The process of breaking up research is dangerous one, according to UH's Big Idea. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

Salami slicing, breaking a paper on a single study up into smaller “slices” and publishing them in more than one journal, is broadly discouraged and considered unethical. Why does the practice persist? What do PIs believe are the benefits of doing it?

Two problems

Breaking up research into smaller slices can have serious consequences for scientific integrity. Researchers, especially younger researchers, may get used to looking at data in smaller pieces and not as a whole. This is dangerous from an academic perspective as valuable conclusions, that could have been derived if the data were presented as a whole, are overlooked.

Further, salami slicing of data may do more harm than good to a researcher’s career over time because it significantly reduces their chances of publishing in high impact journals, thereby lessening the weight of their accrued body of work.

One reason salami slicing still persists, is that there is a veritable avalanche of papers vying for publication. And the number seems to be steadily increasing.

“The academic market became more competitive after the nation’s economic downturn, in 2008,” said Rodica Damian, UH associate professor of psychology. “We saw a lot of competition between those with Ph.D.s and those who were conducting postdoc research. Before, you needed a postdoc if you were in Biology, for instance – but you didn’t need one if you had a doctorate in Psychology. That is no longer the case.”

Another reason salami slicing might persist is that advisors may suggest to a graduate student that they write a series of simpler papers as opposed to a more complex paper consisting of multiple measurements. A researcher might get these “single-lens papers” published much more quickly than their multi-faceted counterparts, due to the amount of background research the journal’s editors need to do on the more complicated papers.

How to avoid self-plagiarism

Salami slicing is not necessarily self-plagiarism, but often the practice does feature a large amount of “text overlap,” according to Miguel Roig, Ph.D. on the website of the Office of Research Integrity for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. One example Roig gives is as follows:

“Several months ago, for example, we received a manuscript describing a controlled intervention in a birthing center. The authors sent the results on the mothers to us, and the results on the infants to another journal. The two outcomes would have more appropriately been reported together…The important point is that readers need to be made aware that the data being reported were collected in the context of a larger study.”

The Big Idea

An article published by the NIH suggests this rule of thumb: “If the ‘slice’ of the study in question tests a different hypothesis as opposed to the larger study or has a distinct methodology or populations being studied, then it is acceptable to publish it separately.”

However, when a colleague is trying to do a meta analysis, they need to know what your study actually measured. “One thing you can do to avoid salami slicing,” said Damian, “is to pre-register all the projects you’re planning to do from a specific data set. Then ask yourself, do they use different hypotheses, measures, literatures, etc.”

After all is said and done, are they substantively methodically different research papers? If so, they can be sent to different, separate journals.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Rice University's edtech company receives $90M to lead NSF research hub

major collaboration

An educational technology company based out of Rice University has received $90 million to create and lead a research and development hub for inclusive learning and education research. It's the largest research award in the history of the university.

OpenStax received the grant funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation for a five-year project create the R&D hub called SafeInsights, which "will enable extensive, long-term research on the predictors of effective learning while protecting student privacy," reads a news release from Rice. It's the NSF's largest single investment commitment to national sale education R&D infrastructure.

“We are thrilled to announce an investment of $90 million in SafeInsights, marking a significant step forward in our commitment to advancing scientific research in STEM education,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan says in the release. “There is an urgent need for research-informed strategies capable of transforming educational systems, empowering our nation’s workforce and propelling discoveries in the science of learning.

"By investing in cutting-edge infrastructure and fostering collaboration among researchers and educators, we are paving the way for transformative discoveries and equitable opportunities for learners across the nation.”

SafeInsights is funded through NSF’s Mid-scale Research Infrastructure-2 (Mid-scale RI-2) program and will act as a central hub for 80 partners and collaborating institutions.

“SafeInsights represents a pivotal moment for Rice University and a testament to our nation’s commitment to educational research,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches adds. “It will accelerate student learning through studies that result in more innovative, evidence-based tools and practices.”

Richard Baraniuk, who founded OpenStax and is a Rice professor, will lead SafeInsights. He says he hopes the initiative will allow progress to be made for students learning in various contexts.

“Learning is complex," Baraniuk says in the release. "Research can tackle this complexity and help get the right tools into the hands of educators and students, but to do so, we need reliable information on how students learn. Just as progress in health care research sparked stunning advances in personalized medicine, we need similar precision in education to support all students, particularly those from underrepresented and low-income backgrounds.”

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2 Houston startups selected by US military for geothermal projects

hot new recruits

Two clean energy companies in Houston have been recruited for geothermal projects at U.S. military installations.

Fervo Energy is exploring the potential for a geothermal energy system at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada.

Meanwhile, Sage Geosystems is working on an exploratory geothermal project for the Army’s Fort Bliss post in Texas. The Bliss project is the third U.S. Department of Defense geothermal initiative in the Lone Star State.

“Energy resilience for the U.S. military is essential in an increasingly digital and electric world, and we are pleased to help the U.S. Army and [the Defense Innovation Unit] to support energy resilience at Fort Bliss,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage, says in a news release.

A spokeswoman for Fervo declined to comment.

Andy Sabin, director of the Navy’s Geothermal Program Office, says in a military news release that previous geothermal exploration efforts indicate the Fallon facility “is ideally suited for enhanced geothermal systems to be deployed onsite.”

As for the Fort Bliss project, Michael Jones, a project director in the Army Office of Energy Initiatives, says it’ll combine geothermal technology with innovations from the oil and gas sector.

“This initiative adds to the momentum of Texas as a leader in the ‘geothermal anywhere’ revolution, leveraging the robust oil and gas industry profile in the state,” says Ken Wisian, associate director of the Environmental Division at the U.S. Bureau of Economic Geology.

The Department of Defense kicked off its geothermal initiative in September 2023. Specifically, the Army, Navy, and Defense Innovation Unit launched four exploratory geothermal projects at three U.S. military installations.

One of the three installations is the Air Force’s Joint Base San Antonio. Canada-based geothermal company Eavor is leading the San Antonio project.

Another geothermal company, Atlanta-based Teverra, was tapped for an exploratory geothermal project at the Army’s Fort Wainwright in Alaska. Teverra maintains an office in Houston.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.