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Self-plagiarism? When re-purposing text may be ethically justifiable0

Posted by Admin in Research Integrity on January 19, 2019 / Keywords: , , ,

In an institutional environment where researchers may be coming under increasing pressure to publish, the temptations to take short cuts and engage in duplicate or redundant publication can be significant. Duplicate publication involves re-publishing substantially the same data, analysis, discussion and conclusion without providing proper acknowledgement or justification for the practice. Such behaviour is often condemned as ideoplagiarism or self-plagiarism, locating this practice as a parallel activity to that which appropriates other people’s ideas and words and reproduces them without due acknowledgement.

There are good reasons for censuring self-plagiarism – it distorts the academic record where meta-analyses are not aware of the duplicate publication, and provides an unfair advantage when academics’ track records are being compared. In an earlier publication (Israel, 2015), I detailed some examples of social scientists who engaged in self-plagiarism. However, I also argued that ‘It may be appropriate to publish similar articles in different journals in order to ask different research questions, link to different literatures or reach new and different audiences’ (p.163). I would like to explore some of the situations that I have encountered in the last few years where I believe re-use of text might not be inappropriate and, indeed, might actually be the ethical thing to do.

Global rankings and national assessments of universities are largely based on research inputs and outputs. Mostly, the output indicators privilege publications in international higher-ranking journals; the vast majority of those only publish in English. However, there are several good reasons why research outputs should also appear outside English-language journals. First, researchers may be funded by research councils from countries that are not Anglophone. Those research councils may indeed want to maximise their international impact by publishing in English. However, they may also recognise that they have an obligation to support researchers in their countries who are not fluent in English; indeed, they ought to be supporting the maintenance of their own languages and ensuring that scholarly discourse continues to be conducted in their native tongues. This is a policy supported by the National Committees for Research Ethics in Norway (2006), for example.

Second, researchers often have made a commitment to disseminate the results of their studies to participants or to policy-makers – where either of these communities are not English-speaking, republishing in a language other than English may be entirely appropriate.

So, revising a published paper and translating that into a language other than English might be a laudable way of preserving a research culture in a small language group, influencing policy-makers or returning a benefit to a low- or middle-income country (LMIC). This activity, of course, needs to be acknowledged and transparent and cannot be double-counted as a research output.

Following a roundtable discussion of social research ethics hosted by the University of Haifa, a chapter that I co-authored (Allen and Israel, 2017) was recently translated into Hebrew and published in an Israeli journal. Gary Allen and I a greed to do this in order to encourage further discussion of human research ethics in Israel. The decision was taken with the approval of our original editors and publishers.

In 2018, I co-authored an article on research ethics in Taiwan with a Taiwanese academic (Gan and Israel, in press). This will be published in Developing World Bioethics and we shall explore the possibility of modifying it for a Mandarin version aimed specifically at a readership of Taiwanese academics and policy-makers. While many senior Taiwanese academics are fluent in English, this is less likely to be the case among those who have not completed postgraduate qualifications in North America, Australasia or the United Kingdom. Publishing in Mandarin would extend access to our work (including allowing it to be found in a search using Traditional Chinese script), and may make it more readily available for undergraduate teaching. Sometimes, we can craft opportunities to help readers of other languages without translating the entire article. A recent article that I co-authored with Lisa Wynn (Wynn and Israel, 2018) took advantage of the American Anthropologist’s novel angle for each chapter when the briefs from commissioning editors are so similar policy of publishing all abstracts in both English and Spanish. At our request, the editors agreed to add abstracts in Arabic and French.

I wonder if fear of being seen as self-plagiarising also inhibits academics writing book chapters in research ecosystems where chapters do not count for much. I have repeatedly been invited to write chapters that give an overview of social research ethics. Initially, I tended to say yes. However, it is difficult to continually deliver a novel angle for such a chapter when the brief from the commissioning editor is so similar. I have collaborated with co-authors in order to develop new directions. However, sometimes this is not practicable and yet there may still be some value in repurposing existing text and tailoring it for a new audience. For a recent edited collection where I was invited to write a review of global regulation of human research ethics, the publishers as a matter of policy quite understandably challenged any article that relied on previously published work for more than ten per cent of its material. However, the editor had approached me looking for a synthesis of work that included, updated and condensed material that had already appeared in my single-authored book (Israel, 2015). I had raised the matter of overlapping text with him, and so he was able to persuade the publisher that a far larger fraction was warranted in this case. My book publisher also agreed.

