Universal definitions of ethical issues related to medical publishing have remained somewhat elusive. Training in the art of writing for medical journals is inconsistent and most commonly informal, involving collaborative efforts between mentors and students. This approach inadvertently may perpetuate erroneous assumptions as to what constitutes acceptable behavior. In contrast to instruction on composition, ethical considerations related to the publication of a paper are likely to receive little attention.
Even so, consequent to the ever-increasing scrutiny from the media and government agencies, journals are recognizing the need for greater transparency in peer review and are thus more inclined to enforce ethical standards. Understanding that some apparent ethical contraventions are the result of confusion or a lack of knowledge, some journals are assuming the responsibility of educating their community about ethical issues in publishing. This paper reviews the key ethical issues (eg, authorship criteria, conflicts of interest, redundant publication, data access and biases in data reporting, image manipulation) that authors should consider before submitting a manuscript. It also surveys some of the policies of the most highly cited clinical medical journals. In the future, authors can anticipate that their submissions will be required to meet an expanding array of ethical standards.