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On the Failure to Disclose Sibling Manuscripts

Wilcox, Allen J.; Szklo, Moyses

doi: 10.1097/01.EDE.0000052696.92388.D8

Note: This statement is being published simultaneously in the 15 February 2003 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

As the editors of Epidemiology and the American Journal of Epidemiology, we have encountered a disturbing trend. Some authors submit a manuscript to one journal and a related paper to another—with neither paper citing the other. Each of these sibling manuscripts is presented as if it were an “only child.” Why is this wrong? Let us count the ways.

Number one, authors have a duty to provide results that are as coherent and integrated as possible. To scatter fragmented findings among journals is unhelpful to readers, to say the least. Granted, epidemiologic studies often require a series of papers in order to build the full picture. In that case, the parents and siblings of each subsequent paper must be acknowledged, and their accumulating findings synthesized. (Authors are always welcome to submit a set of related papers from a single study, a strategy with the further advantage of allowing the background and methods in each paper to be condensed.)

Number two, our journals clearly instruct authors to provide related papers with their submission. This includes published papers, those in press, and any under review elsewhere. We require this in order to make a full and fair assessment of the contribution of the manuscript under review. When in doubt, authors should err on the side of including possibly relevant papers.

The final point is the most discouraging. Although authors may fail to cite their related papers without devious intent, the practice raises the suspicion that it has been done to increase the likelihood that a paper will be accepted for publication. This erodes the trust upon which scholarly enterprise is based.

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We would like to believe that the tenets of good scholarship are universally understood. With regard to the citation of related papers, this is apparently not always the case. We expect authors to provide us with full disclosure, full citation and full discussion of their related work. In turn, authors have the right to expect us to use this information wisely, taking into account the interests of both the authors and the readers.

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.