|Year : 2013 | Volume
| Issue : 2 | Page : 107-112
Survey of instructions to authors in Indian and British Dental Journals with respect to ethical guidelines
VP Mathur, JK Dhillon, G Kalra, A Sharma, R Mathur
Division of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry, Centre for Dental Education and Research, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India
|Date of Web Publication||26-Jul-2013|
J K Dhillon
Division of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry, Centre for Dental Education and Research, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi 110 029
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
| Abstract|| |
Background: Publication can become a symbol of presenting how meticulously a person has followed ethical principles in research. It is the duty of the investigators or authors to carefully read the instructions to authors and generate data with honesty and genuineness. In fulfillment of the basic requisite to publish, clearly defined instructions to authors should be provided by the journal. Aims: To assess the pattern of instructions regarding the ethical requirements given to authors in Indian Dental Journals and tried to compare the same with British Dental Journals. Settings and Design: A cross-sectional survey of 'instructions for authors,' for analysis of guidelines on ethical processes, was done. Materials and Methods: Instructions to authors of Indian and British Dental Journals indexed in PubMed were reviewed for guidelines with regard to seven key ethical issues. Statistical Analysis Used: Descriptive statistics were used and results were expressed in percentages as well as numbers. Results: Of the 10 Indian Dental Journals, 7 (70%) cited ethical guidelines such as International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, Committee on Publication Ethics, Indian Council of Medical Research guidelines whereas out of 27 British Dental Journals, 16 (59.25%) cited these. Protection of human subjects such as approval from an institutional/independent ethics committee, obtaining informed consent and maintenance of confidentiality of patient records was covered with 8 (80%) Indian and 19 (70.3%) British Dental Journals. Four (40%) Indian and 13 (48.1%) instructed about animals welfare. Nine (90%) of the Indian and 25 (92.5%) British Dental Journals required declaration of conflicts of interest by authors. Publication issues and authorship/contributorship criteria were specified by all 10 Indian and 25 (92.5%) and 24 (88.8%) British journals respectively. 6 (60%) of Indian and 11 (40.75%) of British Journals explained about data management, in case of clinical trials. Conclusions: A significant proportion of Indexed Indian and British Dental Journals did not provide adequate instructions to authors regarding ethical issues.
Keywords: Ethics, instructions to authors, journal
|How to cite this article:|
Mathur V P, Dhillon J K, Kalra G, Sharma A, Mathur R. Survey of instructions to authors in Indian and British Dental Journals with respect to ethical guidelines. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent 2013;31:107-12
|How to cite this URL:|
Mathur V P, Dhillon J K, Kalra G, Sharma A, Mathur R. Survey of instructions to authors in Indian and British Dental Journals with respect to ethical guidelines. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent [serial online] 2013 [cited 2020 Sep 24];31:107-12. Available from: http://www.jisppd.com/text.asp?2013/31/2/107/115711
| Introduction|| |
Publications can be considered as a mouthpiece of one's research. Research gets validated and accepted as quality work only after publication in reputed peer reviewed Journals. Reporting ethical procedures followed in one's publication are an extension of good research practices. There has been a long debate on ethics in medical sciences in terms of practice, research and education. It is important to ensure that the clinicians or researchers follow ethical principles in carrying out their clinical responsibilities or in research work and also in their publication practices.
Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had prepared the revised Ethical Guidelines for biomedical research on human participants in the year 2006 which describes the 12 general principles for conducting any biomedical research involving human participants.  According to one of the principles, all results of research must be made known to the public through scientific and other publications. However, it is imperative that privacy and confidentiality of the participants in the study should be maintained while publishing both positive as well as negative results of a study. 
Research on laboratory animals must also follow the ethical norms and requirements in order to avoid any unnecessary pain and suffering to them. , The Committee for the Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA)  has prepared guidelines which describe the various procedures for maintaining and conducting experiments involving all permitted species of animals for research.
Inspite of guidelines for research being in place, in the present scenario, enough information is not available in literature on the actual existence, status and functioning of the institutional ethics committees in many of the universities imparting dental education and carrying out research in the country. However it is generally understood and recognized that the fundamental principles of ethics in human and animal research needs to be followed while conducting a research and it should be reported by the researcher at the time of publishing the study. 
