The Ethics of Promises and Publishing
Once, when I was working in a primary school as a teaching assistant, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing human nature at its finest. One little girl who, to protect her 5 year-old dignity, we shall call Cindy, promised another little girl- Daisy- a set of stickers. Daisy was understandably delighted. However, shortly afterwards, regretting her moment of generosity, Cindy then decided that she no longer wanted to share her stickers with Daisy, that her stickers would be better placed elsewhere. In the manner of 5 year-olds everywhere, Daisy was not best pleased.
I mention this story as it features a few key lessons to be learned. Had I been Education Section Editor back then, I’m sure I would have referred both Daisy and Cindy to the COPE guidelines that the SDJ - and other journals - refer to in the event of ethical dilemmas. However, in the absence of this hindsight, I managed to unpick Cindy and Daisy’s issues into the following points:
1) Cindy had made a promise she ultimately didn’t keep.
2) Daisy had counted on Cindy keeping her promise- she had her sticker book ready and waiting- but then had her expectations disappointed.
Setting aside Cindy and Daisy for the moment, their miscommunication is still an apt teaching point. As is the case with the many medical spheres we inhabit, the publishing world is rife with its own set of rules and regulations. They act as a shibboleth for us to pass unmolested into the world of academia, and it can greatly complicate things when it seems like one party or another doesn’t understand the lingo, so to speak. Ultimately, adhering to a common professional standard maintains the integrity of all publishing journals.
As with most journals, when you agree to submit your work to the Student Doctor Journal, you sign a contract. In lay-terms, this contract puts into writing what both Journal and you, as writer, hope to get out the relationship. In signing the contract, you agree that you like us (you really like us!) and you want us to publish your work; that you trust us enough to give you honest feedback about how best to go about improving your writing should you require it, and that with those changes, we are happy to showcase the best and brightest version of the finished product.
On our end, the contract puts into words our hopes for you: that we are excited to see what you have to give us and that we promise to champion your work, working with you to lovingly poke and prod until the end result is far more than the sum of its edited parts.
Backing out of that contract before both parties are satisfied is both unprofessional and ethically dubious, not to mention a waste of everyone’s time. As future healthcare professionals, we owe it to our colleagues to extend the same courtesies that we would hope to have extended to ourselves. Furthermore, both parties enter into the agreement in good faith and to return any less than that is a further disservice to everyone involved.
Returning to Daisy and Cindy, were the two girls to have clarified what they wanted out of the exchange, their upset could have been avoided. Additionally, any attempt to renege on the agreement would have been met with clear and previously outlined consequences.
Luckily though, Daisy and Cindy were easily appeased with soothing glasses of water and distraction in the form of computer time.
If only all problems could be so easily solved.