This journal specialises in one form of treatment. It is the only Medline listed journal that is widely accessed in Europe by people who use this form of treatment. No international journals provide a suitable alternative. In the USA, the one journal most similar to this is much less specialised and hardly ever accessed in Europe.
The journal editor is a leading researcher in this form of treatment. He therefore has a clear conflict of interest in deciding whether to submit, as an author, a report of original research to his own journal. He wishes to establish a means of dealing with this conflict of interest, and would value the experience and advice of COPE.
The journal’s current peer review policy for this type of article is to have two reviewers, at least one of whom is external. It would clearly be possible to change this to two external reviewers for articles from the editorial board. However, there is a conflict of interest even in the choice of external reviewers. “I personally have no problem in selecting “severe” reviewers, but how can I make this be seen to be objective?”
I can find no case discussing this conflict of interest on the COPE website.
The issue here basically revolves around whether it is acceptable for editors to publish their own work in their journals; if it is, then the review process must be made as transparent and rigorous as possible. Certainly there are examples of editors publishing studies in their own journals, particularly in those circumstances where the choice of journals is limited, as in this case. Provided every effort is made to minimise any bias in the review process by having another associate editor handle the peer review procedure independently of the editor (recognising that it would be impossible to remove bias completely), and the process is absolutely transparent, then this would be the most appropriate route to take. It was suggested that the editor send the article out for review without any names on it, but he said the subject field was so narrow and specialised that any reviewer would know who had written the paper. As an extra precaution, if and when the article in question is published, the editor might like to publish an accompanying commentary showing how transparent the reviewing process had been.
The editor was grateful for the advice which is now journal policy.