Editors of scientific journals have responsibilities toward the authors who provide the content of the journals, the peer reviewers who comment on the suitability of manuscripts for publication, the journal’s readers and the scientific community, the owners/publishers of the journals, and the public as a whole. Depending upon the relationship between the editor and publisher for particular journals, some of the roles and responsibilities between the two may overlap in some of the following:
Editor Responsibilities toward Authors
- Providing guidelines to authors for preparing and submitting manuscripts
- Providing a clear statement of the Journal’s policies on authorship criteria
- Treating all authors with fairness, courtesy, objectivity, honesty, and transparency
- Establishing and defining policies on conflicts of interest for all involved in the publication process, including editors, staff (e.g., editorial and sales), authors, and reviewers
- Protecting the confidentiality of every author’s work
- Establishing a system for effective and rapid peer review (see section 2.3)
- Making editorial decisions with reasonable speed and communicating them in a clear and constructive manner
- Being vigilant in avoiding the possibility of editors and/or referees delaying a manuscript for suspect reasons
- Establishing clear guidelines for authors regarding acceptable practices for sharing experimental materials and information, particularly those required to replicate the research, before and after publication
- Establishing a procedure for reconsidering editorial decisions (see section 2.1.9)
- Describing, implementing, and regularly reviewing policies for handling ethical issues and allegations or findings of misconduct by authors and anyone involved in the peer review process (see sections 2.1.10 and 3.0)
- Informing authors of solicited manuscripts that the submission will be evaluated according to the journal’s standard procedures or outlining the decision-making process if it differs from those procedures
- Developing mechanisms, in cooperation with the publisher, to ensure timely publication of accepted manuscripts (see section 2.1.6)
- Clearly communicating all other editorial policies and standards
The following are examples of editorial policies and standards that editors may require of submitting authors:
- State all sources of funding for research and include this information in the acknowledgment section of the submitted manuscript.
- State in the manuscript, if appropriate, that the research protocol employed was approved by the relevant institutional review boards or ethics committees for human (including human cells or tissues) or animal experiments and that all human subjects provided appropriate informed consent.
- Describe in the manuscript methods section how cultured cell lines were authenticated.
- State in the manuscript, if appropriate, that regulations concerning the use of animals in research, teaching, and testing were adhered to. Governments, institutions, and professional organizations have statements about the use of animals in research. For examples, see the statements from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology,1 the Canadian Council on Animal Care,2 and, for links to other informational sites, the University of California, San Francisco.3
- When race/ethnicity is reported, define who determined race/ethnicity, whether the options were defined by the investigator and, if so, what they were and why race/ethnicity is considered important in the study.
- List contributors who meet the journal’s criteria for authorship as authors and identify other support (e.g., statistical analysis or writers), with the contributor’s approval, in the acknowledgment section. Some journals may require and publish a statement of author contribution for each article. In addition, some journals have a requirement for original research (sometimes called a guarantor policy) that at least one author who had full access to all the data takes responsibility for its integrity and the accuracy of the data analysis. JAMA publishes these statements in the acknowledgment section. A description can be found in the JAMA Instructions for Authors.4
- Reveal any potential conflicts of interest of each author either in the cover letter, manuscript, or disclosure form,a in accordance with the journal’s policy.
- Include (usually written) permission from each individual identified as a source of personal communication or unpublished data.
- Describe and provide copies of any similar works in process.
- Provide copies of cited manuscripts that are submitted or in press.
- Supply supporting manuscript data (e.g., actual data that were summarized in the manuscript) to the editor when requested or indicate where (site) the data can be found.
- Share data or materials needed by other scientists to replicate the experiment. As an example, the Information for Authors of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)b state: “To allow others to replicate and build on work published in PNAS, authors must make materials, data, and associated protocols available to readers. Authors must disclose upon submission of the manuscript any restrictions on the availability of materials or information.”
- Cite and reference other relevant published work on which the submitted work is based.
- Obtain permission from the copyright owner to use/reproduce copyrighted content (e.g., figures and tables) in the submitted manuscript, if applicable.c
- Provide written permission from any potentially identifiable individuals referred to or shown in photographs in the manuscript.
- Copyright transfer statement d or licensing agreement.e
aA sample disclosure form can be found at: http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/data/295/1/103/DC1/1 (Accessed March 9, 2012).
bProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Information for authors. Available at: http://www.pnas.org/misc/iforc.shtml (Accessed March 9, 2012)
cAn example of information commonly required for permission to reuse copyrighted material can be found at: http://www.nutrition.org/publications/guidelines-and-policies/permissions/ (Accessed March 9, 2012).
dA sample copyright transfer agreement is available at: http://circres.ahajournals.org/misc/AHA-CTA08-2008.pdf (Accessed March 9, 2012).
eA sample licensing agreement is available at: https://www.biomedcentral.com/about/policies/license-agreement (Accessed April 29, 2018).
