is what Weber-Wulff told me:

Researchers who understand plagiarism as the misuse of the words or ideas of others sometimes blithely believe that they can reproduce their *own* words as often as they like, since the words “belong” to them.

This is referred to as self-plagiarism, and is indeed an unethical writing practice, as noted by Miguel Roig, who has written extensively on the topic. I find self-plagiarism problematic because the readers are being cheated. They expect every paper they read to be new material, not a rehash of a previous article. Even methodology sections, which some authors feel ought to be self-plagiarized, should at least include a short notice as to where the method was first published. If the reader is familiar with that already, she can skip this section entirely. But as is so often, there have often been minor changes made (or even a different methodology used but by mistake the wrong one was copied in) and these differences are now not obvious to the reader.

Duplicate publications, for example when authors submit the same text to a conference and a journal, or to two different journals, are also a form of self-plagiarism. This practice can be dangerous in sciences where meta-reviews count the number of investigations in a particular area. This can accidentally inflate the number papers demonstrating this or that outcome. It most certainly inflates the number of publications a person has, especially if the papers have different titles but the same contents. One can always quote one’s own previous work, but if there ends up being too much self-quotation, perhaps there is not enough original material here to warrant a new publication.

Roig has also pointed out that there may be copyright issues in self-plagiarism. Many traditional journals obtain the copyright to your words and are highly displeased to find them also published in a competitor’s publication”.

Below I present three cases where self-plagiarism was nevertheless willfully tolerated by respectable academic publishers. It is probably not a coincidence that the worst two of those are from the field of medicine, where the sheer numerical quantity of publications is traditionally the most important academic evaluation criteria.


The sloppy Italian professor

The first case is rather straightforward: an Italian geneticist and highly decorated retired professor Giorgio Bernardi has published as single author simultaneously two remarkably similar works, in PLOS One and in Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology. The titles are however slightly different: the former paper was named “Chromosome Architecture and Genome Organization” and the latter “Genome Organization and Chromosome Architecture”. I contacted the publishers of both journals and learned that Bernardi was invited by Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory (CSHL) Press to submit a paper, for which he apparently self-plagiarised his most recent PLOS One manuscript.   According to Matt Hodgkinson, Senior Editor at PLOS One:

There is some overlap in content between the two articles but also some differences in focus and scope between the publications. While the submission to PLOS ONE was under consideration, Prof. Bernardi informed PLOS of his intention to publish another manuscript in a CSHLP symposium book that put the work in a larger perspective. Prof. Bernardi informed the editors of the symposium of the article submitted to PLOS ONE, he cited the PLOS ONE article, and he attributed the reproduced figures to the PLOS ONE article in the figure legends. We will post a comment on the articles to note the related publication”.

John Inglis, Executive Director of CSHL Press, declared to me in an email:

Inquiries and correspondence with Giorgio Bernardi about the papers you drew attention to have not borne out the suggestion that Bernardi did anything wrong. The two articles overlap in content but have differences in focus and scope. Furthermore Bernardi disclosed to each publisher the existence of the other manuscript.  In my experience, it is not uncommon for authors to place related and similar articles in both a widely read, indexed journal and a proceedings volume with a much smaller audience and more limited discoverability. PLOS and Cold Spring Harbor have agreed to place comments on the articles in question that point to the related publication”.

The PLOS One editorial note appeared shortly afterwards, CSHL Press is probably still working on it. However, why didn’t the editors of the two journals place the notes of “related publication” under each article straight away, if this was all a very normal and fully acceptable process? Are other participants of CSHL symposia actually just as welcome as Bernardi to reprint their earlier papers under the guise of novel and original CSHL Press publications? Inglis chose not to comment on this supposition.

The bigshot US radiologist from Croatia

The second case I present is much more serious. There, Hedvig Hricak, Chair of the Department of Radiology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York, copied large swathes of text from her own collaborative papers (which had other co-authors!) and even re-used figures, in a somewhat different context. Yet neither the affected journal, nor her institute, nor her co-authors or even COPE saw this as wrong.

