Duplication of surgical research presentations

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 01 February 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:346
  1. I C Cameron, senior house officer in surgerya,
  2. J D Beard, consultant vascular surgeonb,
  3. M W R Reed, consultant surgeona
  1. a Department of Surgery, Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield S10 2JF
  2. b Northern General Hospital, Sheffield S5 7AU
  1. Correspondence to: Mr Reed
  • Accepted 23 May 1996


Research often seems to be presented at more than one meeting. No studies of duplicate presentation of surgical research have been published, so we reviewed the published abstracts of presentations given at selected national meetings attended by general surgeons over 16 months.

Methods and results

We reviewed the abstracts of presentations given at meetings whose audiences were thought likely to overlap with the Association of Surgeons meeting (table 1). Papers from non-surgical departments, departments outside the United Kingdom and Ireland, and those updating multicentre trials were excluded. For each abstract the title, department, and first two authors were recorded. When the title or authors from the same department coincided the abstracts were read to detect duplication, defined as the methods being identical and the data identical or similar, including the addition of a few patients to a previous series.

Table 1

Societies whose abstracts were reviewed and the duplication rate found

View this table:

We reviewed 1646 presentations, and included 945 in the study: 713 presentations were given once, 95 twice, 10 three times, and 3 four times. There were 821 original abstracts and 124 duplications, giving a duplication rate of 15%. The duplication rate from individual centres varied from 0 to 52%: eight produced no duplication, whereas three had rates over 40%. The duplication rate for meetings ranged from 7 to 48% (table 1). These results were circulated to the presidents of the societies for comment.


The 15% duplication rate we found may be an underestimate as some abstracts will have been presented before or after the study period: the highest duplication rates were at meetings in the middle of the study period. In deciding whether duplication is bad we must consider the reasons for research presentation. One reason is dissemination of new information: duplication would thus be justified at meetings where the audiences were different (such as the British Transplant Society or the Nottingham Breast Meeting, attended by many non-surgeons), a view supported by all the societies. The value of presentation in gleaning useful feedback is often cited, but unquantified.

The main reason for duplication is probably to embellish the authors' curriculum vitae. The reduction in the length of surgical training, with less time for research, may further pressurise trainees to duplicate presentations to bolster their curriculum vitae. One society supported the use of one national meeting as a rehearsal for another, but others thought this a waste of educational time for those hearing the work twice. The abstract acceptance rate at the meetings varies between 33% and 66% so duplication may deny other abstracts the opportunity of presentation. Many surgeons attend both a specialty meeting and the Association of Surgeons or Surgical Research Society, leading to considerable audience overlap. The Vascular Surgical Society in particular commented on the undesirable duplication of vascular research at its meeting and within a short time at the other two. Only the Surgical Research Society states that abstracts must not have been submitted elsewhere. The British Transplant Society inquires about previous submissions but does not automatically reject duplicates. Several societies were willing to introduce these questions to reduce duplication.

What else can be done? We suggest that research could be presented at regional meetings with subsequent presentation at a national specialty meeting or the Surgical Research Society. The prizewinning papers from these meetings could be re-presented at a plenary session of the Association of Surgeons to reach a wider audience. Closer cooperation between societies, with accepted abstracts being made available to other societies, possibly via a computerised database, and a timetable for abstract submission, would help detect and prevent duplication. The temptation to submit abstracts to multiple meetings in the hope of acceptance at one would thereby be avoided. The eradication of duplication may allow fewer meetings, increasing the opportunities for trainees to attend: this would be a more effective use of limited study leave.

All abstracts studied except those from the Association of Surgeons are published in journals (table 1). Duplicate publication of papers has been discouraged1, but the duplicate publication of abstracts is as yet undebated.


Funding: None.

Conflict of interest: None.


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