Some journals may also request or require adherence to the following trial registration or reporting guidelines:
- Registration information for clinical trials (See section 2.2.6).f, 5
- Adherence to the CONSORT statement,6 which helps standardize reports of randomized trials.
- The use of the STARD flow diagram and checklist7 for reporting diagnostic tests.
- Compliance with MOOSE guidelines8 for reporting meta-analyses and systematic reviews of observational studies.
- Adherence to STROBE checklists9 for the reporting cohort, case-control, and cross-sectional observational studies.
- Adherence to QUOROM guidelines10 for reporting meta-analyses and systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials.
- Adherence to the MIAME standards11 for reporting microarray experiments.
- Adherence to any discipline-specific standards for data sharing and/or open access archiving.
fSome guidelines for registering clinical trials can be found at: http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/292/11/1363 (Accessed March 9, 2012).
A resource that provides information about many of the reporting guidelines is the EQUATOR network.12
Editors are responsible for monitoring and ensuring the fairness, timeliness, thoroughness, and civility of the peer-review editorial process.
Peer review by external referees with the proper expertise is the most common method to ensure manuscript quality. However, editors or associate editors may sometimes reject manuscripts without external peer review to make the best use of their resources. Reasons for this practice are usually that the manuscript is outside the scope of the journal, does not meet the journal’s quality standards or is of limited scientific merit, or lacks originality or novel information.
Referees are chosen by the editors or by associate editors or members of the editorial board to whom the task has been delegated. The amount of anonymity in the peer-review process varies. Some journals attempt to mask the identities of both the authors and reviewers (double masked or double blind); however, although masked, the identity of the author(s) may be known by the reviewers based on the area of research. Many journals follow the practice of keeping reviewer identities anonymous to the authors (single masked or single blind). Alternatively, some journals give reviewers the option to reveal their names, and a few journals provide authors with the names of all reviewers associated with the manuscript.
Peer review is usually a gift of uncompensated time from scientists to whom time is a precious commodity. Therefore, it is important for editors to clearly define the responsibilities of these individuals and to implement processes that streamline the peer review process as much as possible (see section 2.3 for more on reviewer responsibilities).
Editor Responsibilities toward Reviewers
- Assigning papers for review appropriate to each reviewer’s area of interest and expertise
- Establishing a process for reviewers to ensure that they treat the manuscript as a confidential document and complete the review promptly
- Informing reviewers that they are not allowed to make any use of the work described in the manuscript or to take advantage of the knowledge they gained by reviewing it before publication
- Providing reviewers with written, explicit instructions on the journal’s expectations for the scope, content, quality, and timeliness of their reviews to promote thoughtful, fair, constructive, and informative critique of the submitted work
- Requesting that reviewers identify any potential conflicts of interest and asking that they recuse themselves if they cannot provide an unbiased review
- Allowing reviewers appropriate time to complete their reviews
- Requesting reviews at a reasonable frequency that does not overtax any one reviewer
- Finding ways to recognize the contributions of reviewers, for example, by publicly thanking them in the journal; providing letters that might be used in applications for academic promotion; offering professional education credits; or inviting them to serve on the editorial board of the journal
Editors have the responsibility to inform and educate readers. Making clear and rational editorial decisions will ensure the best selection of content that contributes to the body of scientific knowledge.
Editor Responsibilities toward Readers and the Scientific Community
- Evaluating all manuscripts considered for publication to make certain that each provides the evidence readers need to evaluate the authors’ conclusions and that authors’ conclusions reflect the evidence provided in the manuscript
- Providing literature references and author contact information so interested readers may pursue further discourse
- Identifying individual and group authorship clearly and developing processes to ensure that authorship criteria are met to the best of the editor’s knowledge
- Requiring all authors to review and accept responsibility for the content of the final draft of each paper or for those areas to which they have contributed; this may involve signatures of all authors or of only the corresponding author on behalf of all authors. Some journals ask that one author be the guarantor and take responsibility for the work as a whole
- Maintaining the journal’s internal integrity (e.g., correcting errors; clearly identifying and differentiating types of content, such as reports of original data, opinion pieces [e.g., editorials and letters to the editor], corrections/errata, retractions, supplemental data, and promotional material or advertising; and identifying published material with proper references)
- Ensuring that all involved in the publication process understand that it is inappropriate to manipulate citations by, for example, demanding that authors cite papers in the journal13, 14
- Disclosing sources (e.g., authorship, journal ownership, and funding)
- Creating mechanisms to determine if the journal is providing what readers need and want (e.g., reader surveys)
- Disclosing all relevant potential conflicts of interest of those involved in considering a manuscript or affirming that none exist.15, 16 Sample correspondence related to this topic is available on the CSE website.17
- Providing a mechanism for a further discussion on the scientific merits of a paper, such as by publishing letters to the editor, inviting commentaries, article blogs, or soliciting other forms of public discourse
- Explicitly stating journal policies regarding ethics, embargo, submission and publication fees, and accessibility of content (freely available versus subscriber only)
- Working with the publisher to attract the best manuscripts and research that will be of interest to readers
- In some instances, a publisher may put pressure on an editor to publish a review or article in an effort to increase reprint sales. The editor has a responsibility to readers and the scientific community to resist such pressure18
Journals are typically owned by professional societies or associations, foundations, universities, hospitals, research institutions, libraries, governmental organizations, non-profit organizations, or commercial publishers.
