The editor of an international journal is bothered: he has received a gift that looks expensive, though it might not be.
The sender is an author of a paper submitted to the journal; he has just received a “major revisions necessary” decision. In previous emails, the author has suggested hosting the editor in “his native beautiful city”, an invitation the editor has acknowledged, saying he had already visited the city, and it was indeed beautiful! The author identified himself as a student in further emails, thanking the editor in flattering tones for the reviews.
The editor needs of course to acknowledge the gift (no letter was included), or perhaps to return it, but feels very uncomfortable with the situation. The possibilities for this gift range from an innocent gesture of a proud citizen, to one expecting something in return.
The publisher’s code of ethics and business conduct does cover this subject, but its provisions apply to the publisher’s employees, officers and directors, and not to its editors.
The editor therefore asks his publisher, and through him, COPE, for comments, advice and guidance.
There was general agreement from the Forum that the author should return the gift with a polite note. Although there are no general rules on the acceptance of gifts, some believe that the apparent value of the gift should be considered and whether or not it would be deeply offensive to return it. Often there are cultural issues and the editor should avoid causing offence. However, in this instance, all agreed that it would be wrong to accept any gift while a paper is still in the process of being reviewed. One option would be for the editor to say that his company has a policy that he would have to declare a conflict of interest at the bottom of the paper if he accepted the gift so he thinks it is better to return it.
The editor concurred with the Forum's recommendation, and felt that while returning the gift after an unavoidable delay might lead to offence, the guidance would be invaluable for any future occurrences.