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Contemporary Concepts in Publishing

Think Twice Before ‘Salami Slicing’ Your Research


Andrés Pagán, Senior Associate Editor

April 2024

Salami slicing, a term originating from the analogy of slicing a salami into thin pieces, refers to the practice of dividing research findings into multiple publications, each presenting a small portion of the results of a larger study. This tactic, while seemingly innocuous, can have undesirable consequences within the scientific community, and may distort the integrity of research.

Why slice?
In essence, salami slicing involves researchers strategically parceling out their findings across multiple publications to inflate their publication count. Rather than presenting a comprehensive overview of their research, these fragmented publications offer smaller glimpses into isolated aspects of the study. Thus, by publishing multiple articles from a given study, coauthors can increase the number of publications they are credited with.

Practical concerns
One of the main arguments against salami slicing is the distortion of the scientific literature. By scattering research findings across numerous publications, researchers create an illusion of productivity without substantially contributing to knowledge accumulation. Consequently, the literature can become inundated with redundant and fragmented information, making it challenging for readers to discern the true significance of individual studies amidst the sea of publications. Moreover, salami slicing hampers the reproducibility of research findings. With key findings dispersed across multiple publications, replicating a study can become arduous, if not impossible. This not only impedes scientific progress but also erodes the credibility of research outcomes, as reproducibility is a cornerstone of scientific inquiry.

The practice of salami slicing can, not only compromises the coherence of the research narrative, but it can also undermine the quality and significance of the findings; ironically, salami slicing may in fact be detrimental to professional development. Whereas top journals often require more comprehensive datasets and analyses, salami sliced articles are more likely to be accepted for publication in less reputable or even predatory journals. Thus, the tradeoff between publishing multiple, derivative articles rather than a comprehensive single study may, over the long run, limit career growth.

Ethical concerns
Ethically, salami slicing raises concerns regarding academic integrity and transparency. By prioritizing quantity over quality, researchers potentially compromise the fundamental principles of scholarly discourse. Furthermore, this practice skews incentives within academia, where researchers are rewarded based on publication metrics rather than the substantive impact of their work. Such a system perpetuates a culture of superficiality and undermines the collaborative ethos of scientific inquiry.

When is it okay?
In a recent note to the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, the authors provide guidance on when salami slicing may be acceptable:

“Expert consensus is that if the ‘slice’ of the study in question tests a different hypothesis as opposed to the larger study or has a distinct methodology or populations being studied, then it is acceptable to publish it separately… However, one should specify the hypothesis being tested in each paper and ideally, disclose the information that the paper represents a fragment of a larger study. These hypotheses must have been framed a priori and not after the data has been collected.”

Although salami slicing of research may be appropriate under special circumstances, it is, nonetheless, still preferable to publish all results as part of a comprehensive study.

By fragmenting findings into multiple publications, researchers compromise the coherence of the research narrative and hinder the progress of knowledge accumulation. However, through concerted efforts to uphold publication standards the scientific community can mitigate the detrimental effects of salami slicing and reaffirm its commitment to rigorous and impactful research.

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