Editor Responsibilities toward Journal Owners/Publishers
- Conducting peer review of submitted manuscripts
- Complying with the guidelines and procedures of the owner organization, including any terms specified in the contract with that organization
- Making recommendations about improved evaluation and dissemination of scientific material
- Adhering to the owner’s and publisher’s fiscal policies towards the Journal, at least in so much as they do not encroach upon editorial independence
- Adhering to the agreed-upon mission, publication practices, and schedule
Meeting all obligations, which sometimes compete against one another, and handling the demands of other individuals and groups (such as the parent society, owners, publishers, funders and sponsors, authors, readers, advertisers, news media, and government agencies) require that the editors have editorial freedom, comprising both authority and autonomy. It should be recognized that this is a difficult challenge and, therefore, editors should not hesitate to consult peers and/or organizations, such as the CSE, should concerns or uncertainties arise.
Responsibilities of Editors toward the Public
Many responsibilities of editors toward the public are carried out through the mechanisms established for the processes and constituencies mentioned above. Editors’ roles have benefited society in many ways, from the quality-control measures taken when considering manuscripts for publication to requiring authors to abide by standards that would advance science and deposit information into freely available public databases as a condition of publication (e.g., data sharing). Editors are regularly taking steps to see that the outcomes of the scientific enterprise benefit the public. This includes identifying dual use research, which is research that can be misused to harm the public or its well-being.
Dual Use Research
One additional area that has emerged with advances in science, technology, and global exchange of information is consideration of “dual use research.” This is research with a legitimate scientific purpose that may be misused to pose a threat to public health and/or national security. As defined by the United States National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), dual use research of concern (DURC) is a subset of dual use research “that, based on current understanding, can be reasonably anticipated to provide knowledge, products, or technologies that could be directly misapplied by others to pose a threat to public health and safety, agriculture, plants, animals, the environment, and material.”19 Examples include knowledge, products, or technologies that could be misapplied to create or enhance harmful consequences of biological agents or toxins, disrupt immunity of vaccines, increase transmission of harmful substances, or alter biological agents and toxins to make them resistant to clinical or agricultural prophylactic or therapeutic interventions, or conversely to enhance the susceptibility of a host population to harm.
Everyone has a stake in the responsible management of DURC, but especially individual researchers, institutions and institutional groups (e.g., institutional biosafety committees), funding agencies, scientific societies, government/regulatory bodies, journal editors, and the global scientific community. In the United States, the National Policy on the Transfer of Scientific, Technical, and Engineering Information, issued in 1985 (National Security Decision Directive-189),20 states that, to the maximum extent possible, federally funded fundamental research that is unclassified will not have government-imposed restrictions on its conduct or reporting. More recent legislation, such as the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-56)21 and the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-188, H.R. 3448), takes additional steps intended to prevent bioterrorism, including the establishment of a national database of potentially dangerous pathogens and imposition of safety and security requirements on facilities and individuals with access to them.
Identification and consideration of DURC throughout the research continuum before submission of manuscripts for publication is an important early step. However, while journal editors do not have sole responsibility for the management of DURC, inevitably, editors will be faced with submissions that could be considered DURC and the challenges that come with handling them. Considering the risks and benefits of publishing DURC is a task in which many editors have no experience. Identifying DURC is subjective, and it is difficult for even the most knowledgeable editors and scientists to manage submissions that provide legitimate scientific contributions without censoring their communication because of potential harmful use.
In 2003, the “Statement on Scientific Publication and Security”22 was published by a group of editors simultaneously in Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature, and the American Society for Microbiology journals. This statement recognizes the challenge of dual use research and documents the commitment of journal editors and authors toward responsibly and effectively balancing the need for public safety with the requirements of transparently reporting scientific results. There may be times when it is appropriate to “encourage investigators to communicate results of research in ways that maximize public benefits and minimize risks of misuse.” In rare cases, some information needed to reproduce the experiment should be eliminated or the manuscript itself should not be published. Editors who may potentially receive DURC submissions should consider establishing best practices for processing these manuscripts.
The NSABB and organizations around the world have entered into dialogues with all stakeholders to find ways to ensure that science continues to be done and communicated in an unfettered way, while being mindful of and minimizing the risks and consequences of misuse. Tools and information on this topic are being built and shared by the global community.
