Complaint regarding letters to the editor
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.
There have been no other developments and the editor considers the case now closed.