Similarly, issues like methods for obtaining informed consent, management of conflict of interest and method of analysis of data are not being reported in most of articles being published. Researchers have a responsibility to make sure that the public is accurately informed about the ethical safeguards in place while describing the methods of conducting the study along with its results without raising false hopes or expectations.
Some of the eminent researchers and editors believe that the journal office or the editors can play an important role in presenting the fact that ethical principles were followed during a research. ,
The issue of ethics in research and publication has not taken enough attention of Indian dental researchers and there are hardly any articles on this topic in Indian Dental Journals. On the other hand, at some of the instances, papers have been withdrawn due to non-following of some of the ethical principles during publications in Indian as well as foreign journals. One such example of fraudulent publication from one of the medical colleges in India, published in the Saudi Journal of Anesthesiology grabbed the attention of its editors and immediate retraction of the article was done after formal notification.  Another nerve wrecking instance of such misconduct was witnessed when an article originally published in the Journal of Applied Oral Sciences, 2008 was facsimiled and reproduced by Indian authors and got published in Gerodontology, 2012.  Such distressing illustrations bring a bad name not only to the research output by the scientific community but also to the whole country in general.
The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors  had also prepared a set of requirements on the basis of credit and accountability for authors who have made substantial contributions and would also take responsibility for the paper.
It is the duty of the investigators or authors to carefully read the instructions to authors and generate data with honesty and genuineness. In fulfillment of the basic requisite to publish, clearly defined instructions to authors should be provided by the journal. Publication can become a symbol of presenting how meticulously a person has followed ethical principles in research. Keeping this in mind, an attempt has been made to review the instructions provided to authors in Indian Dental Journals with regards to some of the key ethical issues. The present study has been planned to assess the pattern of instructions regarding the ethical requirements given to authors in Indian Dental Journals and tried to compare the same with British Dental Journals.
| Materials and Methods|| |
A cross sectional study was carried out in the first week of June, 2012. The search was carried out on PubMed, Google scholar and institutional library to identify any literature reporting a survey of instructions to authors among different dental journals. The keywords 'Indian', 'dental', 'journal', 'survey of instructions to authors' were used for online search and several studies ,,,,,,, were found. Amongst these, we found that there was one study, which covered 126 dental journals including Indian Dental Journals.  However, this study covered only protection of human and animal rights in terms of ethical issues. After confirming that there is no article available on the survey of instructions to authors in Indian dental journals with respect to all ethical guidelines for reporting, it was decided to conduct a study with an aim to create awareness among Indian dental professionals and editors on this important topic. Ethical approval was not required for this study as it does not constitute biomedical research or involve human or animal subjects. All the information used in the study was available in the public domain.
After considering several approaches for selecting a standard sample of journals, it was decided to use the list of journals indexed in PubMed/MEDLINE, (a bibliographic database of National Library of Medicine® ).  The NLM catalog website (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nlmcatalog) was searched using keyword "dentistry" and setting limits as "only PubMed indexed Journals". A list of 1154 dental journals was obtained which were then sorted according to country of publication. There were 21 journals that were listed as published from India. The journals discontinued or no longer indexed in MEDLINE were excluded from this list and finally eight journals were selected. A similar search using keywords "PubMed", "dentistry", "Indian journals" elicited two more journals to be included in our list. Thus, a total of 10 Indian Indexed Dental Journals were included in the study. The same method was used finding out and then excluding discontinued journals for British Dental Journals indexed in PubMed and a final list of 28 journals was selected for inclusion in the study.
