Biomed Mater. 2012 Jan 27;7(1):010201. [Epub ahead of print]
Coping with copying and conflicts (of interest).
Lee IS, Spector M.
As we reflect on the past year, we applaud the efforts of the contributing authors and of the editorial staff, Editorial Board, and referees of Biomedical Materials (BMM), which have resulted in an increase in the journal's Impact Factor to 2.467. The importance of the papers published this past year is demonstrated in part by the increase in the number of downloads, from an average of 126 downloads per article in 2010 to 226 in 2011. And as we look ahead to 2012, highlights include focus issues on 'Injectable Hydrogels for Tissue/Organ Repair', guest edited by J A Burdick, and 'Biomaterials in Translational Regenerative Medicine', guest edited by A Atala and S J Lee. Moreover, Institute of Physics Publishing (IOPP) will be implementing the publication of future articles in BMM in an enhanced HTML format as an additional convenience for readers. BMM remains ever attentive to maintaining the highest standards in publishing work principally focused on biomaterials for use in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, including assurance that the papers represent unpublished and unbiased work. To ensure that this is the case, IOPP has taken all steps possible including the use of the newest text screening software. But even with these safeguards in place, and the attendant vigilance of referees, it continues to be you, the reader, who is the final arbiter of the veracity of a published scientific paper. Fortunately, plagiarism, particularly involving unauthorized and non-credited use of previously reported data from investigators other than those taking credit for the work, is exceedingly rare. But there is another form of copying/duplication that is much more prevalent. It is when authors copy text from the introduction, materials and methods, and/or discussion sections from one of their papers for use in another. This practice may seem particularly innocuous when the text is that which describes experimental methods. And there are times when a sentence or two or three from the introduction or discussion of a paper have been so well crafted to capture the subject, that it seems a shame not to use the text in a subsequent manuscript on a similar topic. But, of course, while seemingly innocuous, unless quotation marks are inserted around the passage and a reference citation is included, this is not an acceptable practice. In accepting the conditions for publication of their work in BMM or most other journals, authors sign a Transfer of Copyright agreement that assigns exclusively to the publisher the worldwide copyright to, i.e. ownership of, all text as well as all other content of the paper. And now, with software widely available to check the similarity of text of a new paper with that of all prior publications, copied text can be readily detected, placing the reputations of the authors in jeopardy. One such software package is eTBLAST (http://etest.vbi.vt.edu/etblast3/), which is a free web-based service of The Innovation Laboratory at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, Blacksburg, VA, USA. eTBLAST compares text submitted by the user to the full text of previously published papers in several databases, including PubMed. Another text comparison software package with a similar purpose is iThenticate (http://www.ithenticate.com/). IOPP is a member of CrossCheck (http://www.crossref.org/crosscheck/), a plagiarism detection service that employs iThenticate to compare text in a submitted manuscript with published manuscripts from more than 50 publishers. When the BMM editorial staff are alerted to the similarity in whole passages (i.e. several sentences in a row or full paragraphs) of a submitted paper with the text of a prior publication, the paper is immediately returned, without review, to the authors with a notification of the duplication. An important service is thus being rendered to the authors, because if the duplication had gone undetected by the BMM staff, a consequence is that it would likely have been detected eventually by certain surveillance groups , who are examining publications worldwide for duplicated material and then publishing their results in a freely accessible database, 'Deja vu: a Database of Highly Similar Citations' (http://spore.vbi.vt.edu/dejavu/). Deja vu lists the authors and their works which display duplication. This is one list that I do not think that any of us want to be on. So the cautionary note for us, as authors, is to avoid copying text from one of our papers into another of our papers, even though that text may simply be a description of methods. Another area requiring the attention of authors, and readers, is the bias that comes with 'conflict of interest'. As with most other publishers, IOPP requests that authors disclose potential conflicts of interest in their manuscripts and that referees, too, report potential conflicts to the editorial office. Understandably the principal criterion for establishing whether a conflict exists relates to financial involvement of the authors, or referees, in the work being reported. But recognizing that financial interests alone do not capture the spirit of assurance that the work is free of bias, IOPP, in their Ethical Policy, asks authors to consider two practical guidelines: (1) 'to declare any competing interests that could embarrass you were they to become publicly known after your work was published; and (2) to declare any information which, when revealed later, would make a reasonable reader feel misled or deceived.' And for referees, the IOPP Ethical Policy requests that individuals act within the spirit of the Nolan Principles of Public Life (http://www.archive.official-documents.co.uk/document/parlment/nolan/seven.htm). In fact, the most prevalent conflict is likely unrelated to financial interests. It comes in the form of a bias that authors may bring with them to a work, based on their prior studies of a subject and their professional stake in a certain biomaterial or process or concept. Many of us are vested in a certain material system or treatment or point of view and, thus, even with an absence of any financial involvement, may overstate the promise of experimental findings. The methods and data are valid and clearly stated in black and white, but the interpretation of the findings may be just a bit colored. There is no editorial disclosure form that is likely to be able to screen for this type of bias. And while it is up to the referees to determine the appropriateness of the conclusions drawn from the experimental results, in the end it is the reader who will be the judge of the meaningfulness of the reported findings. Readers of BMM can remain assured that IOPP, and the editorial staff, Editorial Board, and referees will continue to do their best to have papers published in the journal meet the highest standards for publication. But as always, it will be you, the reader, who will be the final judge of the meaningfulness of the papers published in BMM. Reference  Couzin-Frankel J and Grom J 2009 Scientific publishing. Plagiarism sleuths Science 324 1004-7.