Avoid selfplagiarism

Seduced by the seeming value oflengthy publication lists, some scientists recycle their research. Changing the emphasis slightly, they submit two or three articles where one would really do. Although this practice is legal, it is ethically questionable, and wastes the time and energy of editors, referees, and readers alike. (See this book's earlier section on "salami-slicing science.")

Rarely is such republication justified, but examples might be when the first paper was in another language or in a journal with very limited circulation. If you feel that your situation gives reason for republication, tell the editor the circumstances of its prior appearance. Enclose a copy of the original article so that differences can be verified and the editor can make an informed decision.

In the workplace, employees often borrow and reuse material from in-house manuals, reports, and other company documents. Using such information, called boilerplate, is neither plagiarism nor a violation of copyright.

Protect yourself from potential libel and slander charges

The experiment went well because Dr. Jones was not involved.

- fictitious email posting

Scientists tend to ignore the legal problem of potential libel, believing it is something they don't have to worry about. However, in today's litigious society, this can be a naive assumption.

Libel refers to anything circulated in writing or pictures that injures someone's good reputation, particularly anything about a living person that is both untrue and harmful. (The corresponding term for injury by speech is "slander.")

Libel law is complex and changing, but in general harmful is defined as any statement that can damage a person's status, business or profession, or social life. Groups can be libeled as well as individuals.

When Dr. Smithson openly charged his rival with bribing the journal editor, the professor sued Smithson for slander.

Dr. Montgomery was quite surprised to find herself sued for libel after her hastily written editorial labeled the American Naturopathic Medical Association as "a bunch of quacks."

Even reporting about ongoing investigations or decisions in fraud cases may now draw complaints. As a result, major journals like Science reportedly ask their attorneys to review all unflattering news reports for potential libel, because truth and accuracy are not enough to prevent a journal from being sued or bearing the cost of defending against a lawsuit (LaFollette, 1992).

If you are called upon to write about controversial events or subjects, you likewise might be wise to have a lawyer review your document.

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