Hricak already had to retract a paper in the Springer journal Abdominal Imaging (Hricak , 2006). It was for plagiarism, or as the retraction note put it: “This review article has been retracted upon the request of the author as it contains similar text and illustrations to previously published articles”.

For her paper in British Journal of Radiology (BJR, Hricak, 2005), titled “MR imaging and MR spectroscopic imaging in the pre-treatment evaluation of prostate cancer”, Hricak generously used text from an earlier publication in RadioGraphics (Claus et al 2004) which she merely co-authored: “Pretreatment Evaluation of Prostate Cancer: Role of MR Imaging and 1H MR Spectroscopy”.

The extensive textual overlap is highlighted in the attachments available here and here. A PlagScan analysis determined that 83% of the text was plagiarised, according to the whistle-blower who alerted me to this case and shared the associated evidence I now present. Yet all the journal BJR did was to issue in 2014 an Addendum, stating:

Some material published in this review article was discussed previously in the review article listed under reference 37: Pretreatment evaluation of prostate cancer: Role of MR imaging and 1H MR spectroscopy. RadioGraphics 2004; 24: S167–S180. The Editors of BJR were not aware of the earlier publication and were informed of the overlap only after the submission, peer review and publication of Br J Radiol 2005; 78: S103–S111”.

The editors of BJR chose not to retract this obviously duplicated paper. Sophia Anderton, Head of Publishing at the British Institute of Radiology (BIR, which publishes BJR), told me:

We are aware of these allegations and have thoroughly investigated them, following the guidelines of the Committee On Publication Ethics (COPE). We have also sought the advice of COPE, an outside and independent body, which is satisfied with the way in which the BIR’s investigation was carried out. We consider the matter closed“.

In fact, I have received some of these communications, where the whistle-blower was politely asked to shut up and go away.

The president of BIR, Andrew Jones, declared in September 2013 why despite the 83% textual overlap

we don’t think there is compelling reason to warrant retraction because: 

  • while the papers are undoubtedly on the same topic, there really is not the direct overlap of wording that you claim. There are areas of paraphrased material but also the second paper goes beyond what the first paper covers, with additional material;

  • the Radiographics paper is cited in the BJR paper so the referees of the BJR submission would have had the information about the existence of the Radiographics paper – the authors were not hiding this;

  • both articles are reviews, published some time ago, and neither is claiming to be reporting new data;

  • by having this paper published and not retracted, it doesn’t pose any danger to health and the author doesn’t appear to be unethical in their intent”.

The Complaints Officer Iratxe Puebla of COPE was also involved into these discussions (on behalf of Chair Virginia Barbour) in October 2013. Anderton explained to Puebla that according to Hricak the paper was not really plagiarised and that the whistleblower had no grounds to keep complaining to BJR and COPE:

Following the COPE flowchart on suspected plagiarism, the first thing we did was to contact the corresponding author of the paper, Hedvig Hricak. I brought the matter to her attention and asked her to explain her point of view. In her response, Dr Hricak pointed out that whilst “the substantive content of the BJR review paper is similar to that of the RadioGraphics paper”… “the core of each article is different: The figures, abstract, introduction and conclusion/summary sections are distinct and reflect the different readerships at which the manuscripts were aimed”. She also highlighted the sentences which have direct overlap in an attachment; this is far fewer than claimed by [whistleblower]”.

On behalf of Hricak’s institution MSKCC, Eric Cottington told the relentless whistleblower in January 2016:

As the Research Integrity Officer at MSKCC, I conducted an assessment of these concerns and have not found any issues that have not already been satisfactorily addressed, e.g., through communication with and review by the journals and independent bodies, follow-up discussions with the MSKCC investigators, a retraction, published errata and Editor’s Note”.