I have not encountered much discussion of these matters in the published literature. But, I spend much of my time running professional development in research ethics. In these fora, I counsel researchers that when confronted by an ethical issue they ought to attempt to discern what might be an ethical response, act on that analysis and then publicly acknowledge and, where necessary, defend their actions.

There are several principles that might in some circumstances provide support for the argument that I have traced here. Of course, any strategy needs to be guided by the requirements of research integrity and so we should be citing and acknowledging any other work to which we refer appropriately and accurately (Researcher Responsibility 27, Australian Code, 2018).

The Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings (TRUST Project,2018) considers that fairness in research in low- and middle-income countries requires that:

Feedback about the findings of the research must be given to local communities and research participants. It should be provided in a way that is meaningful, appropriate and readily comprehended. (Article 3)

Similarly, the 2018 Australian Code places responsibility on researchers to ‘Disseminate research findings responsibly, accurately and broadly…’ (Research Responsibility 23). Any strategy should also be tested in Australia against the principles adopted by the National Statement (2007, updated 2018). In this context, the most pertinent of these are integrity, which would require honesty and commitment to recognised research principles, and justice which would require a fair distribution of the benefits of research. None of these codes or guidelines explicitly considers repurposing existing text, nor do they focus their discussion of dissemination on academic publications. Nevertheless, they do require us to consider what dissemination strategy might be most appropriate and this may well involve adapting and translating material for academic publication in order to reach new audiences.

So, here is my advice for those who are considering re-using text that they have previously published:

  1. Assess whether your reasons are ethically defensible;
  2. Seek the agreement of those involved in your first publication – co-authors, editors and publishers; in some cases, publishers will want a specific form of acknowledgement;
  3. Seek the agreement of those involved in the new publication that will be reproducing material – any co-authors, editors and publishers;
  4. Clearly acknowledge in the new publication that you are drawing on the earlier publication and do so with the agreement of the various parties, and
  5. Where it would be misleading not to do so, also note the relationship between publications in your CV and any job or grant applications.


Allen, G & Israel, M (2018) Moving beyond Regulatory Compliance: Building Institutional Support for Ethical Reflection in Research. In Iphofen, R & Tolich, M (eds) The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research Ethics. London: Sage. pp.276-288. Published in Hebrew as

גארי אלן ומארק ישראל 2018 מעבר לציות רגולטרי: בנית תמיכה מוסדית ברפלקציה אתית במחקר

The Study of Organizations and Human Resource Management Quarterly3(1). pp.16-30.

Gan, Z-R & Israel, M (in press) Transnational Policy Migration, Interdisciplinary Policy Transfer and Decolonization: Tracing the Patterns of Research Ethics Regulation in Taiwan. Developing World Bioethics.

Israel, M (2015) Research Ethics and Integrity for Social Scientists: Beyond Regulatory Compliance. London: Sage.

National Committees for Research Ethics in Norway (2006) Guidelines for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences, Law and the Humanities. Available at: (accessed 15 January 2019).

National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council and Universities Australia (2007, updated 2018) National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research.Canberra. Available at: (accessed 16 January 2019).

National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council and Universities Australia (2018) Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. Canberra. Available at: (accessed 16 January 2019).

TRUST Project (2018) Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings. Available at: (accessed 16 January 2019).

Wynn, LL & Israel, M (2018) The Fetishes of Consent: Signatures, Paper and Writing in Research Ethics Review. American Anthropologist 120(4) pp795–806.

Dr Mark Israel, Senior Consultant AHRECS | Profile |

This post may be cited as:
Israel, M. (20 January 2018) Self-plagiarism? When re-purposing text may be ethically justifiable. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from:

The Retraction Watch Database has launched. Here’s what you need to know0


We’ve been anticipating the launch of the Retraction Watch database because we’re often asked by HDR candidates and other early career researchers how to determine if a paper has been retracted. The database is a great (and free) service for the research community.

What are your hopes for the database?

