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We are writing to express our unease at what we believe is inappropriate censure imposed on our colleague Professor Corris concerning duplicate publications.1,2 Professor Corris was asked to write what was essentially a CME article for Clinical Medicine on a subject that he had recently reviewed in detail for Thorax. It was inevitable that there would be considerable duplication. The same papers and information were being disucssed and there are limitations in the way complex arguments can be expressed. It is universally accepted that a degree of duplication in review articles is completely different from trying to pass off as a new study previously published peer reviewed papers containing original data. It is commonplace for people with authoritative opinions to write similar articles in more than one journal as shown by the similarities between the Harveian oration by Warrell published in the same issue of Clinical Medicine and an earlier manuscript in the Lancet.3,4 We believe such duplication is entirely appropriate, as surely it is our duty as educators to disseminate information to as wide an audience as possible. Fraud in any shape or form in science is to be wholly deplored, but let us not be so zealous in its pursuit that we smear the innocent to the detriment of us all.
At risk of another duplicate publication, we have also sent this letter to the editor of Clinical Medicine.
It is a matter of some concern to us that you felt obliged to print a notice of duplicate publication for Professor Corris.1 While we all deplore dual publication of original scientific data, the purpose of review articles is to provide a form of CME for practising physicians. It is therefore inevitable that, when an authority in a field is asked to give their current view on a subject, there will be considerable overlap with his/her previous thoughts on the subject. This does not make the article uninteresting to read, nor—as we are sure the Editors are aware—does it stop such articles being frequently referenced.
It is our belief that it is generally understood within the community that review articles by a given author are likely to contain significant overlap with previously published reviews by the same author and that, in this situation, it is rather “missing the point” to call this a duplicate publication.
To illustrate the point we enclose a list of review articles which all contain overlapping material concerning the assessment of respiratory muscle strength.2–8 With the exception of the article in Thorax (for which the invitation to write came following a prompt from us), the remaining articles were all written as a result of unsolicited requests by the editorial team of the journal concerned. Like Professor Corris's articles, they serve a useful function because these journals reach widely differing audiences and in each case the text of the article has been aligned to fit the interests of the readership of the journal concerned.
Our belief is that reviews of this sort do serve a useful role in postgraduate medical education and, because writing them is not recognised by the University Research Assessment Exercise, it is becoming increasingly hard to find experts in their fields who are prepared to do so. Publicly identifying this type of “duplicate publication” serves no useful purpose.
We published the statement on duplicate publication, as did the other journal concerned, in response to a correspondent who pointed out the similarity between the two articles. When we looked through the article published in Clinical Medicine it was evident that large parts of the article in Thorax were reproduced verbatim.
We appreciate that review articles by the same author in different journals often contain overlapping information, but that was not the point on this occasion. The point was that much of the material was exactly the same, and Professor Corris had not explicitly acknowledged this or the contribution of other authors to it.
We have taken a firm line on duplicate publication and non-disclosure of related publications in the past and, although we accept that some degree of duplicate reporting is acceptable and common in review or opinion articles, having received a formal complaint about the article we did not feel able to dismiss it. This was particularly the case since Professor Corris was until very recently an Associate Editor of Thorax, and we were in danger of being open to accusations of special privilege for people who have been associated with the journal.
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