We’re continuing our Research Integrity Toolkit blog series with Scholastica In honor of this year’s Peer Review Week theme "Research Integrity: Creating and supporting trust in research." In this post, Gareth Dyke, discusses statements of originality and disclosure when making article submissions for peer review. Be sure to check out the corresponding tools for journals on the Scholastica blog!
Statements that deal with article or research originality and disclosure are key ethical elements of manuscript writing and submission. Indeed, papers almost always cannot be placed into the journal peer review system without these statements; editorial offices and journal editors will often ask for originality and disclosure statements on submission and will likely reject papers if these are not forthcoming.
In this blog, we’ll break down two of the most critical kinds of originality and disclosure statements needed for article submission: Ethics Disclosure Statements and Authorship. This set of questions – who should be an author on my paper? Which order? – are amongst the most common queries researchers have when putting their papers together for submission.
Ethics Disclosure Statements
At the editorial office, staff will be looking at papers after submission to ensure that all relevant disclosure statements are included with incoming papers. These are often ethics statements, depending on the kind of research. Articles dealing with human or animal subjects will require very specific statements before they can be considered for peer review, including the use of any patient data and images.
Journals generally require information about ethics committee approval and informed consent for all manuscripts that involve human subjects. Due to the broad definition of “human subjects research”, you may have questions about whether your study falls into this category and what information will be required by journals when you are ready to publish. Learn more about ethical requirements required at submission here.
If you plan to publish a study involving animals, missing information about ethical approval and animal welfare can delay peer review and even result in rejection of your manuscript. Proper reporting of this information allows researchers to replicate the work. It also allows the editor and reviewers to evaluate the animal welfare and ethical aspects of the submission.
As an author, it’s important to check journal requirements before starting to write. Indeed, ethical requirements need to be put in place before beginning a study. Clinical trials, for example, must be registered before they begin: so-called Prospective Registration. Medical and journals in healthcare fields will be looking (and checking) that this has been done. It’s good practice to register trials with both your relevant national body as well as with an international one, such as the UN before beginning to collect data.
Ethics in data collection is also very important. Journals will ask for specific statements to cover how your data was collected as well as how it is now stored and accessible to other researchers. Check your journal’s requirements carefully. A large number of article submissions are “desk rejected” when disclosure statements are not included, or completed incorrectly. You don’t want to be in this significant minority.
At a minimum, journal submission systems will ask you to tick a series of boxes when uploading your paper to confirm that all ethical guidelines were followed when collecting data and writing up the work for publication. You’ll also be asked to confirm that your article is not under consideration for publication at another journal at the same time. Making multiple submissions of the same work to more than one journal is unethical: You will get caught, often because the available reviewer pool for articles is small.
Submitting very similar work to the same journal is almost certain to lead to both papers getting rejected. Similarly, another bad strategy (but one nevertheless used by a surprisingly large number of authors) is to ‘double dip’, sending duplicate versions of the same paper to two, or more, journals at the same time. Authors then wait to see which gets accepted first and then pull out the others. This is an unethical and risky strategy and one which editors are well aware of and tuned in to: Sudden withdrawals of papers from journals always raise warning flags for editors and you can expect to be asked to give details as to why you want to unsubmit your paper.
At the end of the day, it’s good to have as many papers submitted to journals as possible at the same time because this will maximise your turnover as a publishing researcher. It’s important, however, to make sure that your papers address different topics and are put together following ethical guidelines.
The question of authorship is always a thorny one. We’ve touched on this before on our Research Square / AJE Blogs, outlining guidelines, best practice, and the ethics of authorship on papers as well as what it means to allow a Ghost Author to join one of your papers.
The ethics of article authorship in academic publishing are simple, in theory, although not consistently applied in practice (as any young researcher will testify). In order to sign your name onto a paper as an author, you must have:
- Made a substantial contribution to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work;
- Drafted the work or revised it critically for important intellectual content;
- Given your final approval of the version to be published, and;
- Agreed to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.
But, how many authors on papers can really say that they HAVE all of these boxes ticked? Too often, colleagues are added “because they should be there”, or “because they are the team leader, or Head of Department”. If you have questions you can ask us. Click here to get in touch.
Journal submission requirements do vary on this point, but most are members of COPE, the Committee on Publication Ethics (we are members at Research Square). When making initial manuscript submissions, authors are almost always required to tick a box within an online system that verifies that ‘all contributors to the study have been included as authors’ and that ‘all authors are aware of this submission’, or similar. This procedure is intended to mean that everybody who deserves to be an author has been included on the paper at this stage and, of course, that they all know about, and have approved, the submission. Mistakes do happen, but it’s usually quite hard to ‘forget’ about the inclusion of an author on a research paper.
In these cases, the usual procedure is for a journal to ask for signed consent forms from all current co-authors approving the addition of a new colleague to the paper. This, of course, is a step taken to prevent a lead or corresponding author adding people late in the process without informing the current contributors. This can also happen, as people often view authorship on papers as a kind of ‘reward’ or ‘homage’, perhaps to senior colleagues. But it’s a step outside ethical publishing procedures: as discussed, all authors listed on an academic research paper must have ‘contributed significantly’ to the study in question.
What did you do?
- Did you secure the funding for the research?
- Did you design the project?
- Did you collect the data or analyse it?
- Did you write the paper, or contribute to the manuscript?.
These are all questions to ask yourself when considering whether, or not, to sign as an author on a research paper.
Another useful guide is ‘would you be happy to stand up at an international meeting and give a talk about this research?’. Because if the answer to this question is ‘no’ then you probably did not contribute significantly enough to the project to warrant authorship.
Authorship on academic papers is one of the most difficult issues to resolve when disputes do occur.
Lots of thing can happen:
- Authors fighting amongst themselves once a paper has been accepted and demanding that it is removed from publication;
- Authors demanding the removal of others prior to publication;
- Researchers writing wanting to know why their name was not included as an author on a paper that has just come out when they collected a substantial amount of data;
- Authors requesting that their names be removed from papers prior to publication because of a dispute with their colleagues.
All of these situations happen all the time and have to be dealt with by journals.
What about First Authorship?
In most situations, first authorship is a position reserved for the person who did the bulk of the work and led on the research. This would almost always be the PhD student or young researcher then who did the data collection, analysis and led on the article development parts of the project. Especially if this is part of their PhD.
Last authorship, in contrast, in many fields is occupied by the lab group leader. You can click here to learn more, including the ethics of article authorship and what exactly is a Ghost Author.
It would be far better if authors submitting their work for publications were aware of the ethical issues that surround authorship as well as the fact that changes are very hard to make once a paper has been submitted.
Hopefully, this article and others in this series will help you to better understand academic authorship and what a serious responsibility this actually is: You share the collective responsibility for the submission of a manuscript to a journal, it’s contents (including data and analyses), and for any further issues and outcomes that might arise.
As noted, this blog is part of a Research Integrity Toolkit series in partnership with Scholastica in honor of Peer Review Week 2022.