Editors can educate journal boards, reviewers, and authors; establish screening methods to recognize DURC; obtain reviews of these manuscripts from individuals with technical and security expertise; and create an ongoing network to share experiences and further refine ways for managing DURC.
Editors should develop guidelines and procedures to allow the scientific evaluation as well as the evaluation of the possible risk of communicating information with dual use potential. Additional information on what to consider when evaluating a manuscript with potential dual use can be found in the report titled, Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism.23
An editor essentially is responsible for what appears in his or her journal. To establish and maintain high-quality journal content, an editor should, prior to accepting a position, receive an explicit written statement from the journal’s owner that defines the editor’s responsibilities and autonomy. Regardless of the scientific field, editors should be given full responsibility for editorial decisions on individual manuscripts (see section 2.5). The editor’s right to editorial freedom may be supported by the following and should be agreed on by both the editor and the journal owner/publisher:
- A journal mission statement
- Written editorial priorities, objectives, and measures of success
- Written editorial policies
- A written job description, specifically detailing components of editorial freedom, including the degree of control regarding editorial content, acceptance and publication, and advertising content (a sample job description can be found in the Appendix to this section)
- An editorial board, including associate, assistant, and topic editors, that is nominated or appointed by and reports to the editor
- Sufficient support from the parent society, publisher, owner, or other journal sponsors in both funding and staff to carry out the journal’s stated mission
- A mechanism for regular and objective evaluation of editor performance by the publisher or sponsoring organization based on predetermined and agreed-upon measures of success
- Direct lines of communication with the publisher, owner, and any publication oversight body
- A mechanism to prevent inappropriate influence on the editor by others and to handle conflicts in an objective and transparent manner with the goal of conflict resolution and maintenance of trust
Much of the above may be laid out in a contract. The terms of the contract should specify the duration of the editor’s appointment and the grounds for termination, from both sides.
Editors and the publication staff should keep all information about a submitted manuscript confidential, sharing it only with those involved in the evaluation, review, and publication processes.
Editors should consider adding a confidentiality notice to all correspondence, including reviewer forms, to serve as a reminder to authors, editors, and reviewers.
To minimize the potential to influence editorial decisions, many journals have policies not to release content to the publication’s sales team until it has been accepted or published.
Journals should have a mechanism – consistent with established industry standards – to safely store, archive, and/or destroy paper and electronic manuscript review files and related content. Records and retention schedules, such as how long to keep published manuscripts and associated correspondence or rejected manuscripts and associated correspondence, should be documented in writing and reviewed on a regular basis.
Journals may receive subpoenas for information about manuscripts. Legal counsel is advised in this scenario. Formal subpoenas can be issued only by a regulatory agency or court of competent jurisdiction. Formal inquiries from law firms, for example, are probably best to politely decline, citing confidentiality. Generally, editors should resist revealing confidential information when served a subpoena unless advised to do so by legal counsel. Not only is the requested information usually confidential, but often uncovering ALL information (for which lawyers are trained to ask) can be time-consuming, interrupt normal business, and be expensive. Citing, for example, the Avoidance of Undue Burden or Expense Under Rule 45(c)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure may be useful.24
Confidential information should not be used for an editor’s own purposes, and editors should take reasonable steps to ensure that such information is not used inappropriately for the advantage of others. In cases of breach of confidentiality by those involved in the peer-review process, editors should contact the involved parties and follow up on such cases until they are satisfactorily resolved.
Generally, editors of journals with embargo policies should enforce them to encourage the confidentiality of publication content until the embargo release date, unless the editor is authorized by the copyright owner or required by law to disclose the information. The copyright owner is often the journal owner—usually the society or publisher—but may be the author. There are 2 general exceptions under which an editor may release manuscript content to others not involved in consideration of the manuscript prior to publication: (1) to an author if a commentary or editorial is being solicited to highlight the manuscript and (2) to the public when research findings have a major health or societal impact (a rare event). In the latter case, journals often prefer to coordinate release of the peer-reviewed study findings with announcements to the public so that details are clearly presented and widely disseminated. This type of content is often made freely available online prior to print. A good summary of the importance of releasing information to the public and honoring embargoes is described in a JAMA editorial25 (see section 2.6).
Conflicts of interest in publishing can be defined as conditions in which an individual holds conflicting or competing interests that could bias editorial decisions. Conflicts of interest may be only potential or perceived, or they may be factual. Personal, political, financial, academic, or religious considerations can affect objectivity in numerous ways.