As a number of studies have demonstrated, retracted papers continue to be cited as if they had never been retracted. That’s a problem, because it suggests there’s far more wasted effort going into dead ends than there needs to be. And it’s a fixable problem, because one hopes scientists wouldn’t knowingly reference retracted papers.

That’s where the database comes in. We know that many publishers aren’t very good about marking papers as retracted, nor about alerting databases about retractions. By including all retractions, including those that aren’t well-marked on publishers’ sites, or in databases, we hope to make it difficult, if not impossible, to read a paper without knowing whether it was retracted. For that to happen, what’s in our database would have to make it into libraries and reference management software, and that’s a next step.

How do you hope the database will inform researcher practice?

We hope that researchers who study retractions, scientific integrity, and related issues will make use of the database for their work. Since we launched in October, we have had a few requests per week, on average, from such scholars. Here’s one paper using the beta version to see which kinds of peer review are best for catching fraud. We’re happy to provide the dataset subject to a simple data use agreement.

How do you hope the database will inform institutional endeavours?

Publishers, funders and institutions may find it worthwhile to use it for a sort of “background check” of authors and applicants. At least two publishers already check authors against posts on Retraction Watch.

Do you think there is any prospect that the database might be misused?
Like any data, retractions can be misused, particularly if someone doesn’t pay attention to nuance or denominators. A retraction doesn’t necessarilynmean misconduct happened, which is why we categorize each entry according to reason for retraction. And a high number of retractions from a country,institution, or journal may mean more due diligence, not sloppiness.

What might RW do to educate users of the database?

We hope that the package of stories we worked on with Science to highlight findings in the database was a good first step. We published an extensive user’s guide — along with three appendices — when we launched. That guide will evolve as users contact us with more questions. And we encourage would-be users to contact us so we can walk them through issues they’re having, or how to do particular searches. We’re also out on the road a fair amount giving talks, and would be happy to do more, along with workshops on the database itself.

Ivan Oransky. Retraction Watch – Retraction Watch profile |

This post may be cited as:
Oransky, I. (24 December 2018) The Retraction Watch Database has launched. Here’s what you need to know. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from:

Get access to some great resources (two examples included in this post) and support events like the Constructive Voices panels0


Every month we add at least two items to the subscribers’ area. These include vignettes and other resources to use in your internally delivered professional development workshops. They are shared on a creative commons basis, so a nominated person can download selected material, load it onto a local server and use it within his or her own institution multiple times.(as long as they adhere to the CC license). Included here is a example pf a discussion item. We are currently working on a library of 26+ research integrity short audio snippets that could be incorporated into your internal research integrity workshops (example also attached). A library of these will be available from the subscribers’ area.

In addition to getting access to these great material, patrons are helping AHRECS cover the costs of events like the Australian Code= and National Statement Constructive Voices panel discussions webinars.

A Gold sponsorship (which costs US15/month) provides access to all materials. Subscriptions are paid via PayPal. We can provide a payment receipt after each monthly payment.

Too become a patron visit

Feel free to contact us on to discuss.

Are we missing the true picture? Stop calling a moneybox, a fishing hook0


It can be pleasing to see mainstream media taking an interest in research integrity, particularly when misconduct involving you or your institution is not the focus of the story. Advising HDR candidates, new supervisors and other early career researchers about predatory publishers can feel like a public service and is something that can shock your audience into paying attention.

But could the label predatory publishers be concealing a more complex picture?

The binary notion of prey and predator; a trusting but naive researcher and a greedy con-artist; and the white hats and black hats of old-fashioned westerns can feel authentic, real and dangerous.

However, it might just be that we’re missing the collective long-con.

Rather than hapless and tricked researchers, there is data and commentary to suggest at least some experienced researchers are gaming the system and using the non-existent peer review of illegitimate publishers to add a paper to their publication track record.

In the subscribers’ area, AHRECS senior consultant Gary Allen reflects on how we should be talking about the very real problem – A rose thorn by any other name?

Gary Allen, AHRECS Senior Consultant, | Gary’s AHRECS profile

This post may be cited as:
Allen, G. (26  October 2018) Are we missing the true picture? Stop calling a moneybox a fishing hook. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from:

We invite debate on issues raised by items we publish. However, we will only publish debate about the issues that the items raise and expect that all contributors model ethical and respectful practice.