Thing is, there was even more than “just” plagiarised text. The whistleblower found that the BJR publication has been re-using an image (see here) from a 2005 publication in Radiology (Zakian et al, 2005), where Hricak also was one of the co-authors. Same image appeared also in the now retracted Hricak 2006 paper in Abdominal Imaging. At the same time, the clinical cancer stage which the image was supposed to show, changed. The patient’s prostate tumour was first defined as clinical stage T1c in Fig 1 of Hricak, BJR, 2005 and then as clinical stage T2a in Fig 4 of Hricak, Abdom. Imaging, 2006. It then re-appeared as Fig. 3A and 3B in Zakian et al, Radiology, 2005.  Kristen Zakian, who also works at MSKCC, did not reply to my email inquiry.

Anderton explained to the whistleblower in her email from February 2016, that those different stages of cancer are not so different after all:

I have spoken to experts on this matter and the conclusion reached is that the difference between stage T1c (clinically nonpalpapble) and stage T2a (clinically palpable) bears no consequence on the teaching point being made in the figure. The point being made is that it was pathologic stage pT2b, which is stated clearly in the figure legend. I understand that assignment of stages T1c and T2a can vary between different urologists and even more between faculty members and fellows. As such, this is a minor point and not one over which retraction should be made”.

So, under certain conditions doctors are not only free to self-plagiarise, but also to re-use figures and even re-defined what these were showing. At least at the BIR, where Anderton argued: “this is a review article where one would expect to see previous work discussed”.

But what with the copyright issues of the plagiarised image, Anderton informed the whistleblower and the COPE complaints officer Puebla on February 29th 2016 that:

we intend to publish a Correction statement against the article in question (Br. J. Radiol., 78, (2005), S103–S111) to indicate that figure 4 in this paper was previously published in Radiology 2005, 234:804-814 as figure 3. I have been in touch with the publishers of Radiology, RSNA, and have now heard that they have granted retrospective permission to reproduce the figure”.

There is however a tiny, really insignificant snag to this “retrospective permission” from Radiology. Herbert Kressel was appointed as Editor-in-Chief of Radiology in 2007 by none other than Hricak herself, in her function as (former) member of the Board of Directors of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA, where she in 2010 even acted as Chairman), which publishes Kressel’s journal.

There was also another image apparently duplicated (see here): Fig. 6 of Hricak, BJR, 2005 was highly similar to Fig. 18 from Hricak et al, Radiology, 2007. We can probably rest assured Radiology’s EiC Knessel will firmly confront Hricak and deal with the image duplication soonest. Probably right after a flock of pigs flies past his office window, oinking about conflicts of interest.

first retraction

Nevertheless, Puebla expressed COPE’s full approval to this resolution:

In this case it appears that the journal has undertaken a thorough follow up and we consider that the publication of a public notification in the form of a Correction to alert readers to the duplication of the figure is appropriate“.

Hricak is indeed a highly influential and respected radiologist. Maybe MSKCC, BIR and RSNA all fear that due medical care for US east coast patients might collapse were Dr. Hricak’s work and career to take a dent from her academic self-plagiarism.  However, it seems even those self-plagiarising doctors, whose medical actions on patients were found to be rather questionable, are still protected from editorial scrutiny.

The stem cell trickster of Düsseldorf

The highly respectable Nature Reviews Cardiology has issued in February 2016 an Addendum to a 2006 paper by Michael Brehm and Bodo Strauer, “Stem cell therapy in postinfarction chronic coronary heart disease” (Nat. Clin. Pract. Cardiovasc. Med. 3 (Suppl. 1)). The Addendum mentions that that work

has been published in part elsewhere: Strauer, B. E. et al. Regeneration of human infarcted heart muscle by intracoronary autologous bone marrow cell transplantation in chronic coronary artery disease: the IACT study. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 46, 1651–1658 (2005). This publication was cited in the Nat. Clin. Pract. Cardiovasc. Med. Article”.

