Misuse of post-publication literature evaluation service

Case number: 
06-11

Case text (Anonymised)

An online post-publication literature evaluation service that publishes only positive reviews, aiming to highlight the best papers in medicine, received an evaluation of a paper that had been published in a journal for which the evaluator of the paper acts as editor in chief. The evaluator did not declare any competing interests but the editor dealing with the evaluation knew about his/her role in the journal. The editor decided to reject the evaluation because he/she felt that the editor in chief was effectively using the evaluation service to press release a paper from his/her journal.

Do you agree or would you have handled the case differently?

Advice: 

This is a case of self selection. The evaluation service does not state in its guidelines that an evaluator cannot select papers from his or her own journal, so there is a case for tightening up its written instructions to prevent a recurrence. However, it was agreed that this behaviour is acceptable if the evaluator declares a conflict of interest. As long as the evaluation is published together with the conflict of interest noted, there can be no argument. The committee felt that editors shouldn’t be excluded from evaluating articles in their own journals, especially in the case of highly specialist fields, but the evaluator must declare a conflict of interest. One solution would be to obtain two separate evaluations, but again a conflict of interest must be declared. It was suggested that instead of the editor, it might be more appropriate for a member of the editorial board to write an evaluation.

Follow up: 

After the discussion at the COPE meeting, and following further discussion with the editorial team, we have now changed our guidelines to say that editors may evaluate papers from their journals as long as they declare their relationship with the journal. We have also started collecting data on evaluators’ involvement with any journals so that in the long run we will be able to request a competing interest declaration if applicable.

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