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Definition of Sole Contribution

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    Several weeks ago a manuscript, its science and presentation intrinsically adequate, was submitted to the Journal. Yet it could not be seriously considered for acceptance, for the substance of the paper, including its one and only illustration, had already appeared in print. The condition stated on the Journal's masthead, "Articles are accepted for consideration with the understanding that they are contributed for publication solely in this journal," had been violated.

    The young author, when informed of the Journal's action and its cause, was incredulous. The paper had not been published previously, he insisted, because it had only appeared in a "throw-away," i.e., acontrolled-circulation publication. Furthermore, its editor had assured the author that acceptance of the article by the standard medical literature would in no way be compromised by the prepublication of a condensed version in a weekly journal of wide and free distribution.

    The Journal's masthead does not differentiate among various types of printed medical communication. The understanding is that material submitted to the Journal has not been offered to any book, journal or newspaper. If an author willingly and actively has contributed the same material to any other publication — whether as text to a standard medical journal, or as a "letter to the editor," or as a feature in a lay magazine — that understanding has been disregarded. There is no reason whatsoever why controlled-circulation journals should be in a separate category, and any editor of such a journal who "assures" an author to the contrary is guilty of misrepresentation.

    Some qualifications, however, are necessary. Part of the ritual of biomedical meetings is the publication of abstracts submitted by authors who seek their 10-minute turn behind the lectern. An exception must therefore be made for abstracts printed in programs of meetings. Also excepted is material that is not really submitted — e.g., when a reporter notes what is said by a speaker at a public meeting. Suppose the speaker is interviewed after the talk and provides additional information. Here a decision may be difficult, but in the Journal's opinion the material has been contributed elsewhere if the speaker makes illustrations available to the interviewer, or if the published interview covers practically all the principal points contained in a subsequently submitted manuscript.

    The Journal's current masthead is probably not explicit enough. As a more complete statement, the following is proposed:

    Papers are submitted to the Journal with the understanding that they, or their essential substance, have been neither published nor submitted elsewhere (including news media and controlled-circulation publications). This restriction does not apply to (a) abstracts published in connection with meetings, or (b) press reports resulting from formal and public oral presentation.

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