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I am reviewing conference submissions (specialized branch of engineering). One of them, although technically more interesting than some of the other submissions, is a typical case of "salami publishing". When looking into existing research on the topic during my review, I found two already published papers by the same authors on the same topic. The research in the published papers was more advanced: they cover method A tried on substrate B and successfully transferred to substrate C, while the conference abstract is only about method A on substrate B.

Is it OK to reject an (otherwise very good) entry because of preexisting publications on the same research? Should I inform the conference chair or just reject?

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    If I understand you correctly, you found another paper by the same authors which contains the same results (as well as other ones) as the paper you are currently reviewing. If so, why do you say "salami slicing" rather than "self-plagiarism" (or, as I would prefer, duplicate publication)? Aug 23, 2021 at 12:15
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    Are you reviewing conference abstracts or papers? If you're reviewing abstracts, are you sure that abstracts in your field count as publications (which would be necessary for the concepts "self-plagarism" and "salami slicing" to become applicable)? I'm only aware of fields where conference papers count as publications. Aug 23, 2021 at 12:28
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    Is this computer science? Computer science does conferences differently from other fields. Aug 23, 2021 at 12:30
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    @lighthousekeeper I am reviewing the abstracts, but I know the conference. If you are invited to present, you will have to write a (4-5 page) conference paper as well that will be published afterwards. Aug 23, 2021 at 12:36
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    Based on the title, I thought you were rejected for having a past job as a salami slicer. It would probably also be helpful to include a definition of "salami publishing". Unless it's a particularly well-known term, it likely also makes sense to leave that term out of the title.
    – NotThatGuy
    Aug 24, 2021 at 8:37

2 Answers 2

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To recommend that a paper should not be accepted to a conference or journal because it is not novel enough relative to the existing literature is one of the most standard reasons for making such a recommendation. The fact that the lack of novelty arises out of prior publications by the same author is irrelevant. The motivation of the author for trying to publish a paper that improves on the state of the art only in a marginal, incremental way is also irrelevant.

This isn’t about salami slicing. You don’t need to inform the conference chair or anyone else, just apply the same criteria for whether to recommend accepting the paper that you apply to any other paper: novelty, importance, etc.

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    While I agree with your comment, isnt it said what conference became? I mean assume you make a big breakthrough and publish it in science or whatever. So now you should not go to a conference and tell everybody/discuss about it? So you need to present about another (not so breakthrough) thing. Doesnt this let conferences decline to mediocricity (while attempting the opposite).
    – lalala
    Aug 24, 2021 at 10:08
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    @lalala while the breakthrough discovery makes it through review to publication, there's plenty of time to talk about it in conferences. In many fields, at least, conference presentations precede the definitive journal article that sums it up. And then if it's really breakthrough, you still get to talk about it in invited talks :-)
    – alexis
    Aug 24, 2021 at 11:16
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    @lalala for conferences that expect to present only novel research and explicitly require it in their call for papers, that's exactly how it works, the expectation is that people of that subfield already have read your previously published research if it's important. Perhaps you'll get invited for a keynote speech - that often is a discussion summarizing previous breakthroughs - but all the ordinary presentations would be expected to be novel research. There are also conferences without such a requirement which would accept and expect discussion, it's very different across fields of science.
    – Peteris
    Aug 24, 2021 at 19:18
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    Be sure to look at if the focus of the paper is on different things. You could use the same data but be stressing to the reader different concepts and ideas in different papers. Sometimes we have a preconceived notion of what something is about but the author may be trying to stress something different.
    – NDEthos
    Aug 24, 2021 at 21:01
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Note that you, a reviewer, don't accept or reject. The editor(s) or conference program chairs have that power, not you. You can recommend rejection, but say why. The journal may or may not be as sensitive to the issue as you are.

If the paper shows no "interesting" results or simply recapitulates things the author (or another party) has already published, say that. Insufficient novelty in a paper is grounds for rejection, but it is the editor's choice.

Just give them the information they need to do their job. The other reviewers will hopefully do the same. Hopefully you aren't the only reviewer.

Also note that what is "salami slicing" is a judgement call. To say that that alone is sufficient for rejection puts your personal preferences above what might be good for the conference. It would seem to result in a program that is actually less technically interesting, to use your words.

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    Salami slicing, in the sense of wasting peer reviewers time with excessive submissions, is unethical. Aug 23, 2021 at 12:40
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    @AnonymousPhysicist, but don't assume that the results in the latest paper were necessarily known when the earlier publications occurred. And, again, "salami slicing" is, to some degree a judgement call. Some "small" results can be significant in their own right in some fields and might get lost in a larger work. Of all the bad behavior in academia I think this one isn't near the top of the list.
    – Buffy
    Aug 23, 2021 at 12:51
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    ... and a conference is not a terrible place to submit an incremental result. Aug 23, 2021 at 12:54
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    @Buffy if I’m reading things right, it sounds like the paper in question is a subset of a prior publication by the same authors, so I’m not sure what you mean by “don’t assume that the results … were necessarily known when the earlier publications occurred” if it’s published by the same people. The latest paper sounds like a downgraded version of something they’ve already published. If they’d published this first, then the other ones, then I understand what your point is here. Aug 24, 2021 at 1:19
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I agree, I had a phase of getting papers to review from a research group that invented novel method A and then (incremental) variants B, C, D, and then submit papers comparing A and B, A and C, A and D, B and C, B and D, C and D and (for example) the comparison of C and D coming after papers that showed B dominates C and D. It is a great way to gain a bad reputation in your field, but "publish or perish" encourages it, and the main loser is the reviewer whose desk they repeatedly fall on. Aug 25, 2021 at 10:46

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