Editors should set and regularly monitor a conflict of interest policy for editors, reviewers, editorial board members, editorial staff, and authors.15, 16 Sample correspondence related to this topic is available on the CSE website.17 These policies should be published in the journal with the date of their adoption or publication and made easily accessible to all readers by a parallel online publication (usually as part of the Instructions for Authors). Editors should strive for fairness and impartiality in their policies. This can only be achieved if all parties involved in the peer-review process disclose any and all conflicts and allow the Editor to decide how they should be handled. It is also important to recognize that an Editor and/or reviewer can be impartial while nonetheless being in conflict of interest. Since the perception of conflict of interest is detrimental to a journal’s reputation, avoiding even the perception of conflict of interest should be a priority. Enforcement of these policies must also be considered: practices to deal with premeditated or inadvertent breaches of the journal’s conflict of interest policy should be stated in writing, regularly reviewed, and carried out consistently.
One challenge for editors is to recognize the potential for biases arising from conflicts of interest in the publishing process and to take appropriate action when biases are likely. Some specific types of conflict of interest are mentioned below.
- Personal conflicts. Editors should avoid making decisions on manuscripts that conflict with their own interest, such as those submitted from their department or by research collaborators, co-authors (in the case of collaborators or co-authors, some time period should be established, such as “for the past five years”), competitors, or those addressing an issue in which they stand to gain financially (e.g., stock in a company whose product is discussed in the article). If they may have a perceived or actual conflict of interest, editors should delegate handling of any decision to other editors with decision-making responsibility. Also, editors should submit their own manuscripts to the journal only if full masking of the process can be ensured (e.g., anonymity of the peer reviewers and lack of access to records of their own manuscript). Journals should have a procedure in place to guide the handling of submissions by editors, associate editors, editorial board members, and colleagues/students of any of these to allow for peer review and decision making that avoids any conflict of interest. Editorials and/or opinion pieces are an exception to this rule.
- Financial conflicts. The most evident type of potential conflict of financial interest arises when an individual or organization may benefit financially from a decision to publish or to reject a manuscript. Financial conflicts may include salary, grants from a company with an interest in the results, honoraria, stock or equity interests, and intellectual property rights (patents, royalties, and copyrights). Some examples of potential direct and indirect financial conflicts of interest that should be avoided are given below.
Direct: An editor, author, or reviewer is reporting or considering a study involving a specific commercial product while he or she holds equity positions or stock options in the company making the product and thus has the potential to realize direct financial gain if the assessment is favorable.
Direct: A reviewer gains key knowledge by evaluating a competing research team’s work and uses it prior to the publication of the work but does not cite it in his/her own patent application.
Indirect: An individual involved in the publication process is employed by an organization that would obtain some advantage from a favorable product-related publication or may receive compensation if a product does well as a result of a favorable report published in the journal. Similarly, an author of an editorial commenting on the importance of a research article may minimize positive findings if he or she has been a consultant to a company selling competing products.
Indirect: When an investigator studies the product of a commercial enterprise from which the investigator has received monies previously (e.g., consulting fees, honoraria, or speaking fees), the situation differs slightly. In such case, there is no direct relationship between the evaluation and a personal gain the investigator may anticipate. Nevertheless, previously received payments could conceivably influence the researcher’s opinion; therefore, they must be regarded as a potential conflict of interest and should be disclosed.
Indirect: An author is being considered for a research grant and publication of an article favorable to the company reviewing the grant may influence the award.
- Nonfinancial conflicts. Other nonfinancial conflicts of interest should also be avoided or disclosed. Some of these include personal, political, academic, and religious conflicts. Examples are listed below.
- A reviewer evaluating a manuscript reporting research results similar to results he or she is preparing to submit for publication might be tempted to delay the review until his or her manuscript is accepted or might be unduly influenced by the concepts or hypotheses in his or her ongoing and unpublished research.
- A reviewer with strong feelings on a controversial topic might be partial to or biased against a manuscript on the topic and want to publish or reject it regardless of scientific merit.
- An editor chairing a department might struggle to reach an objective decision about a manuscript submitted by a member of his or her faculty because of his or her commitment to the academic advancement of those researchers.
Explanation and enforcement of authorship disclosure. It is the editors’ responsibility to establish the authorship criteria guidelines for their journals. Many biomedical journals operate according to the standards established by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE).26 It is the editors’ responsibility to publish their authorship criteria (in print and/or electronic media) and then to enforce these standards by collecting relevant documentation from authors. Collection can take place either at manuscript submission or at some point during the peer-review process, preferably prior to any commitment to accept and publish a study. An observational study by Bates et al27 suggests that, among 3 highly regarded biomedical publications, the effectiveness of authorship and contributorship policies varies.
Journals should require disclosure of all conflicts of interest from everyone involved in the publication process: editors, reviewers, editorial board members, editorial staff, and authors. The intent of disclosure is to allow others to make an informed decision about the existence and impact of potential conflicts of interest or bias, including the necessity for recusal or disqualification under extraordinary circumstances. Editors are better equipped to make informed decisions on potential biases if they have full knowledge of all the circumstances, and readers and reviewers have more information to interpret the work when there is a public disclosure. However, some argue that mandatory disclosure of actual or perceived conflicts does not allow a manuscript to be judged solely on its scientific merits and may introduce prejudice. Under what circumstances disclosure is needed and how it is handled varies among journals.