Survey of instructions to authors
The instructions to authors were obtained from the websites of all the journals and saved in the computer for analysis. Then the instructions to authors were analyzed for seven ethical issues namely: (1) Whether ethical guidelines such as International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), ICMR guidelines were cited, (2) protection of human subjects such as approval from an institutional/independent ethics committee, obtaining informed consent and maintenance of confidentiality of patient records, (3) protecting animal welfare, (4) declaration of conflicts of interest (COI) by authors, (5) publication issues (redundant, fragmented or overlapping publications, and plagiarism), (6) authorship/contributorship criteria specified, and (7) data management in case of clinical trials and epidemiological studies such as conforming to CONSORT or STROBE requirements and registration in a clinical trial registry. The content of the instructions was coded by one author according to the presence or absence of each criterion separately. Instructions of a journal were considered 'ethically compliant' when all of the seven ethical issues were mentioned; 'partially compliant' when they lacked between one and six ethical requirements as stated above and 'non-compliant' when all seven ethical issues were not stated. The data was entered by one author and cross checked by another author. Then the whole table was randomly re-checked by the third author.
| Results|| |
Characteristics of journals
Amongst the ten Indian journals in the sample, eight had their own website while two were hosted on the website for M/s Springer. Eight of these journals represented professional dental societies; one was published by a university and another by a commercial publisher. Eight of these journals were specialty dental journals and remaining two were general dental journals. The number of issues published by the journal ranged from 2 to 6 per year. All the journals used an online manuscript submission system.
Amongst the 28 British journals in the sample, one journal has been discontinued at the time of writing this paper. Of the remaining 27 journals, 14 were official publications of professional dental bodies, 11 were published by commercial publishers and two were open access journals. Amongst these 17 were specialty journals, two were on basic sciences and rest eight were general dental journals. The number of issues published for 25 journals ranged from 4 to 24 per year. The remaining two journals were open access, so there were no issues, but the articles were posted online as they were accepted. The distribution of specialty or general dental journal and availability and contents of instructions to authors with respect to seven ethical issues are presented in [Table 1] and [Table 2] respectively.
|Table 2: Ethical issues in instructions to authors in the journals included in the survey|
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| Discussion|| |
The primary purpose of this study was to survey availability and content of instructions to authors in Indian Dental Journals indexed in MEDLINE with regards to seven ethical issues and compare these with British Dental Journals indexed in MEDLINE. Our hypothesis was that the instructions to authors in Indian Dental Journals sufficiently covers the ethical issues and are comparable with that of British Dental Journals.
The results of this study suggest that ethical issues in the guidelines for authors of journals in both Indian as well as British Dental Journals are not clearly defined. Only three Indian and seven British Dental Journals were found to be ethically compliant. [Figure 1] Guidelines of many journals in the present study are mainly concerned with manuscript preparation. Publication issues are explicitly mentioned by all Indian and 24 British Dental Journals. This may be due to emphasis on avoiding plagiarism, maintaining originality and avoiding copyright infringement.
|Figure 1: Representing compliant and non-compliant Indian and British Journals with respect to ethical issues|
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Wager (2007)  carried out a survey of 234 biomedical journals and reported that 41% journals gave no guidance about authorship in the author instructions. This is in contrast to the present study where authorship criteria are mentioned in all Indian and 25 British journals. This may be due to the fact that everyone wants credit for their work and the number of publications reflects upon the productivity of the clinician. The journals might also wish to avoid disputes arising later on due to conflicts amongst authors.
Mahatma Gandhi has said "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." However, this is not reflected in the instructions to authors by many journals in this study. Only 4 Indian and 13 British Dental Journals cited guidelines for protection of animals used in the study. This lags behind the protection of human rights since 8 Indian and 19 British journals have mentioned about it. Block et al., (2006)  reviewed all reports of research involving human subjects published in thoracic surgery journals. They observed that there has been a significant increase in mention of ethical process over a period of three years. However, it is still not ideal. The present study also reflects similar results. Navaneetha (2011)  surveyed online instructions to authors of 126 International Indexed Dental Journals to analyze whether these journals required reporting of ethical isuues such as Ethics Committee Approval for human and animal research, obtaining informed consent/assent from the research participants and whether the research was done in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki (DoH) as well as International ethical guidelines. It was observed in this study that 45.23% journals reported ethical approval, 34.92% journals mentioned that research should be conducted in accordance with the DoH and International ethical guidelines. 30.15% dental journals instructed the authors to obtain informed consent from human subjects; however, only 26.19% required obtaining approval from the animal ethics committee. These are quite similar to the present study in which protection of animals is not emphasized upon in instructions to authors in the surveyed journals as compared to protection of human subjects. It was also noted that the Indian journals had provided a reference to the International Guidelines like DoH, however, had not provided reference to the ICMR Guidelines. The consciousness about patients' rights is increasing. In clinical research, it is important to state the national or international guidelines that were followed and whether the study had received an approved from an ethics committee. The distinction between public and professional reading is diminishing and has led to an increased emphasis on the concept of informed consent, protection of human subjects' confidentiality.
