Complaint regarding letters to the editor

Case number:

Case text (Anonymised)

Our journal routinely sends letters commenting on published articles to the authors of those articles. This gives the authors an opportunity to respond to any criticisms. The letters and the responses are then considered together and we make a decision on which ones to publish.

If a letter is not selected for publication, our usual practice is to send the author's response to the person who wrote the letter to the editor. Most people are pleased that their comments are considered, even if they are not published. It was therefore a surprise when an author complained that his response had been provided to the person who wrote a letter about the article.

The author's complaint was that he had prepared the response for possible publication, rather than as a personal reply. The complaint was not that the letter and response were not selected for publication, but that it was a violation of confidentiality to send the response to the writer of the letter.

Our editorial executive committee thought it strange that the author had privacy concerns about one person seeing the response, but no concerns about the tens of thousands of people who would have seen it if it had been published. Does COPE have a different view?


The Forum advised that if the instructions to authors state that the journal’s policy is to send the author's response to the person who wrote the letter, then there is no case to answer. As long as the journal is clear about its policy and that this information is available to authors before submission, then the complaint is unfounded.

Follow up: 

There have been no other developments and the editor considers the case now closed.

Case Closed


  • Posted by Grzybowski, 30/10/2012 6.54pm

I had a very similar experience with NEJM recently. They do not inform authors that their letters might be send to the authors even if not published.
My letter contained an original data based on my historical survey and clearly shown the lacks of the article published. However, it was not accepted for publication and it was send - without my consent - to the authors of the article.
I felt that my rights to my work included in my piece were violated. My work can be used by others without giving any reference to my contribution. Concluding, I believe that NEJM had no right to do it.