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Duplicate use of data question - (Mar/25/2013 )

I know that using the same data for two manuscripts is a BIG no-no, but I have a question about a particular situation.

We have already published data on the characterization of Protein X.

I have now characterized Protein Y. I would like to compare the data in a publication (a part of a publication, 10-20% of total data). Is it OK to make a figure with both Protein X & Y data? The Protein X data would be the previously published data.

I am debating whether or not I should only include Protein Y data and constantly reference the Protein X paper, or include both Protein Y & X data and mention that the X data was taken from the previous publication.

Any take on this would be great,



I agree this is a very complicated and delicate issue. It is perfect OK to mention and cite the data published in your first paper. For the convenience of readers of your second paper, you want to show the data from 1st paper in your 2nd paper, which makes perfect sense and is a big favor for readers. However, several issues need to be cleared up: whether you need permission for reusing the figures or part of them from the publisher of your first paper if you have transferred the copyright to the publisher? Whether reusing 10-20% data is regarded as duplicate publication? I would suggest that you talk directly to the editors of the journal and ask for their advice.


Thanks for the advice. For what its worth, I am submitting to the same journal the previous paper was published in so that may make it easier. I am leaning towards including the data and in the figure legend state:

"Data for protein X was previously described (Reference) but has been included for comparison." I also state this in the results when I first mention the comparison.

I feel that if I am very transparent about the fact that protein X data is from our previous paper, it shouldnt pose an issue. I am hesitant to contact the editors since it seems like a difficult question to ask in my opinion. Can I re-use my data? I feel that without the data in front of them they will give a stern NO and my name will be on their bad list.

If I state that it was previously published in the figure legend and results section, I think any potential problems would be flagged during peer review. Am I correct in this line of thinking?



But you make a complete new figure out of both protein data? IMO this should be not that big problem if you reference about the first paper and mention that it's for comparison as you suggested. I think the data itself are still your own (or of your university) and you can use them. Only for the first figure itself you have perhaps no copyright. But this the editors should know.
Another idea would be to put the first figure or the data of it into the supporting data which interested readers can download if necessary, if there are no copyright issues then. Some journals offer this (e.g. PLOS One)


What kind of data are you talking about? Generally a single figure comparing two proteins will be showing data generated at the same time. If you show a single figure with Protein X and Protein Y, then people will assume you did the two experiments together. Many things could have changed since you did the old experiment. If you're talking about crystal structures, it is fine to show the old data, but if you just don't want to reprobe a western blot with one more antibody, then there is a big problem here.


hobglobin, I have made a new figure where I have both X & Y data in a single panel. Doxorubicin, I am talking about the effect of pH, salts, etc. on a protein. Although they were not run alongside each other, I try to be very transparent about the fact that X data was previously published. If you think this could be a problem, I will have to consider repeating all data sets together.


I would say to cite the first one, on begining to make sure it's obvious that data was already published, so the reader will know it's not all new from the start.

Then if you are comparing side by side, in a table, it's a new table with partially old data. I think that's OK. You may emphase again that protein X data were taken from the previous paper in the figure legend.

From that point of view it's perfectly fair to the reader, he knows whats old and what's new. I have seen many studies, that noted, that some data from prevous paper was included (i.e. first paper was a case report about brand new mutation, characterisation and everything, second paper was a cohort study with the patient from case report also included among i.e. other types of mztations or so on). So scientifically I think it's OK too.

Other question of course is, whether these new data alone are enough to make a new paper, if the comparison has some new message and so on. But this would be on the decision of the editor.


I am definitely going to go over this with my PI. The comparison is not the strength of the paper. I have other data that provides the real impact. Here is a nice description of some policy about this:

6) The use and reuse of empirical data follows the same principles as other types of research, although some issues are unique to the nature of data as opposed to ideas expressed in text and mathematics. Some general guidelines regarding plagiarism in the reporting of empirical research are:
a) Reuse of empirical data to support new analysis must clearly identify the original source of the data and the degree to which the data is being reused or analyzed in a new and innovative way.
B) Plagiarism in empirical research includes: i) copying or using any data without citation (and permission), ii) duplicating analysis (on the same data as an earlier paper) without citation which is essentially the same as the earlier paper, iii) copying, or direct reproduction, of charts and graphs that represent data from a previous publication in effectively the same way as an earlier paper, without citation.

The overarching goal of this policy is transparency, so that the editorial staff understands what is new and original, and the degree to which the paper is drawing on the work of others or the authors. If you are not sure how to properly credit work that is presented elsewhere (such as a parallel publication which is also under review or a conference proceeding), the best strategy is to describe the situation in a cover letter to the editor.



I published the paper by just putting in the figure legend that part of the data came from a previously published paper but was included for comparison. No questions were ever raised during the review process.


Congratulations! That is the best ever solution.