What is original research?

All BioMed Central’s journals strive to ensure the integrity of the scientific record and, as members of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), have procedures in place to help prevent covert duplicate (redundant) publication. Non-transparent duplication within the citable literature is academically unethical and, even more importantly, can have severe consequences for the evidence-based assessment of medical interventions.

But growth in web technologies and increased transparency in the literature – and data – may be contributing to a shift in our perceptions of what constitutes a prior publication. Innovative online journals with virtually unlimited space provide researchers with opportunities to produce novel (original) contributions to the literature that are clearly and transparently linked to previously published articles. These include significantly extended/re-analysed reports of previously published summary findings in journals such as Trials and legitimate or incremental updates to previous studies in BMC Research Notes. Dyer et al, for example, published a clinical and cost-effectiveness analysis of two treatment options for refractory angina in Trials, where details of the randomised trial results had been previously reported.

These and other developments such as the growth of pre-print servers, availability of articles in multiple languages, mandates for sharing of scientific results, open science – often involving substantial discussion of data placed in the public domain before formal publication – and queries from the research community, have prompted BioMed Central to produce guidance for its journal editors on these issues.

Guidance on duplicate publication for BioMed Central journal editors‘ can be found online and includes a quick-reference table for ease of use.

Editorial control rests with the editors of journals published by BioMed Central, and this new guidance should enable our editors to assert their judgment on a case-by-case basis, whilst also providing a useful publication ethics resource for their, and the broader scientific community’s reference. It’s clear there is a need for flexibility as new technologies and methods of scientific communication emerge. Therefore comments on the guidance – a ‘living document’ – are actively encouraged.

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