Ethical considerations in scientific and scholarly publishing


Authorship involves not only credit for the work but also accountability. It is this idea of credit and accountability which determines the need for ethical considerations to be made in scholarly publishing and, more specifically, scientific publishing. Ethical issues can arise as a result of:

  • Authorship;
  • the way research was conducted; or
  • the editorial review process.

The Committee on Ethical Publishing (COPE) outlines its Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishingfocusing on criteria such as funding, conflicts of interest and copyright.

Conflicts of interest may include financial, personal or academic factors, and may impact the reliability of a publication, or how the publication is viewed by readers.

For example, funding by bodies or individuals who are in any way connected to or impacted by the publication may compromise the reliability of the publication; transparency from the outset is therefore important. Equally, any other payments apparently taking place outside of the publication in question but which may impact the research and/or results need to be declared or avoided entirely. This also applies to editors and reviewers; if they are involved with conflicting bodies or individuals, they would be expected to remove themselves from the publication process.

Author conduct is another consideration, namely the act of plagiarism, which includes failing to give appropriate credit to other authors and co-authors, and the falsification and fabrication of data. Key to this is accountability; it has recently been necessary to consider the responsibility of authors for the data and content of their publications. Rather than claiming that other authors were responsible for certain parts of the paper, authors are now expected to be familiar with everything in the paper and be able to answer any questions which may arise. Of course, honest mistakes do not constitute authorial misconduct, and are dealt with during the publication process.

It is also important to consider other research, publications or intellectual property of the author. If any of these could be affected in any way by the data within the publication in question, reliability may be compromised.

Statements of compliance are necessary when working with human and animal subjects, and with hazardous substances alike. There are both legal and ethical considerations guiding the use of human and animal subjects, including that of patient confidentiality. Ethics committee approval and informed consent given by the patient or volunteer is necessary for the publication of patient details and images. The consent must be outlined in the paper. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the ethical considerations to be made during the publication process, but it can be seen that some of the main ethical considerations in scholarly publishing are as follows:

  1. Conflicts of interest
  2. Ethical standards in conducting experiments (particularly with human/animal subjects)
  3. Patient confidentiality

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