That these two papers are actually highly similar did not seem as a problem to Nature Publishing Group (or CSHL press, or BIR).  Therefore, an important lesson to all plagiators: always cite the papers you were self-plagiarising! Journals will reward this as evidence of your disarming honesty, and you will simultaneously boost your own citation index! So, if you self-plagiarise your paper 10 times consecutively, and cite yourself each time… Can we get a mathematician to calculate the resulting citation index here?

But now comes the pièce de résistance of this case: the German cardiologist Strauer was accused of fraud and patient abuse because of his bone marrow cell therapy on heart attack patients at the University Clinic Düsseldorf, exactly what the now corrected paper was about.

The stem cell researcher and blogger Alexey Bersenev provided an overview of the Düsseldorf debacle here, there is also a useful article by Larry Husten in Forbes. Strauer’s stem cell-pseudoscience has been disproven by peers like Darrel Francis from the Imperial College London, who also found evidence of excessive data manipulation and re-use:

Amongst 48 reports from the group, there appeared to be 5 actual clinical studies (“families” of reports). Duplicate or overlapping reports were common, with contradictory experimental design, recruitment and results. Readers cannot always tell whether a study is randomised versus not, open-controlled or blinded placebo-controlled, or lacking a control group. There were conflicts in recruitment dates, criteria, sample sizes, million-fold differences in cell counts, sex reclassification, fractional numbers of patients and conflation of competitors’ studies with authors’ own. Contradictory results were also common. These included arithmetical miscalculations, statistical errors, suppression of significant changes, exaggerated description of own findings, possible silent patient deletions, fractional numbers of coronary arteries, identical results with contradictory sample sizes, contradictory results with identical sample sizes, misrepresented survival graphs and a patient with a negative NYHA class [categories of heart failure, -LS)”.

The University Clinic Düsseldorf ended this “stem cell” experimenting on patients in 2009, Strauer himself had to retire from his position as head of cardiology (incidentally, I was concluding my PhD studies at this very clinic just as the Strauer scandal began to unfold). Yet in 2010, Strauer was awarded the highest German state award, the Bundesverdienskreuz., for his “clinical and scientific therapy innovations”. In 2012, the University of Düsseldorf found „evidence of possible scientific misconduct” and engaged the state prosecutor’s office (which repeatedly refused to pick up the case). In February 2014, a disciplinary procedure was finally initiated at University of Düsseldorf against their cardiology professor (without any results so far).

Regardless of the pathetically bogged-down investigation in Düsseldorf, the evidence against Strauer as doctor and scientist is clear and overwhelming. Why did Nature Reviews Cardiology saw it fit to save his old self-plagiarised paper about phoney  stem cell therapies? For whose benefit was it, if surely not for the patients’? In all truth, I didn’t even bother to ask. What would be the point?

One can only hope that what is left of editorial ethics these days is more than those editorial guidelines of COPE, which even they themselves do not seem to be taking seriously.

30 thoughts on “Academic self-plagiarism: misconduct or a literary art form?

    1. I understand the idea of one single CV-relevant “ribbon” per paper, which can then be published in many different outlets. But what to do when authors make patchwork papers out of their older ones, and present it as a new original work?


  1. Calling the recycling of personal work “self-plagiarism” either trivializes actual plagiarism, or unfairly demonizes recycling, or both. So, seeing that term in use here, I will take time to denounce it.

    Plagiarism is unfair to the original author; in pursuits where claims of unique original discovery are important, it also represents a false claim about one’s own accomplishments. Neither of these concerns applies to recycling, unless you measure accomplishments by a count of journal articles rather than what is reported in those articles.

    Plagiarism is regarded as a problem with almost any work that communicates, while recycling is generally considered a concern in the very narrow area of publishing specific research results – otherwise, a great deal of what people write is essentially recycled. Politicians keep repeating the same stump speeches, even great visual artists (picture Rothko or Pollock or Giacometti or Matisse) crank out numerous variants their previous work, and we academics not only repeat the same lectures, but often repeat well worn arguments at conferences and in print. This comment is in part recycled, because it’s an opinion I’ve expressed before in other forums, though I haven’t actually cut & pasted. I hope you won’t reject it on that basis. Cutting and pasting somebody else’s blog comment without attribution, however, is still plagiarism.

