With pressure to publish, researchers are cranking out more articles than ever. There are some 30,000 (and rising) scientific journals and 2 million articles published annually. Some say it’s too much because it dilutes research quality. It’s not good for science or for a researcher’s career.
Salami publishing means dividing your research findings into thin “slices” (like cutting a salami), and publishing each one separately to try to increase your total publication count.
Salami publishing can, and must, be avoided. As a researcher, you need to know:
- What it is, and what forms it comes in
- How to prevent it
- The harms of salami publication and the benefits of unsliced research
Read on and find out.
What is salami publishing?
Other names: salami slicing, segmented publication
Salami publication is when you divide the findings of one study into a series of shorter papers or articles. You reduce the overall study into smaller, less-complete ones for the sake of getting more articles published.
The technical terms are: publishing the least publishable unit (LPU), smallest publishable unit (SPU), minimum publishable unit (MPU), or publon.
This practice is not uncommon, either.
Some type of redundancy has been found in 5% to 17% of published papers (Werner, 2021). When a researcher is pressured to publish more, it’s perhaps understandable. But that doesn’t make it ethical or even logical.
Salami publishing is an unethical, potentially harmful result of an environment that rewards quantity over quality.
When this type of segmented publication occurs, separate papers may share methodologies, study populations, or hypotheses. (See the Committee on Publication Ethics [COPE], of which Edanz is an associate member, for an example case here.)
This means the study findings are published in parts, and not in one place in full. The reader therefore isn’t provided with all the information necessary for critical evaluation.
The chance for duplication of text or data (thus, self-plagiarism) is also very high. And note that this intersects with multiple submission (read about that here), in which the same or a very similar study is submitted to more different journals.
This practice is not sequential publishing, which is publishing several articles in chronological order, building on and developing previous research. That’s a rational and suitable approach as you accrue new data in increments.
As a general principle, if the results of several papers all come from the same study population, and results are dependent on one another, they should be published in the same study.
How to avoid salami publication
Well obviously, don’t do it. Hopefully by now, it’s clear why. Yet amid an academic climate that presses researchers to publish frequently, the stress to perform can push researchers to compromise their own ethics.
We quizzed our experts on the topic. Here are some of their tips.
Change your mindset from the get-go
At the conception stage of the study, it helps to put more emphasis on the the research’s story rather than how many publications you can squeeze out of a project.
There’s significant pressure to ‘reverse engineer’ publications, and to a certain extent a study concept does need to consider the rough scaffold of the publications it can generate, but try not to make this the focus.
–Vishal Gor, PhD, Edanz Author Guidance Consultant
Work with collaborators and get guidance from your institution
Authors can openly discuss with collaborators or even the wider research community about their research and publication plans, to get feedback.
There’s also always room for increased education in research institutions about salami publication, among other ethics-related practices.
–Quintin Lau, PhD, Edanz Author Guidance Consultant
Realize that lots of output doesn’t advance your career
As a young researcher, I published as much as possible. Not many of those papers got cited and so, what’s the real point in having published them?
At the time it felt good to publish 10 papers a year. But down the track, it’s the papers that you spend time on and craft and ensure have good-quality data that get cited!
— Gareth Dyke, PhD, Edanz Author Education Manager
Gatekeepers need to step up, too
It should be added that journals, journal editors, and peer reviewers themselves, as gatekeepers, also bear responsibility.
Ding et al. (2020) examined 219 journals in epidemiology, public health, and general medicine. They found 18% had no policy on duplicate and salami publication and 33% only referred to generic guidelines. Only 13% of the journal examined had policies on duplicate and salami publication.
Journals such as Diabetologia should be commended when they state, “Data should not be sliced to the size of the smallest publishable unit but must be a complete documentation of a study.”
Otherwise, with no clear boundaries and no discipline, salami can, and will, slip through the cracks.
Yes, it’s you, the author who bears the blame, but a pressured author may skip the guidelines when there are no guidelines.
How salami publication damages your research career, and avoiding it helps
The damage of retracting a salami-sliced study can impact your career, your institution and team, and affect future funding. That fallout alone should be a strong enough deterrent for researchers.
If you’ve somehow justified the salami in your head, though, you can think about the bigger harmful picture.
Artificially inflating your accomplishments
Many researchers are aware of their aims when they publish thin findings for the sake of quantity. They’re focused numbers.
Salami publishing makes it look like the author has more unique output than what they actually have.
This, in turn, can give them undue credit and even earn them funding, which may deprive more responsible researchers of needed funding (Supak Smolcić, 2013). On a formal level, that’s unethical. On a personal level, that’s being a lousy individual.
Harming society and health
The end results and society outcomes of salami publication that makes it to print can be even worse.
For example, a low-quality or flawed finding could ultimately affect policy, such as health care, when it’s viewed as “evidence” (Werner, 2021).
When the public is following flawed science, health and lives are at risk.
Instead, enjoy the benefits of one major publication
Now for the good part.
You can be richly rewarded for not doing salami publication. You can go from an under-cited researcher to one with impact and influence.
Publishing all your related findings in one larger paper will usually enable you to submit your work to journal with a higher impact factor. That’s a good thing. In some institutions it’s a great thing.
Your complete paper will likely gain more total citations than smaller papers because it will have greater visibility and importance in the field—all of which helps to advance your career.
Final words on salami publication
As Edanz’s Dr. Gor says, “Good science should inevitably lead to publication, not the other way around.”
Say “no” to salami slicing, for your sake and society’s sake.
Ding, D., Nguyen, B., Gebel, K., Bauman, A., Bero, L. (2020). “Duplicate and salami publication: A prevalence study of journal policies” International Journal of Epidemiology, 49(1), 281-288. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyz187
Supak Smolcić, V. (2013). Salami publication: definitions and examples. Biochemia Medica, 23(3), 237–241. https://doi.org/10.11613/bm.2013.030
Werner, Mads U. (2021). “Salami-slicing and duplicate publication: gatekeepers challenges” Scandinavian Journal of Pain, 21(2), 209-211. https://doi.org/10.1515/sjpain-2020-0181