The European Congress of Radiology has always been a good opportunity to bring together the Editors-in-Chief of the ESR Journals family and get their opinions on various important topics in the world of medical publication and radiology.

ECR 2020 is no exception, as we have met with Professors Yves Menu (professor of radiology at the University of Paris and Editor-in-Chief of European Radiology), Luis Martí-Bonmatí (professor of radiology at La Fe Hospital in Valencia and Editor-in-Chief of Insights into Imaging), and Francesco Sardanelli (professor of radiology at the University of Milan and Editor-in-Chief of European Radiology Experimental). We asked them to share their views on several current issues. The focus of this article – the first in a three-part series – is publication ethics and the challenges that journals, editors, and authors face over the course of manuscript production.

The editors of the three ESR Journals: Luis Martí-Bonmatí from Valencia, Yves Menu from Paris and Francesco Sardanelli from Milan.

In 2019, there were, fortunately, no major incidents concerning publication ethics in any of the three journals. “Only one case of pure plagiarism occurred,” said Menu, “but not in our journal.”

A group of authors plagiarised an article published in European Radiologyunder their own names, but this publication was retracted, and no further harm was done. In this regard, Yves Menu credits the team of reviewers and editors for the fact that European Radiology has not had a single case of real plagiarism among its submissions. It is “due to their great effort and attention to detail that the journal was able to maintain a high level of integrity,” he said.

The topic of plagiarism is – unfortunately – a broad one and it has many shades of grey. One shade is the one Menu calls ‘pseudo-plagiarism’. This is the case when authors use common expressions, phrases, or even whole sentences borrowed from other works. “This does not include scientific plagiarism of ideas and results, but rather copying someone else’s language and sentence structure due to the authors’ limited knowledge of the English language,” he explained.

With the number of publications growing every year, this phenomenon is unfortunately becoming more relevant. While all three Editors-in-Chief underline that no specific region or country has a higher predisposition towards this phenomenon, they all agree that this sort of ‘language plagiarism’ obviously occurs more often among authors who may not be as adept at the English language as native speakers.

As there are no official rules for recognising this type of plagiarism, the editors advise using no more than six or seven words in a row that have been taken from another source. “We reject these papers, but allow resubmission over a certain threshold, as we always perform an analysis for similarities,” Menu said. Martí-Bonmatí added that in such cases it is important to maintain a professional attitude and take on the role of an educator towards authors.

Plagiarism, pseudo-plagiarism, and self-plagiarism are complex issues, and tiresome, as they are very time-consuming for the editor. “Mainly because plagiarism recognition software is still not developed enough to be fully trusted, and any plagiarism decision requires an in-depth assessment by the Editor-in-Chief,” Sardanelli explained.

Repetitions in describing a well-known method, or in the discussion section, are a different matter, but for machines these are all equally relevant. For example, for any similarity score of over 15%, Martí-Bonmatí takes it upon himself to evaluate whether the similarities occur in parts relevant to the study, which he points out is usually not the case. The editor’s role is of utmost importance; they should always be the one to inform the authors of the decision and provide valuable feedback, also in cases of rejected manuscripts. “As an editor, I also try to influence the authors’ expression in reporting results. Some hyper-enthusiastic conclusions are sometimes toned down. We want to propose real conclusions that our readers can apply in their daily practice,” Menu added.

Another aspect of plagiarism is the matter of overlapping cohorts and patient consent. While it is perfectly acceptable to include a single patient in several studies, “these cases must be disclosed as they might jeopardise the results of any future meta-analyses if the same patient is included in them more than once,” Menu said. He also calls for a bigger role for ethics committees, since some studies claim patient consent in cases where it is unlikely that consent has been obtained.

The most severe degree of fraud is certainly faking studies. According to Sardanelli, some authors are extremely good at creating fake results. A possible solution for this would be to introduce more rigid rules for availability of data and materials.

In the ESR journals, data sharing is encouraged, although not mandatory. “We encourage authors to ensure that their datasets are either deposited in publicly available repositories or presented in the main manuscript or additional supporting files whenever possible,” said Sardanelli, referring to the ESR journals’ author instructions.

The last issue raised, aside from the huge topic of plagiarism, is declarations. “More specifically the ‘Conflict of Interest’ section, as this not only concerns the authors, but the reviewers and editors too,” Sardanelli said. Any potential bias should be stated, and it is up to the readers, reviewers, and editors to judge whether this has influenced the paper or not. “If you are in doubt about whether or not to declare possible competing interests, the solution is to declare them,” he stated. Currently, all ESR journals ask the corresponding author to submit competing interests among the declarations, on behalf of all co-authors. However, in the future, each author might be asked to declare their competing interests individually, as is already the standard in other journals.

C 23 How to get my manuscript accepted: tips and tricks from the editors
Organised by ESR Journals

  • How to ‘polish’ a submission
    Yves Menu; Paris/FR
  • How to reply to reviewers’ criticism
    Francesco Sardanelli; San Donato Milanese/IT
  • How to manage critical reviews
    Luis Martí-Bonmatí; Valencia/ES

C 24 How to get my manuscript accepted: getting help from reporting guidelines
Organised by ESR Journals

  • Why are STARD and STROBE useful and how do they help authors and editors?
    Francesco Sardanelli; San Donato Milanese/IT
  • What is PRISMA, and what is the recipe for a relevant meta-analysis?
    Marc Dewey; Berlin/DE
  • Can we elaborate guidelines or a checklist for radiomics studies?
    Daniel Pinto dos Santos; Cologne/DE