    Recycling research results is contrary to the policies of most academic publishers – that is a contractual matter between the publishers and the authors. It can inflate the CVs of academics who recycle, but that is only an issue because so many can’t be bothered to read what others write, and form judgements based on volume: I blame the idiots who would hire somebody without reading their work, not people who repeat themselves. Why then is it a matter of public concern? Why does it bother people like you who are worried about much weightier things, like unreliable / misrepresented research results or the misappropriation of others’ work? It seems obsessive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Frederick, you compare self-plagiarism in academic publications to re-using comment text. In this regard, if you were to copy-paste your comment above into 10 messages on different websites, how exactly would this improve your academic CV?


      1. Improvements to a CV are in the eye of the reader. If the reader is lazy enough to count journal articles rather than understanding what’s in them, the problem does not end with recycling: papers that are wrong, trivial, or sloppy get counted the same as good work.

        I’m not saying I like the recycling of research results – if I see a CV with a lot of recycling in it, I discount the credibility of the person who produced it. All I’m saying is that this is less important by at least an order of magnitude than actual plagiarism, and less important by a couple of orders of magnitude than the various research & publication practices which spread fallacious research results.

        Fallacious research results are a big problem, both for the public and for people in research careers – they far, far harder to detect on a CV than outright duplication, even though they are actually wrong as opposed to simply redundant. So they are where standards really get lowered. That is most of what you deal with on this site and it is a really important problem. I just think it’s a shame to see something as trivial as recycling given parallel treatment.


    2. Then let people write books, pamphlets, webpages, lectures etc with copy pasted material. Dont let people do that in scientific journals, even in reviews. There is a lot of “opportunities” for recycling material in science, but not text in scientific papers.

      “…even great visual artists (picture Rothko or Pollock or Giacometti or Matisse) crank out numerous variants their previous work, and we academics not only repeat the same lectures, but often repeat well worn arguments at conferences and in print”

      You seem to think that voicing the same argument or opinion is the same as “recycling”, like researchers has to constantly change their minds to avoid plagiarise their own work. Nonsense. If repeated studies of related parts of a field points towards a certain explanatory “model” then of course people would have the same arguments and viewpoints. Restating a view is not self-plagiarising, do you honestly think anyone is arguing that?.
      If an artist, no matter how famous, tried to photocopy their own work and sell it at full price I wouldnt think it would be very successful, no matter how famous she/he is. But I assume you would gladly millions for a colour copy of the Mona Lisa. Especially if it had some parts of the Vitruvian Man pasted on top.

      ” It can inflate the CVs of academics who recycle, but that is only an issue because so many can’t be bothered to read what others write, and form judgements based on volume: I blame the idiots who would hire somebody without reading their work, not people who repeat themselves”

      So if you were looking to hire someone for a position, and you got say 20 applicants, would you go through and read all their articles, read them critically, compare them so that no copy-pasting has been done? No you wouldnt, it would take years.

      Your scientific publishing record is supposed to reflect how active and productive you are as a scientist, not how well you can copy paste and publish the same material over and over in journals with lazy/lax/ negligent publishers.

      Not to mention it would kill the field of meta-analysis.


  2. Where does one draw the line? If one can re-use very substantial portions of text without quote marks, then what is the difference between text and figures? After all text can contain data. There have been multiple issues in the field of nanoparticles of data re-use, in some instance for completely different experiments, I wrote a post on one set here

    In the humanities, they have a simple procedure: if you wish to use existing text, use quote marks. We should do the same. If 90% of an article is in quotes, it is an editorial and commercial decision whether to accept and publish or not. Without the direct attribution one misleads the reader.

    We have a problem in science, because we do not follow such practice. Perhaps we should for methods, though I suspect we would be told by reviewers and editors to remove the quote marks or be rejected because the text is ‘insufficiently novel’.