- Author disclosures. Some editors and journals require authors to identify the organizations that provided support for their research and describe the role played by these organizations in the study and in the analysis of the results. Authors may also be required to disclose all personal, financial, and other relationships they may have with the manufacturer of any product mentioned in the manuscript or with the manufacturers of competing products. For example, some journals do not permit consideration of manuscripts describing research involving a commercial product when the research was supported financially by a commercial organization involved in the manufacture or sale of that product. Others prefer that editorials or review articles not be authored by individuals with potential conflicts of financial interest, feeling that these pieces rely especially heavily on interpretation and objectivity. Many journals follow the ICMJE recommendation to keep disclosed conflicts of interest confidential during the peer review process. This allows the editor to consider the potential conflicts after the scientific merit is assessed. Those journals that request and publish specific conflict of interest information are more likely to avoid inconsistent handling, but they may unnecessarily use editorial space for this purpose. While some journals ask that all potential financial conflicts be disclosed, others ask authors to identify only those that exceed a certain monetary amount.
The ICMJE28 states: “Editors should publish this information if they believe it is important in judging the manuscript.” This approach gives the editor the discretion to decide whether the potential conflict is significant enough to reveal. Examples of disclosure forms and actual disclosures can be found in the Annals of Internal Medicine,g the American Society of Hematology’s journal Blood,h and the American Academy of Neurology’s journal Neurology.i
- Reviewer disclosures. Some journals have established policies that require reviewers to reveal any potential personal or financial conflicts of interest with respect to the authors or content of manuscripts they are asked to review, or to affirm that they have no conflicts. In most instances when such conflicts exist, editors request that reviewers decline to comment on the manuscript. However, if a reviewer is a colleague of the author but believes that he or she can provide an objective review, the editor may allow the practice. Many journals use the same conflict of interest disclosure form for both reviewers and authors, as the potential pitfalls are very similar.
gAnnals of Internal Medicine conflict of interest information is available at: http://www.annals.org/site/shared/author_conflict.xhtml (Accessed March 9, 2012).
hBlood copyright transfer and conflict of interest disclosure form. Available at: http://bloodjournal.hematologylibrary.org/site/forms/copyright_transfer.xhtml (Accessed March 9, 2012).
iNeurology disclosure agreement form. Available at: http://www.neurology.org/misc/DisclosureFormDummyForRef.pdf (Accessed March 9, 2012).
Most metrics of scholarly performance, including the Journal Impact Factor (JIF), are based on citations to published articles. This may generate strong temptation to inappropriately increase citations, something that is referred to as citation manipulation or citation gaming.
Citation manipulation refers to any systematic practice that inappropriately pressures authors to cite material with the primary goal of boosting citation rates. The CSE considers all such practices unacceptable.
- Coercion. At some point during the peer-review process, editors (or anyone else involved in the process) request that authors add citations from their own journal (or a journal from the same publisher).
- Editorials. Editors write editorials in which a disproportionate number of articles from their own journal are cited.
- Reviewers suggesting citations of their own work. Reviewers may suggest that authors cite their articles.
- Self-citation. Authors cite disproportionately large numbers of their own articles in all or most of their publications.
- Citation swapping. A group of colleagues (perhaps students or research associates of a particular researcher) agrees to preferentially and regularly cite each other’s articles in all or most of their publications.
It should be stressed that some of the practices described above are only inappropriate if the additional citations requested do not add significantly to the scholarly content of the manuscript (i.e., the intent of the request is dubious). To alleviate such concerns, the CSE recommends that editors deal with such issues by clearly informing authors that they need not feel pressured to cite articles simply because they have been requested to do so, especially if the request does not appear to have scientific merit.
Anybody involved in the peer-review process can become a party to citation manipulation. Therefore, it is every participant’s responsibility to judge how reasonable such requests are. Stakeholders in the peer-review and editorial process should be alerted to citation manipulation and bring concerns to the attention of the editor, publisher, or other accountable party. Journals may also decide to publish a policy statement condemning citation manipulation practices. It should be noted that most impact factor formulas monitor when self-citation by a journal reaches an unacceptable level. Although such behavior may result in a short-term gain, the strategy may not work in the long-term.
The editor-in-chief or principal editor should define the terms and roles of the editors and editorial board that are appointed by and report to him or her. As mentioned above, the editor-in-chief should require disclosure of any conflicts of interest.
The editor-in-chief or principal editor should ensure that the journal’s editors and editorial board are identified in the journal masthead; receive the necessary training and oversight to adequately perform editorial functions; and actively perform their responsibilities, such as assigning reviewers or reviewing manuscripts and advising on policy considerations.
