Skip to main content


The Ethics of Publication in Public Health

Article metrics

  • 340 Accesses

  • 2 Citations


Publication in peer-reviewed journals is a key part of advancement in science and a vital part of development of the scientific basis for public health practice. The process of publication should promote rigorous standards of high quality ethical research and the wide dissemination of their findings. When considering the issues arising from publication in public health, relevant frameworks include those from the field of publication ethics, public health practice and epidemiological research.

The consequences of poor, or frankly fraudulent science, can have a substantial adverse impact both on health, and on the use of resources, and public credibility because of the population based nature of public health interventions. Professional and scientific journals therefore have a critical role in promoting and preserving the highest possible ethical and professional standards to advance the field of public health practice.

I present here a personal view of some of these ethical issues, predominantly from the perspective of an experienced editor, but also to some extent that of reviewers and of course, the authors.


  1. 1.

    Oxford University Press. Oxford Dictoriaries. Available from URL: (Accessed 18 August 2012).

  2. 2.

    Rees M. Code of conduct and best practice guidelines for journal editors 2011. Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Available from URL: (Accessed 20 August 2012).

  3. 3.

    World Association of Medical Editors (WAME). Available from URL: (Accessed 5 October 2012).

  4. 4.

    World Association of Medical Editors (WAME). Conflict of interest in peer reviewed journals. Available from URL: (Accessed 5 October 2012).

  5. 5.

    ten Have M, Beaufort ID, Mackenbach JP, van der Heide A. An overview of ethical frameworks in public health: can they be supportive in the evaluation of programs to prevent overweight? BMC Public Health. 2010;10:638.

  6. 6.

    Kass NE. An ethics framework for public health. Am J Public Health. 2001; 911:776–82.

  7. 7.

    Childress JF, Faden RR, Gaare RD, Gostin LO, Kahn J, Bonnie RJ, et al. Public health ethics: mapping the terrain. J Law Med Ethics. 2002;30:170–8.

  8. 8.

    Public Health Leadership Society: Principles of the ethical practice of public health. 2.2 edition. 2002. p.11. Available from URL: home/section/3–26/ (Accessed 9 November 2012).

  9. 9.

    Nuffield Council on Bioethics. Public health: ethical issues. London: Nuffield Council on Bioethics; 2007.

  10. 10.

    European Public Health Ethics Network. Public policies law and bioethics: a framework for producing public health policy across the European Union. EuroPHEN; 2006.

  11. 11.

    Tannahill A. Beyond evidence-to ethics: a decision-making framework for health promotion, public health and health improvement. Health Promot Int. 2008;23:380–90.

  12. 12.

    Coughlin SS. Ethical issues in epidemiologic research and public health practice. Emerg Themes Epidemiol. 2006;3:16.

  13. 13.

    Medical Research Council London. Ethics and research guidance. MRC. (Accessed 21 August 2012).

  14. 14.

    National Institutes of Health. Ethical Guidelines & Regulations. NIH. Available from URL: (Accessed 20 August 2012).

  15. 15.

    Thomson Reuters. The Thomas Reuters impact factor. Available from URL: (Accessed 19 August 2012).

  16. 16.

    Wakefield AJ, Murch SH, Anthony A, Linnell J, Casson DM, Malik M, et al. Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet. 1998;351:637–41.

  17. 17.

    Horton A. A statement by the editors of The Lancet. Lancet. 2004;363:820–1.

  18. 18.

    The editors of the Lancet. Retraction—Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet. 2010;375:445.

  19. 19.

    Godlee F, Smith J, Marcovitch H. Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent. Editorial. BMJ. 2011;342:c7452.

  20. 20.

    Deer B. Secrets of the MMR scare. How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed. BMJ. 2011;342:c5347.

  21. 21.

    General Medical Council. Dr Andrew Jeremy WAKEFIELD Determination on Serious Professional Misconduct (SPM) and sanction. London: General Medical Council; 24 May 2010. Available from URL: Wakefield_SPM_and_SANCTION.pdf_32595267.pdf (Accessed 21 August 2012).

  22. 22.

    Pilkington PA, Gray S, Gilmore AB. Health impacts of exposure to second hand smoke (SHS) amongst a highly exposed workforce: survey of London casino workers. BMC Public Health. 2007;7:257

  23. 23.

    Steckler A, McLeroy KR. The importance of external validity. Am J Public Health. 2008;98:9–10.