  3. Wait a minute…! Manuscript submission guidelines of almost every single journal require that the material has not been published elsewhere. On top of that the authors are required to transfer manuscript and figure copyrights to the journal. These cannot be used without proper credit by anyone…including the authors themselves who may wish to “re-cycle” their material. Here we were presented with examples of “direct copy and paste” of large sections and figures…this is not a case of an investigator publishing on the same research topic to expand the field. This is neither good nor acceptable. It is a matter of personal integrity and publication ethics. See ICMJE guidelines or pick any peer-reviewed journal and see the journal guidelines for authors. Also there is a great blog discussing these issues in depth…RetractionWatch. Check it out.


    1. Indeed, but when these issues are brought to the attention of many journals, they ignore you, state that nothing is wrong or, once peer pressure (= discussions on social media) reach a critical level, act in some way. Action tends to be a softly, softly approach, which completely contradicts both the journal guidelines and agreed practice: they request an alternative piece of data from the authors. As I point out in the blog post in my previous comment, authors seem to be able to dig out new data very fast, but also find it very difficult to provide the original data to other scientists, which is curious to say the least. Moreover, the result is a ‘correction’, sometimes so large it is termed a ‘mega correction’ and we have even witnessed corrections of corrections.
      My view is if you have such problems on one paper, fair enough, lesson learned by the research group and the PI to spend more time on data management – so a SNAFU. However, if an author has several of these over a short time, then my suspicion is that the actual experimental data are not being portrayed correctly.
      By not describing the problem in appropriate language and descending into a farce of euphemisms, we are failing to engage in critical thinking, which is a hallmark of science. I posted on this a while back
      In 2013 I scanned Retraction Watch for retractions that are tagged as “doing the right thing”, that is due to some mistake on the part of the experimentalists (this occurs all the time, but we generally catch it well before it goes to press, but not always!). These made up just 5% of retractions, so 95% were for some other reason
      When personal integrity fail alongside the ethics system of publication (there is a lot of money to be made by hyping IF) you have a recipe for corruption. It is naturally our duty to expose such corruption and to push the system of science communication into a new place, where corruption is far lower.


  4. Think of it this way. Imagine I want to have 10 copies of the same work, what’s stopping me? A basic understanding that only one copy is the acceptable norm. Otherwise the playing field becomes unfair and abused. Those who claim that self-plagiarism is acceptable, I ask you: is 2 copies acceptable, 3, 4, 20, 50? Where does one draw the line? That is why “limited” self-plagiarism is acceptable, but always when clearly indicated, i.e., the source is indicated, perhaps a figure, or a table, or limited text (not more than a few dozen words), but in the latter, indicated in inverted commas and with page number of the original source clearly indicated. Anything else is unethical.

    Not only do duplicate copies of the same work reflect poor originality and plain laziness, but they also reflect poor academic standards, on the part f the author committing the self-plagiarism, and on the part of the publisher promoting it. Think about it, which is easier: a) to use the copy-paste button and a couple of mouse clicks to create a “new” cloned text, created within the space of minutes or just a few hours; b) to reflect carefully on how to state something and describe in in a way that has not yet been described before?

    Then there is this ugly issue of citations and impact factors. No matter how much we want to ignore it, the “game” in science publishing is alive and kicking. Many scientists benefit not only from the volume of publications, but also from the ranking (aka, IF score). In several countries, they get real dollar and cents rewards, benefits, bonuses and benefits. So, let’s not be naive when we discuss the topic of self-plagiarism. More papers, in general, equals more rewards. Thus, someone who does not self-plagiarize is clearly losing to the lazy self-plagiarizer. Its as simple as that. Thus, to keep the playing field level, self-plagiarism is thus considered to be unethical.

