Case text (Anonymised)
An associate editor received a letter claiming harassment (from an author from another country) by the editor. The author submitted a manuscript which was repeatedly sent back for changes in format but not rejected. Eventually, the author withdrew the article and submitted it to another international peer reviewed journal with a good impact factor where it was accepted immediately with high priority. He informed the editor and the associate editor of the irregularity and that he suspects foul play. The associate editor informed the editor that there was indeed a conflict of interest as another similar manuscript from another author close to the editor was under review process but he was asked, verbally, to stay away from the matter. The editor refused to discuss the matter in editorial board meetings and has threatened to have the associate editor sacked.
Does this constitute editor misconduct and, if so, what is the course of action? Is there any ethical binding on the associate editor to have the matter investigated further?
The committee agreed that there the associate editor did have an ethical responsibility to take action but to take the pressure off the associate editor, it was suggested that any member of the editorial board could raise the issue and press for a discussion at the editorial board meeting. The editorial board has an obligation to ask the editor-in-chief for an explanation of his actions. If there is no satisfactory explanation, the next step could be to contact the society committee, as the journal is owned by a society. The associate editor could ask them to investigate the matter. Other advice was that the journal should formulate a specific policy on conflict of interest so that in the future such issues may not arise.