The number of scholarly journals continues to increase, among them several “mega journals”. These mega journals can have editorial boards that include thousands of editors. The ever-increasing demand for leading scholars to populate editorial boards has led to researchers frequently and repeatedly receiving invitations to join editorial boards. Some scholars accept several such invitations and sit on multiple editorial boards simultaneously, including the boards of journals that compete directly for the same content.
Scholars, and journal editors, should consider the following issues when deciding whether any one researcher should sit on multiple editorial boards simultaneously. Importantly, these considerations are most relevant to situations where the editor has decision-making authority over manuscripts for more than one journal and/or influence on more than one journal’s editorial policies.
- If the number of manuscripts that the editor is expected to handle for each journal is high, their ability to assess all of them thoroughly and in a timely manner may be compromised.
- Having the same scholar as gatekeeper for manuscripts on any given subject area for more than one of the primary journal outlets in a field is unhealthy because it gives that person undue influence over what is being published in that field.
In the context of the above, researchers should disclose all of their existing editorial board commitments when they are approached about taking on an additional editorial role and the editors who are recruiting them should take those other commitments into consideration.
(Note: Howard Browman took the lead in authoring the portion of this section pertaining to editors serving on multiple editorial boards on behalf of the CSE Editorial Policy Committee. The information was approved by the CSE Board of Directors on February 21, 2017 and was added to the White Paper on May 4, 2018)
Editors are responsible for monitoring the turnaround time for every publishing stage from manuscript receipt to publication or rejection. Processing data and evaluating trends can help editors scrutinize acceptance and rejection rates of specific types of manuscripts, manage the inventory/backlog of accepted manuscripts, track reviewers’ and editors’ performance, and assess staffing needs.
Some journals publish annual editorial audits,j which include the total number of manuscripts submitted, acceptance rates of solicited and unsolicited manuscripts, and the average manuscript turnaround time. Many journals follow the practice of listing the dates of manuscript receipt and acceptance as part of the published article. This information helps answer questions from readers and potential authors about how long it will take to see their manuscript in print. The editor’s responsibility for timeliness extends to providing prompt responses and decisions for all journal-related activities, including responses to authors’ queries.
jAn example of an editorial audit is available at: http://www.conbio.org/Publications/Newsletter/Archives/2008-8-August/newsl013.cfm (Accessed March 9, 2012).
Editors have a responsibility to maintain the integrity of the literature by publishing errata or corrections identifying anything of significance, retractions, and expressions of concern as quickly as possible (see section 3.5). When appropriate, they should provide a forum (e.g., letters to the editors) for offering responsible alternative opinions.
Errors in published articles require a published correction or erratum. These corrections should be made in such a way that secondary publication services, such as PubMed, will identify them and associate them with the original publication. Many online journals provide a direct link between the original article and the correction published later.
Editors should monitor the number and types of errors that appear in their journals. This review can be done simultaneously with the evaluation of other journal statistics. Editors should take corrective measures when there is evidence of an increase in preventable errors.
Editors are responsible for promoting the integrity of the literature and fostering good publication practices. Journals should develop and define authorship or contributorship criteria to minimize confusion about expectations (see section 2.2). Authorship disputes persist despite the current common efforts to make authorship or contributorship transparent. Examples include the “honorary” listing of a person who does not meet authorship criteria, submission of a manuscript without the knowledge or consent of an author/contributor, misrepresentation of a contribution, and an ordering of the byline that indicates a greater level of participation in the research than is warranted. A journal’s Instructions for Authors should define the criteria for authorship or contributorship, but editorial practices should be in place to consistently handle authorship disputes. For example, an individual may contact the editor with a complaint about not being included in the author byline of a submitted manuscript despite having met authorship criteria. In this case, the editor should query the corresponding author regarding the claim. Depending on the response, the journal may need to turn the investigation of the complaint over to the institution(s) where the work reported in the manuscript was done. In most cases, the journal will not have enough information to make a judgment regarding the allegation. Consideration of the manuscript may have to be postponed pending resolution of the complaint. Authorship abuses may be driven by some factors that are beyond the role of the editor (tenure decisions, funding, awards, or competition among authors). Editors, however, should collaborate with research institutions and other organizations to determine why authorship disputes continue to arise and to work toward solutions.37-42 Sample correspondence related to this topic is available on the CSE website.17
Despite editors’ best efforts to solicit fair and unbiased reviews to evaluate manuscripts fairly, and to make decisions that are in the best interest of the journal and its readers, authors may still want to challenge editorial decisions. Editors should have a policy in place to address complaints and help resolve these issues, although it is not easy to explain to an author that the research reported in his or her manuscript does not warrant publication in comparison with the many others under consideration.
- Determine whether the decision was clearly explained to the author and whether it may have been based on wrong or questionable information, for example, on an incorrect reading of the manuscript or on bad advice from a reviewer.
- Reconsider rejected manuscripts if the author provides good reasons why the decision may have been wrong and is willing to revise the manuscript in response to the valid comments of the reviewers and editors. Many journals allow authors to write a rebuttal letter explaining why their manuscript should be reevaluated.