    Now here is where the irony steps in, maybe even a touch of unethical behavior: Springer (and there may be other publishers) has a rich book portfolio that has stacks of self-plagiarism and in some cases, word-by-word duplications. In some cases, Springer, to prop up its profitable business model, believes that to add one line, something like “The contents were previously published in journal, XYZ” somehow makes its ethical. It does not. This double-dipping in the literature must be corrected, and Springer must be called out on this. That is why there is a topic on this at PubPeer:

    The only reason why I don’t have pentuplicates of some of my work is because ethical principles come first. Anything greater than one is a violation of publishing ethics, as I see it. Including this act of “exceptionalism” by the ICMJE that allows “guidelines” to somehow gain “exceptional status” and be cloned n times, without any ethical consequences. These ICMJE pseudo-guidelines were created simply to lend support to a corrupted ethical elite, not too distant a way of thinking as employed by Springer, a COPE member, when it makes good profit off duplicate publications.

    Copy-pasting is not a literary art form. It is a sign of laziness and/or incompetence, and it is a serious breach of publishing ethics.


  5. There is software such as iThenticate (paid for service) that allows screening of submitted manuscripts. FEMS is routinely using it, and manuscripts are rejected after screening and decision by the editor-in-chief. There can be false positives, hence a high percentage score does not automatically rule out manuscripts.

    However, you do occasionally see “inventive” ways to work around such screenings, by modifying the text so that it won’t be easily picked up by the software. So human assessment always required, but this takes time and with academic editors (unpaid!) this may not always be available. Some reviewers pick things up as well, kudos to those.

    In the end it is the Publish or Perish pressure, put upon by administratively-inclined people who only care about quantitative assessments.


  6. The Philosopher Samuel V. Bruton from the University of Southern Mississippi has some ideas about the subject I find intriguing. (He cites an informal poll showing that many experts accept recycling of up to 10% of one’s own work). But “stealing from oneself” may scientific progress.

    “A further point to be made about originality is that often enough, scientific progress does not occur by new data alone. It requires novel ways of framing issues and fresh perspectives put on established regularities. Originality in writing is not so different from originality in thinking, after all; finding a new way to say something is not so different from finding a new way to conceptualize phenomena that needs to be better understood and explained.”


    1. Rolf, I get the sense that you are being euphemistic. I disagree with several things Bruton states. I have once challenged him directly about this paper from my perspective as a scientist, and the was extremely defensive. I based that defense on his lack of basic knowledge about how science and scientists work in a laboratory and ensuing publishing. Not to mention I gave him a real rap about using the ORI logo in his official emails even though he was not in any way affiliated with ORI. Maybe it’s time to express my dissatisfaction with Bruton’s “philosophies” at PubPeer, and add a screenshot to prove my point about the ORI logo story.


  7. Self-plagiarism is not about reusing or re-framing ideas and arguments (although it would be nice for you to reference the original publication and give that journal credit). It’s about copy & pasting large portions of text that you pretend is new, or even submitting the same article to multiple journals (perhaps with different titles) with the hope of inflating your CV.


  8. A question to those who think that self-plagiarism is ethical, good, academic, and somehow positive to the progress and edification of science. Please defend your position in the light of a case like this (there are many others, but I highlight one I detected today in my PPPR sleuthing).

    Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences, 5(9): 1-5, 2011
    Some Aspect of Dormancy Studies and Vitamin D Content of Four Tree Seed Species
    Ajiboye A.A, Agboola D.A, M.O Atayese, M. Kadiri

    International Research Journal of Plant Science (ISSN: 2141-5447) Vol. 2(2) pp. 032-036,
    Some aspect of dormancy studies and vitamin D content in four tree seed species
    Ajiboye A.A, Agboola D.A

    European Journal of Biological Sciences 1 (3): 23-27, 2009
    Some Aspect of Dormancy Studies and Vitamin D Content of Four Tree Seed Species
    A.A Ajiboye, D.A. Agboola, M.O Atayese, M. Kadiri


  9. Prof. Dr. Björn Brembs (Universität Regensburg, Institut für Zoologie – Neurogenetik, Regensburg, FR Germany) writes: “I’m a serial offender. I recycle much of my previous chapters/reviews in the new ones, maybe updating them with new references. One of the persons inviting me even recommended doing just that in order to coax me into accepting their invitation. I see nothing whatsoever wrong with that approach (neither do, apparently, the editors). In fact, in one case, it is specifically mentioned at the end of the PDF that large parts of the article were c&p from three previous articles of mine on the topic: (in German)”

    Referring to:

    And stated at:

    Just because one states that one is copy-pasting doesn’t make it right, or acceptable.