  24. 24.

    CONSORT Transparent Reporting of Trials. Statement. Available from URL: (Accessed 6 October 2012).

  25. 25.

    PRISMA Transparent Reporting of Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses. Statement. Available from URL: (Accessed 6 October 2012).

  26. 26.

    Dickersin K, Chalmers I. Recognising, investigating and dealing with incomplete and biased reporting of clinical research: from Francis Bacon to the World Health Organisation. JLL Bulletin: Commentaries on the history of treatment evaluation. 2010. Available from URL: incomplete-and-biase (Accessed 21 August 2012).

  27. 27.

    American Academy Of Pediatrics Committee on Fetus and Newborn. Controversies concerning vitamin K and the newborn. Pediatrics. 2003;112:191–2.

  28. 28.

    Smith R. Commentary. Screening for future cardiovascular disease using age alone: reflections on a paper peer-reviewed as both “radical” and “unsurprising”. J Med Screening. 2011;18:113–4.

  29. 29.

    Wald NJ, Simmonds M, Morris JK. Screening for future cardiovascular disease using age alone compared to multiple risk factors and age. PLoS One. 2011;6:e18742.

  30. 30.

    Global Forum for Health Research. Available from URL: (Accessed 20 Aug 2012).

  31. 31.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Spina bifida and anencephaly before and after folic acid mandate—United States, 1995–1996 and 1999 2000. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2004;53:362–5.

  32. 32.

    Cohen D. The truth about sports drinks. BMJ. 2012;345:e4737.

  33. 33.

    Cohen D, Carter P. WHO and the pandemic flu ‘conspiracies. BMJ. 2010; 340:c2912

  34. 34.

    Chan M. WHO response to article on conflicts of interest. BMJ 2010;340:c2912.

  35. 35.

    Evans MR.The swine flu scam? J Public Health. 2010;32:296–7.

  36. 36.

    Jefferson T, Jones MA, Doshi P, Del Mar CB, Heneghan CJ, et al. Neuraminidase inhibitors for preventing and treating influenza in healthy adults and children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;1:CD008965.

  37. 37.

    Tong EK, Glantz SA. Tobacco industry efforts undermining evidence linking secondhand smoke with cardiovascular disease Circulation. 2007;116:1845–54.

  38. 38.

    Smith R. Reed-Elsevier’s hypocrisy in selling arms and health. J R Soc Med. 2007;100:114–5.

  39. 39.

    Stafford T. Lessons from the Campaign against Elsevier. “We won, but how did we win?” ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 2009;8:494–504.

  40. 40.

    The cost of knowledge. Available from URL: (Accessed 20 August 2012).

  41. 41.

    Smith R. The Trouble with Medical Journals. London: Royal Society of Medicine Press; 2007.

  42. 42.

    Northridge ME, McLeroy KR, Haviland ML, Johnson NJ, Benjamin GC. Editorial independence at the journal. Am J Public Health. 2005;95:377–9.

  43. 43.

    Northridge ME, McLeroy KR, Haviland ML. Essential tensions in the journal. Am J Public Health 2004;94:11–13.

  44. 44.

    No Authors. Demystifying peer review. Nat Cell Biol. 2010;12:413.

  45. 45.

    Lovejoy TI, Revenson TA, France CR. Reviewing manuscripts for peer review journals: a primer for novice and seasoned reviewers. Ann Behav Med. 2011; 42:1–13.

  46. 46.

    Simons-Morton B, Abraido-Lanza AF, Bernhardt JM, Schoenthaler A, Schnitzer A, Allegrante JP. Demystifying peer review. Health Educ Behav. 2012;39:3–7.

  47. 47.

    Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Plagiarism. Available from URL: (Accessed 20 August 2012).

  48. 48.

    Godlee F. Helping institutions tackle research misconduct. Editorial. BMJ. 2012;345:e5402.

  49. 49.

    Wager E, Kleinert S, on behalf of COPE Council. Cooperation between research institutions and journals on research integrity cases: guidance from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). 5 March 2012. Available from URL: (Accessed 21 August 2012).

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Selena Gray BSc, MBCHB, MD, FFPH, FRCP.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Gray, S. The Ethics of Publication in Public Health. Public Health Rev 34, 12 (2012) doi:10.1007/BF03391664

Download citation

Key Words

  • Ethics
  • public health
  • journals
  • publication
  • peer review