Abelson, Philip H. "Excessive Zeal to Publish," Science 218 (3 December 1982), p. 953.

 

Abelson, Philip H. "Excessive Zeal to Publish," Science 218 (3 December 1982), p. 953.

Here is the editor of Science threatening authors if they are unethical in submitting papers to
Science. To him, it is unethical to submit the same paper to two or more journals at the same
time. (Similarly, "same" is a matter of relationship: remember the story of the Least Publishable
Unit, and maximize the number of papers to be written on a single bit of research.) These
"unethical behaviors" of authors have "frequently" been caught by reviewers. Up until now, the
only thing Science has done to such authors is reject the article in question. But this is changing.
The Editor is aroused: "We will encourage reviewers to inform us about unethical behavior of
authors. Such reports will have a bearing on future submissions. In cases of duplicate publication
of original research findings involving Science and other major periodicals, we will, after careful
examination of the facts, consider joining in concerted action against the offender." He does not
say what the action might be but he does say that some journals have refused to publish any
papers submitted from certain labs and from certain individuals.

Abelson says he can understand the need for a list of publications on a cv, but he considers the
costs of excessive submissions and, from an editor's point of view, they can be expensive. He
has the power to make his judgment stick. Some of the costs of excessive submissions: they steal
the time of reviewers, overburden editors, inflate costs, and are self- defeating to readers. They
are not going to be tolerated any longer.

Another way of looking at this editorial is to say that here is a major figure in the scientific world
announcing what ethics should be. Furthermore, the editor seems purposefully ambiguous in
saying that multiple submissions are wrong and that there are other forms of behavior which are
wrong which remain undefined. He alludes to more than he describes.

He admits that statistics are not available on multiple submissions but that the incidents are
reported "repeatedly." They are frequent enough to lead to these complaints.