  10. What do you say to this then? The same big radiologist Hricak and other big wigs in Radiology declared in a public letter that “they would not allow the violation of ICMJE guidelines in their departments” ..including redundant publications. They pledge that they will ensure “others” adhere to them.

    There has been much recent discussion (1,2) about what constitutes appropriate authorship for scientific articles. Indeed, recent exposés in the press and elsewhere about “gift,” “honorary,” and even “ghost” authorship have led to lawsuits, other forms of litigation, and the ruin of the careers of some dedicated health professionals. In many cases, improper assignment of authorship is due to naivety or oversight; but in some cases, it is undertaken knowingly and, at worst, for ultimate financial gain. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) has issued stringent guidelines for appropriate assignment of authorship and other aspects of scientific publications (3). These guidelines also deal with issues concerning redundant publications.

    The International Society on Strategic Studies in Radiology (IS3R) unanimously endorsed the statement at their 2011 annual symposium and, in addition, the following IS3R members have personally underlined their support for the ICMJE criteria for authorship and are determined to ensure that colleagues in their department/institution/working group adhere to them fully.


  11. A clear example that self-plagiarism is unethical. Retraction by COPE member journal, published by Springer. The bar has been set.
    Retraction Note
    Cancer and Metastasis Reviews
    pp 1-1
    First online: 30 May 2016
    Retraction Note: Retraction note to: Targeted immune therapy of ovarian cancer
    Keith L. Knutson, Lavakumar Karyampudi, Purushottam Lamichhane, Claudia Preston

    “This article has been retracted at the request of the authors and in agreement with the Editors in Chief. The article contains large portions of text that have been duplicated from the articles:

    Immunity and immune suppression in human ovarian cancer
    Claudia C Preston, Ellen L Goode, Lynn C Hartmann, Kimberly R Kalli, and Keith L Knutson
    Immunotherapy. 2011 Apr. 3(4): 539–556, DOI 10.2217/imt.11.20
    The Immune System in the Pathogenesis of Ovarian Cancer
    Bridget Charbonneau, Ellen L. Goode, Kimberly R. Kalli, Keith L. Knutson, and Melissa S. DeRycke
    Crit Rev Immunol. 2013; 33(2): 137–164,
    DOI: 10.1615/CritRevImmunol.2013006813

    The authors would like to express their most sincere apology to the editors and readers of the journal.”


  12. Another clear example that self-plagiarism is unethical:

    Authors Ghaleb A, Khorasani A, Mangar D
    Received 27 August 2011
    Accepted for publication 25 October 2011
    Published 12 January 2012 Volume 2012:5 Pages 45—51
    Review by Single-blind
    Peer reviewer comments 4

    “A reader has highlighted the extensive similarities between:

    1) Ahmed Ghaleb, Arjang Khorasani, and Devanand Mangar.
    Postdural Puncture Headache. Anesthesiol Res Pract. 2010;
    2010: 102967.
    2) Ghaleb A, Khorasani A, and Mangar D. Post-dural puncture
    headache. Int J Gen Med 2012:5 45-51.

    Our investigations supported the readers claim of extensive
    and unreferenced text re-use and, as a result, the paper has
    been retracted.”


  13. I’m always afraid of unintentionally plagiarizing someone, even myself. That’s why I use tools like this to check text I’ve written. Though, things like this don’t stop us from plagiarizing ideas.
    Interesting post as always. Especially examples. Thanks for researching and writing about this issue.


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