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I recently reviewed a paper for a (reasonably reputable) journal and found that it was already published (verbatim, by the same authors) in another journal (a fake one). I wrote the following review: "This is a duplicate publication, it appeared two weeks ago in Journal X, here is the link to the copy on Journal X's website."

The timing suggests that they submitted the paper to Journal X around the same time they sent it to us.

In retrospect I should have emailed the editor instead of going through the review site. But anyways, within a day or two the review site showed that the associate editor had seen my review, and the editor listed for the piece changed from the associate editor who was originally assigned to the editor-in-chief.

However, the decision letter that went out to the authors was just a standard rejection letter, with my review appended to the bottom. (The standard rejection letter thanks the author for submitting the piece for consideration and wishes them success in finding another venue to publish it in...)

It seems to me that this is a poor strategy for disincentivizing attempts at duplicate publication; at worst, one risks a rejection if found out. (Disregarding for the moment what the consequences would be if they were successful, both papers were published, and then they were found out by someone else.)

I checked the publisher's website and though it specifies clearly (and authors have to certify at the time of submission that the piece is not published or under review somewhere else) that duplicate publications are not permitted, I didn't find any specific details on what the consequences might be.

Is this normal procedure? Do editors usually follow up and try to impose consequences for attempted duplicate publication?

If so:

What kind of consequences are usually imposed for trying to publish the same paper twice, if caught by a journal while in review?

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Unfortunately, this is also common policy in some journals I publish in. –  xLeitix Mar 6 at 7:28
    
What bothers me is that there are no automated checks to prevent this. Is this left to the good will and googling skills of the referees? Isn't there an analogous of turnitin for journals? –  Federico Poloni Mar 6 at 9:07
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@FedericoPoloni Well, there is certainly software that can do this, and it is my understanding that many journals do use such software, though I don't know if it is done always, or only in cases that are suspect for other reasons. –  Tobias Kildetoft Mar 6 at 9:14
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5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Good question. First of all, as far as I know, there is no penal system in academic publishing. Reputation is everything. (BTW Many of us have made big or small mistakes when we were young and ignorant, learned our lesson, everyone moved on.) Of course, a journal could always shun authors "indefinitely", if they attempt to violate codes of conduct. There is not much more a single publisher can do. In cases like yours, the responsibility falls back entirely on the academic community - whose members are also editors and referees like you - and the control power of one's reputation within it.

In your particular case, as you said, the editor presumably consulted with the editor-in-chief, which shows it is not a trivial problem to handle, and they decided to proceed as they did. If the journal had rules in place, such as that they would have to refuse future submissions from the same authors, they would inform the authors, but that's obviously not the case.

You did not specify if those authors are known in your field or obscure. If the editor knows the author personally (which I doubt in your case), the dynamics is different.

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+1 for Many of us have made big or small mistakes when we were young and ignorant, learned our lesson, everyone moved on –  krammer Mar 6 at 6:52
    
Agree that people should have a chance to learn from mistakes. But it seems like by sending such a neutral response, we didn't even tell the authors (who were from a country that is not very active in the 'global' research community, and indeed, may not have known) that what they did is broadly considered unacceptable! –  ff524 Mar 9 at 21:34
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I stumbled upon last year on a "black list" of authors in the context of an IEEE conference. I don't know if such lists are common and known among editors. I think that each area of publishing (engineering, medicine, biology, etc.) have its own habits. But again, this is at editor/journal level and not at reviewer level.

On the other side, I think that you should give the authors some benefit of doubt. Take one busy PhD coordinator, an eager to publish student, some communication discontinuities, add in the mix the publishing invitation spam and you get a good paper submitted to a fake journal.

Maybe, after the advisor recognized the error, was too late to withdraw the paper. So they sent the paper to a regular journal so a hard worked paper doesn't go to waste.

My 2 cents.

EDIT

Usually it is allowed (and sometimes encouraged) to extend a paper already presented at a conference with new results, new comparisons etc. and submit it to a journal. However, in the cover letter, the authors must clearly specify that! And cite the older paper.

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Certainly: "On the other side, I think that you should give the authors some benefit of doubt. Take one busy PhD coordinator, an eager to publish student, some communication discontinuities, add in the mix the publishing invitation spam and you get a good paper submitted to a fake journal." –  mirkastath Mar 7 at 7:33
    
Actually, this paper was co-authored by two faculty members and no PhD students :( –  ff524 Mar 9 at 21:35
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I am familiar with one case of duplicate submission (simultaneously, to two reputable journals). I know that one of the publishers banned the authors for five years from submitting to any of their journals.

In my opinion, that is an appropriate consequence. After all, the authors gave their word to both journals that they had not simultaneously submitted the paper to another journal. In reply to some of the other answers posted here, I would say that lying is not the same thing as making a mistake.

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I think it's possible that the authors did not realize their actions are considered broadly unacceptable (they are from a country that is not very active in the 'global' research community). But, it seemed to me that the editor's neutral response doesn't even send them the message that they shouldn't do this in the future! A 5-year ban from one publisher seems like it would get the message across, without punishing them too harshly for what may have been a mistake. –  ff524 Mar 9 at 21:39
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No, I don't think that there is any standard policy for treating these cases.

Still, remember that no matter what, all the editors and reviewers are humans like everybody, and they do know it when someone does it, and usually they are from the same branch and meet the authors at conferences etc. And no matter what, some information always leaks out, and such a strong negative information seems to leak out faster.

Breaking the ethics in such a way is seen as a strongly negative thing by many people, and they will likely treat you accordingly, while never saying that they know it. You probably can't speak about a career suicide, but think of it that way a bit.

However (to make the post less negative and more fair): As the other answers say, we all do make mistakes, and others know this.

What should you do? Nothing probably. Especially if one of the journals was a fake journal, I would say.

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I am personally aware about the history when as little as several sentences from the introduction of the own article has been reused in another article (not even results or conclusions). The history became public, dragging various of events that were not very severe but unpleasant enough to avoid.

So I suggest better not to do this. Of course, this also depends on the policies of the both journals but most of them disallow duplicate content. To make the long story short, it might be sad consequences.

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What is the relation of the last part to the question? Better not to do what? –  Tobias Kildetoft Mar 6 at 13:05
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I use whole paragraphs from another articles, sometimes my own, sometimes others. I mean: if there is one mathematical definition of the term, and someone has found the genuine way how to put it in words, it makes the best sense to use this wording, of course citing the original work, too. –  tohecz Mar 9 at 0:02
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