I'm aware that it's a violation of terms for most publishers to submit the same article to more than one journal, but I frequently see authors whose papers seem very similar, particularly papers released in a single year. In my field, neuroscience, this is particularly true about conference papers; one researcher will often have numerous posters/conference papers about seemingly the same topic. What are the guidelines for acceptability regarding this type of behavior?
According to the Committee on Publication Ethics Guidelines on Good Publication Practice, the term "redundant publication" is defined this way:
"Redundant publication occurs when two or more papers, without full cross reference, share the same hypothesis, data, discussion points, or conclusions." In addition, it states: "(1) Published studies do not need to be repeated unless further confirmation is required. (2) Previous publication of an abstract during the proceedings of meetings does not preclude subsequent submission for publication, but full disclosure should be made at the time of submission. (3) Re-publication of a paper in another language is acceptable, provided that there is full and prominent disclosure of its original source at the time of submission. (4) At the time of submission, authors should disclose details of related papers, even if in a different language, and similar papers in press." Note that (2) states that it is generally acceptable to present a paper in a conference and then later publish exactly the same paper in a journal, as long as you mention to the editor that the paper has been publicly presented.
According to the paper Science journal editors’ views on publication ethics: Results of an international survey,
"Breaches of publication ethics such as plagiarism, data fabrication and redundant publication are recognised as forms of research misconduct that can undermine the scientific literature." It also stated that redundant publication is an unethical practice. Of 16 ethical issues studied, redundant publication had the highest severity (that is, it caused editors the most concern---more than plagiarism or data fabrication).
Rather than asking what's acceptable, I think it's worthwhile to step back and think about the purpose of scientific publication. Your goal in publishing should be to disseminate useful ideas, not to create a publication record. If you have ten papers that are all very similar, it's hard for people to learn about your ideas because they won't have time to read all those papers. Just write one good one.
Personally, I have no qualms with submitting the same talk to multiple conferences; however, in my field (Chemical Engineering), we don't really do conference proceedings. Therefore, it's not such a big deal to present a work more than once; it's being given to different audiences that might not otherwise see the work, and it's not going into the publication record multiple times, so there really aren't any ethical violations going on.
However, in a field where conference papers are required to give a talk, then ethical rules demand that you disclose if a paper has been accepted previously. If you've changed the material enough, or introduced enough new material, then it's a little bit more of a grey area. But it's still better to err on the side of caution than to get caught out.
There are a few things to keep in mind:
- Submitted talks vs. invited talks. Many researchers will have given many talks on a subject, but if most of them are invited talks, the reason they're duplicates is because conference organizers have essentially asked for duplicates.
- I'd argue it isn't ethical to submit the same presentation, but a topic is a wide ranging thing. Heck, even a single study has a lot of aspects to it, and many conference presentations have less content than a single paper. For example, you might have a presentation at one conference that's highly technical, another for a different audience that's more practical/applied, etc. Those are different talks.
- Consider what you want to get out of it. Unless your field is one of those where presentations trump papers or themselves generate papers (CS comes to mind), presentations aren't that big of a deal on a CV such that an extra one or two will really put you over the edge. In my field for example, everyone knows there's certain conferences that will essentially accept as many talks as they have spaces to fill (and they have many spaces to fill), so as long as your science isn't egregiously wrong, you're probably going to get in. What you do get out of that is good contacts, and good advice. If you keep repeating the same thing over and over, your return on "investment" starts to dive.
- If your talk is going to be spun into a paper via conference proceedings or the like, be doubly cautious, and make sure if you are double-dipping in an experiment or the like that the resulting papers are clearly different as well. I don't know anyone who doesn't frown on duplicated papers, and more than one venue that will smack you down hard for trying to play a game like that.