An associate editor invited a commentary to be written by one of the peer reviewers. When the commentary was submitted, the associate editor was a co-author. There could be the appearance of a conflict in the decision to accept the article on which the commentary was based if the associate editor is an author on the commentary.
Question for the Forum
- Is it ethical for the associate editor to author a commentary on a manuscript they handled?
The Forum agreed that it is not necessarily unethical for an associate editor to author a commentary, but in this situation, the associate editor and the original author of the commentary need to explain how the associate editor came to be a co-author. There is a potential issue of coercion, where the associate editor may have persuaded the co-authors to assign them authorship. The second issue is that another person on the editorial board needs to manage the assessment of the commentary. The associate editor cannot be the person who handles their own commentary. Sometimes journal processes for commentaries can be less transparent, and the journal needs to make sure that no one can influence the processing of their own article.
Journals should have a clear policy on when the decision to write a commentary is made. For example, the order of events might be that the manuscript is accepted and then the decision to write the commentary is made afterwards. In such cases, and if there is no evidence of coercion, it is possibly beneficial to the commentary for the associate editor to be involved. But the commentary must not be reviewed by the associate editor. Journals must also have a clear set of policies for review of contributions by associate editors.
The Forum noted that the potential conflict of interest is different if the manuscript that is being commented on has been accepted rather than still being processed with an acceptance decision pending.
The associate editor who became an author did not handle the peer review of the commentary. The decision to write the commentary was after the articles on which it was based were accepted. The journal considers the case closed.