- Encourage resubmission of manuscripts that are potentially acceptable but were rejected because major revision or additional data were required, explaining precisely what is needed to make the manuscript potentially acceptable, and the process and procedures that will be followed in handling the resubmitted manuscript.
Concerns of possible scientific misconduct are usually expressed first to the editors of a journal about a manuscript that is under consideration or has already been published. Journals should develop a consistent policy to encourage the reporting of indications of misconduct, for evaluating the allegations, and for handling the findings. Journals should include a general statement in their Instructions for Authors that allegations of misconduct will be pursued. Although the editor is not solely responsible for monitoring possible failure to meet legal or ethical research and publication standards, it is within his or her responsibilities to create and enforce policies that encourage good publication practices.43Sample correspondence related to this topic is available on the CSE website.17 When allegations and/or findings of misconduct are presented, the editor will be faced with some level of responsibility for investigating, judging, and/or penalizing the author for these lapses. The Council of Science Editors recommends that each journal articulates a specific policy on the editor’s responsibility for notifying an author’s institution of failure to comply with the journal’s ethical standards. Additionally, the editor and the publisher have a responsibility to inform readers and secondary services of work formally proven to be plagiarized, fabricated, or falsified.44-47 Sample correspondence related to this topic is available on the CSE website.17
In scientific publishing, a preprint server is an online repository where research findings and data can be deposited before, during, or after the peer review process. Although preprint servers have been a part of the scientific community for many years, the use of preprint servers is becoming an increasingly common practice for authors, in a number of fields, and more journals are willing to consider papers posted on these servers. Editors have a responsibility to present clear guidelines to authors regarding their policy on preprint servers, including what content can be shared on preprint servers before, during, and after the review process. Even if editors are willing to consider content previously posted on preprint servers, journals often require authors to disclose this information at the time of submission. Any such requirements should be available for author reference at the time of submission.
Discussion from COPE:
General information regarding the future of preprints:
Examples of online pre-print servers: *
Some journals have integrated their manuscript submission platforms allowing manuscripts posted on arXiv and bioRxiv to be sent directly to journal submission sites.
*Note: The links listed above provide a few examples of pre-print servers in various fields. However, this list is not comprehensive.
Example of journals allowing for direct preprint posting during the journal submission process:
NIH 2017 Notice on reporting preprints as products of NIH funding:
(Authorship: Jennifer Cox took the lead in authoring this section on behalf of the CSE Editorial Policy Committee. This section was approved by the CSE Board of Directors on February 20, 2018 and it was added to the White Paper on May 4, 2018.)
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(Authorship: Diane Scott-Lichter and Deborah Polly took the lead in writing this section of the white paper on behalf of the CSE Editorial Policy Committee. Diane Scott-Lichter and Deborah Polly revised this section for the 2009 Update. Howard Browman and Bruce Dancik revised this section for the 2012 Update. Members of the Editorial Policy Committee and the CSE Board of Directors reviewed and commented on it. This section was formally approved by the CSE Board of Directors on March 30, 2012.)
Sample Job Description for an Editor
Reports to journal’s Publications Committee and owner’s Board of Directors. Makes recommendations pertaining to improved dissemination of scientific material. Oversees publications department staff in regard to the journal.
- Possess a general scientific knowledge of the fields covered in the journal and be skilled in the arts of writing, editing, critical assessment, negotiation, and diplomacy.
- Publish original, important, well-documented, peer-reviewed articles on a diverse range of scientific topics of interest to the readership.
- Establish policies for
- Submission of manuscripts and criteria for authorship/contributorship
- Processes for peer review, evaluation of decisions regarding publication, and methods for reconsideration of rejected manuscripts
- Identification and selection of theme issues and supplements
- Conflict of interest and disclosure
- Handling allegations and findings of scientific misbehavior and misconduct
- Communicate publication guidelines and policies (e.g., Instructions for Authors, Instructions for Reviewers, ethical guidelines, editorial board reports, Editorials).
- Provide the journal owner, publications oversight committee, and/or editorial board with reports, as requested, on the journal’s activities.
- Preside at annual meetings of the editorial board and the executive committees.
- Receive, review, and act on complaints from those involved in the publication process.
- Review and approve the journal’s yearly budget, as proposed by the managing editor, for approval by the journal’s management committee.
- Represent the editorial board in negotiations with the journal’s publisher.
B. EDITORIAL FREEDOM
The editor-in-chief will have complete authority for determining the editorial content within the defined scope of the journal and participate in the development of the advertising policy.
C. TERM OF APPOINTMENT
- The individual elected as editor-in-chief is expected to serve in that position for [a defined number of] years.
- If a person serving as editor-in-chief is unable to complete the current term, [number] months’ notice should be provided. The editor-in-chief may recommend potential successors to the Society.