Most of the journals included in the study require disclosure of Conflicts of Interest. This is in accordance with World Association of Medical Editors guidelines.  According to these guidelines, COI policies of a journal should be "readily accessible to everyone involved in the publication process by publishing them with instructions for authors." Blum et al., (2009)  carried out a study to determine the prevalence of author COI policies, requirements for signed disclosure statements, and variability in COI definitions among medical journals. They observed that most medical journals with relatively high impact factors had easily accessible COI policies. This is similar to the results of the present study. Failure to disclose COI might result in publication bias of the journals. If discovered later, it spoils the reputation of the journal as well as the researcher. Any forms of research misconduct may lead to deterioration of patient physician relationship and loss of public trust in biomedical research. It is therefore the moral responsibility of journals to regulate author's behavior and their publications.
The CONSORT statement has been used for several years as an accepted guideline for reporting randomized controlled trials. It constitutes a minimum set of recommendations to be followed for reporting trial findings thus facilitating transparency in reporting as well as making it easier for reviewers to critically appraise and readers to interpret results of the trial.  CONSORT has been endorsed by several hundred medical journals, and international editorial groups, such as the ICMJE. In the present study, it was observed that only six Indian and 11 British Dental Journals provided guidelines regarding data management. This is in conjunction with the study by Li et al., (2012)  on endorsement of the CONSORT Statement by high-impact medical journals in China. In another study conducted by Hopewell et al., (2008)  a total of 165 journals were surveyed which included top five journals from each of the 33 medical specialties and the top 15 journals for general and internal medicine based on journal impact factor. Only 38% of journals mentioned the CONSORT Statement in their online 'Instructions to Authors'.
In this study, it was observed that most of the journals do not have clearly defined guidelines for authors and some key issues such as data management, patient's consent, protection of subjects are no adequately emphasized. These results are similar to those of a study by Pitak-Arnnop et al., (2010)  which compared ethical issues in the guidelines for authors in oral-craniomaxillofacial facial plastic surgery journals, plastic surgery journals and otorhinolaryngology/head and neck surgery journals. They reported that only 8.3% journals mentioned all ethical issues in their guidelines for authors.
Limitations of this study
Firstly, this study is potentially subjective as it focused only on the ethical requirements described in the instructions to authors so the results may not reflect the actual editorial practice. Secondly, the guidelines were collected in a particular time frame so they might not be applicable to other years. Thirdly, only PubMed/MEDLINE indexed journals were included in this analysis. Other indexing databases were not included. Some journals are currently in the process of being indexed, so these were not considered. This might underestimate the number of journals. Moreover, the present study was not designed to explain the laxity of ethical issues encountered.
| Conclusions|| |
Despite the limitations cited, the study findings demonstrate that a significant proportion of Indian and British Dental Journals do not provide information regarding ethical issues concerning research involving humans as well as animals. It should be made mandatory to report that these issues have been followed rigorously while submitting a manuscript to ensure that there is no research misconduct. The 'Instructions to Authors' should clearly specify and elaborate upon these topics. The authors should be required to complete a checklist which reports these issues while submitting their research to the journals. Moreover, there is a growing need for educating researchers and reviewers regarding the importance of reporting on these issues. The journal websites should provide external links to sites which provide national and international guidelines for conduct and reporting of research.
The instructions to authors provided by journals play a pivotal role in encouraging scientific integrity. It is essential that Indian as well as British Dental Journals amend instructions to authors, have checkpoints to avoid ethical breaches, and implement 'must have' measures to further improve the standards of research being published by them.
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[Table 1], [Table 2]