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I think the question is fairly clear. Someone could have idea A, and write paper A, but then instead of submitting paper A to multiple journals, he or she might re-write the thing into a paper B, but the basic idea is still idea A.

Say the idea is amazing. He or she could then submit paper A to top journal A & paper B to top journal B, and have two top publications from one idea.

This is obviously wrong, and what I describe is extreme, but what would prevent someone from doing this, what would the consequences be? A bad reputation?

There might also be less obvious cases, where parts of a previously published paper are re-used extensively. Is something like this ever o.k. to do? Why don't more people do it? Or am I just wrong in the assumption that people don't do this?

PS: I am coming from a Humanities background, I think in some subjects things like these might be more difficult, e.g. in maths or a paper which describes a certain study / experiment.

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    I second that this question seems to be specific to the Humanities. In STEM fields, an idea alone does not warrant a paper. It's the execution of an idea (for example, experiments or formal proofs) that makes the paper. – lighthouse keeper Jun 6 '17 at 10:20
  • Note that it is possible that the same person is asked to referee two of these concurrent submissions. It's much more likely than you may think, since for many specialized works the pool of possible referees is small. If this happens, they will inform the editors and catch the attempt before it gets published. – Federico Poloni Jun 6 '17 at 15:30
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    When you come up for tenure, not only does the committee count the number of papers you have, but in many cases it actually looks at the papers, or asks for letters from experts who look at the papers ... – Peter Shor Jun 6 '17 at 18:59
  • @PeterShor Only in many cases?! – JeffE Jun 6 '17 at 21:41
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    @JeffE, I know that many of my colleagues (not all...) would not look at the papers, but (claim to) care far more about far-away-experts' opinions. Seems strange to me, but I've been told that my own opinion about potential hires in our dept is obviously subordinate to the opinions of far-away-experts. That kind of thing. – paul garrett Jun 6 '17 at 22:02
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Submitting (almost) the same paper, the same content, to two different journals at the same time is bad. Once it comes out, the author will be in a lot of trouble, e.g. reputation, both papers withdrawn, etc.

Reusing old results for a new paper is plagiarism if there are not enough new results. Even if the author of the new paper also wrote the old one, it is still bad. There are cases where different papers by the same author look really similar, for example if the author presents in paper (1) a new technique and then publishes paper (2) on nice results obtained with said technique, he might copy some of the explanations on how the technique works. If this is good or bad seems to be opinion based, all I can say is that it happens.

Regarding your question about what prevents people from doing such things:

  • Yes, a bad reputation might be one possible reason.
  • Actually, there are people doing this, e.g. trying to submit their paper to different journals at the same time, hoping that at least one of them will accept it. There was a question here a few weeks back from one who got busted doing it and asked for what to do now to save the sinking ship that was his academic career. The reason why it seems that this is not done might be thanks to journals taking measures against it, e.g. not publishing such papers or withdrawing them later on.
  • One last point to mention here might be colleagues or advisors. If you feel like it might be a good idea to just spam your results to get them accepted or to get a high paper count, you might get the advice that this is not a good idea in the long run from one of the above - if you are lucky you get it before you do something irreversible.
2

There may be policies from the publishers which could result in a paper being withdrawn. For example, from Elsevier's policies and ethics page:

Multiple, redundant or concurrent publication: An author should not in general publish manuscripts describing essentially the same research in more than one journal or primary publication.

Anecdotally it's not uncommon for research groups to find ways of getting many papers out of work (Core work, work applied to situation A, work applied to similar but distinctly different situation B...) which is sometimes completely appropriate, sometimes less easy to justify.

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    There is a question of scale here as well - sometimes it only takes one 'idea' to launch an entire career (if that idea is good enough with broad enough applicability). A really good idea may start an entire new sub-field. – Jon Custer Jun 6 '17 at 13:20
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What you're suggesting is self-plagiarism and almost as bad as plagiarism. It is unethical and explicitly prohibited by most journals, which demand that submitted work should be original.

However, having said that, some high-profile discoveries often result in several papers, such as

  1. A brief and fast publication in a high-impact journal, such as Nature.
  2. A long paper describing all the technical details and methods very carefully in a high-reputation journals of the respective field
  3. A review article that summarizes the main results

These papers can refer to each other, but must not quote verbatim w/o indicating (see also this answer).

  • I would say that these papers must refer to each other (at least if they are published later chronologically). – Peter Shor Jun 7 '17 at 11:47

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