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January 24, 2012
C2012 American Chemical Society
Recycling Is Not Always Good: The
Dangers of Self-Plagiarism
own publication(s) without attribution, is the deception still academic fraud? Yes, it is,
because it is an intentional attempt to deceive a reader by implying that new information is
being presented. Intentional deception is fraud; one of the two definitions of fraud in the
Oxford English Dictionary is:
lagiarism is an act of academic fraud that implies “taking over the ideas, methods, or
written words of another, without acknowledgment and with the intention that they
be taken as the work of the deceiver.”1If one “borrows” one's own ideas from one's
“a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with
accomplishments or qualities”2
As a result, recycling old data as new material (the accomplishment or quality), when it is
not so, is tantamount to attempting to deceive one's audience.3
Thankfully, much thoughtful consideration has been given to defining, describing,
recognizing, and avoiding self-plagiarism.4,5A number of sources are given here, but an
excellent place to start to explore the concept is with a detailed piece by Miguel Roig on the
Office of Research Integrity's Web site.6According to this helpful and scientifically oriented
summary of questionable practices in writing, there are a number of serious problems
that arise from self-plagiarism that can affect both the scientific community as a whole
and individual researchers. The motivation for self-plagiarism is simple and relates back to
the overused saying “publish or perish”.7,8The conflict of interest inherent in a highly
competitive system that “counts” papers when promotions and grant proposals are being
evaluated can lead to dangerous temptation. Self-plagiarism is problematic for a number of
reasons as it:
(i) overworks an already overloaded peer-review and editorial system. When one
considers the time taken to carry out careful, thorough, and thoughtful reviews, the
handling of the manuscript by one or more journals, and the reading of the manu-
script by future readers, recycled data in a self-plagiarized paper can be seen to dilute
the quality of science across the board. Time wasted on a self-plagiarized paper is,
bothers us a great deal. As a side note, to date, the majority of cases of self-plagiarism
have been caught by referees, but we are adding new tools in our editorial offices to
check submissions prior to wasting referees' time.
of self-plagiarism, one cannot help but feel slighted, angry, and frustrated. We
wonder, “Did this person really think, in this day and age with all electronic access
and tools, that no one would notice?” and, “If they recycle data/text, how can I trust
anything this group publishes?” The negative impact on past, current, and future
students, colleagues, and one's institution cannot be underestimated.
(iii) may result in copyright infringment. Without explicit permission from the publisher for
reuse of material, republication of text/figures could be an infringement of copyright. It is
published data can be reused with permission if (and only if) properly quoted and cited.
There are a number of serious problems that arise from self-
plagiarism that can affect both the scientific community as a whole
and individual researchers.
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(iv) may and likely will conclude with getting caught, and, in the most serious cases,
Watch is a Web site set up by two science journalists, Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky,
many of which were for self-plagiarism. In their invited year-end contribution to Nature
as the scientific community continues to read, to reference, and to scrutinize the
scientists, editors, and journalists who want to keep the record straight.
At ACS Nano, we have seen a number of examples of academic malpractice that fall within
all comes down to the central issue of deception;were the authors trying to deceive the
editors, the referees, and the readers into presenting recycled data, text, and figures as
entirely new material? We understand that experimental sections may run into difficulties
of similar textual descriptions, and while care should be taken with the experimental
method descriptions, these have not been the source of problems. Examples we have
(i) Manuscripts in which several paragraphs were copied verbatim or only slightly re-
written from earlier publishedpapers. If we encountereven afewsentencesofidenti-
cal text, it will now be flagged for a closer look using plagiarism detection software.
(ii) Identical schematics or figures used in earlier papers. In one recent example, the
first (and critical introductory) scheme of a paper was taken from a prior publication
as we would expect in ACS Nano, then this introductory scheme should also be novel
and distinct from previously published work. Together with recycled text and data in
the manuscript, we concluded that this was a case of self-plagiarism.
(iii) Data augmentation. In another recent example, data from a recent paper were aug-
mented with new data and repackaged as an entirely new set of results. While we all
results and buried the prior reference deep in the paper. The reuse of tabular data,
images, and text led us to the conclusion of self-plagiarism.
submitted related, overlapping content to other journals. In these cases, it has been
referees are explicitly chosen as experts in their fields, and the referees have alerted
us to potential duplication. Without the disclosure of the related manuscripts upon
submission to ACS Nano, in combination with the redundant text between the
manuscripts, we have concluded that this type of deception is also self-plagiarism.
The responses to the above cases have ranged from retraction to multi-year bans of further
submissions, and some cases were referred to the authors' department heads and deans, or
The negative impact on past, current, and future students,
colleagues, and one's institution cannot be underestimated.
Self-plagiarism comes down to the central issue of deception;
were the authors trying to deceive the editors, the referees, and the
readers into presenting recycled data, text, and figures as entirely
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equivalents. We take these issues extremely seriously and work with other journals to
adjudicate them strictly and fairly.
To conclude, we end with the Ethical Guidelines from the American Chemical Society,
with respect to self-plagiarism. As can be seen, we apply a “reasonable person” standard
when deciding whether or not there is a problem. When in doubt, please contact us
as we would be more than happy to help make a distinction between acceptable
reuse and self-plagiarism. We appreciate your thoughts and the continuing discussion
on this topic.
ETHICAL GUIDELINES TO PUBLICATION OF CHEMICAL RESEARCH
The guidelines embodied in this document were revised by the Editors of the Publications
Division of the American Chemical Society, December 13, 2011.
“Authors should not engage in self-plagiarism (also known as duplicate publication);unaccep-
tably close replication of the author's own previously published text or results without acknowl-
edgement of the source. ACS applies a “reasonable person” standard when deciding whether a
submission constitutes self-plagiarism/duplicate publication. If one or two identical sentences
previously published by an author appear in a subsequent work by the same author, this is unlikely
to be regarded as duplicate publication. Material quoted verbatim from the author's previously
published work must be placed in quotation marks. In contrast, it is unacceptable for an author to
include significant verbatim or near-verbatim portions of his/her own work, or to depict his/her
previously published results or methodology as new, without acknowledging the source. (Modeled
with permission from Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics:AuthorialIntegrityinScientific
Dawn A. Bonnell
Jason H. Hafner
Mark C. Hersam
Nicholas A. Kotov
Jillian M. Buriak
Paula T. Hammond
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REFERENCES AND NOTES
1. American Association of University Professors (September/October, 1989), from http://ori.hhs.gov/
2. Oxford Dictionaries. Defintion of Fraud. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fraud?q=fraud.
4. They Did a Bad Thing. Nat. Chem. 2011, 3, 337.
5. Clamp Down on Copycats. Nature 2005, 2, 438.
6. TheOffice of Research Integrity, U.S. Departmentof Health and Human Services. Avoiding Plagiarism,
Self-Plagiarism, and Other Questionable Writing Practices: A Guide to Ethical Writing. http://ori.hhs.
7. The Times Higher Education. Allow Me to Rephrase, and Boost My Tally of Articles. http://
8. Kotov, N. A. Fraud, the h-Index, and Pasternak. ACS Nano 2010, 4, 585–586.
9. Wordpress.com. Retraction Watch. http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/.
10. Marcus, A.; Oransky, I. Science Publishing: The Paper Is Not Sacred. Nature 2011, 480, 449–450.
11. ACS Publications Ethical Guidelines. http://pubs.acs.org/page/policy/ethics/index.html.
Wolfgang J. Parak
Raymond E. Schaak
Andrew T. S. Wee
Paul S. Weiss
Andrey L. Rogach
Molly M. Stevens
C. Grant Willson