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Our journal has decided that members of the editorial board are allowed to submit manuscripts which will undergo peer-review directed by the present or former editor-in-chief. It can be difficult, and I would like to present one example.
A group of authors (including one member of the editorial board) submitted five manuscripts during a period of 17 days. The handling of some manuscripts was delayed for two reasons. At first, essential forms (such as the conflict of interest statements) were missing and the editor-in-chief received the manuscripts 10–35 days after submission when the administrative checklist was complete. In addition, it was difficult to recruit reviewers who were willing to assess the manuscripts over the summer, and several papers were within a rather narrow research field. The authors were sending numerous e-mails during the review process. The co-author, who was a member of the editorial board, had already contacted the editor-in-chief the day after submission of the first paper where he stated that he would appreciate it if the evaluation (including revision) was completed prior to a specific date since there was a grant application deadline. The same co-author requested a “preliminary verdict” 7–8 weeks after the peer-review process was initiated.
The editor-in-chief apologised that the handling had been delayed and provided information about the current status of the manuscripts. As the research funding deadline was getting closer, the number of e-mails increased and the authors contacted one other member of the editorial board, apparently to influence the handling of their submissions. The authors claimed that “in view of the delay in the handling” they believed that they were “entitled to a positive response about acceptance”. The authors asked if there was anyone on the editorial board who, during the afternoon, could read the manuscript and make a preliminary decision as to whether one specific paper was likely to be accepted, even if a revision was needed afterwards, according to standard procedures. The editor-in-chief felt that such requests were not acceptable for a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
We have the following question for COPE:
Should we specifically state in our author guidelines or editorial policy that authors should not contact the handling editor during the review process? Any information regarding the process can be obtained from the editorial assistant. The role as co-author can be difficult for a member of the editorial board and I wonder if other journals have experienced similar problems?
The Forum agreed that the editor has handled this situation correctly. What is important is to have a specific procedure and clear process for handling papers from editorial board members. The peer review process should be completely transparent. The Forum told the editor to be extremely firm. All agreed that the editorial board member is abusing his position. The editor should keep accurate records and be very firm and not allow himself to be be pushed into making a decision. For the future, new editorial board members should be made aware that they will be treated like any other author. They will not be given special treatment.
Another suggestion was to put in place a procedure stating that a paper must be re-submitted after a certain time limit if all the required documents are not supplied to the journal.
We have clarified the procedure for handling manuscripts from editorial board members. All editorial board members have been informed that all necessary information regarding the progress of the peer review can be obtained from the editorial office. Editors should generally not communicate directly with the authors and that is especially important if a member of the editorial board is among the authors. Thus they will not be given special treatment. Incomplete submissions may now be unsubmitted by our editorial assistant if the required documents are not supplied within 5 days to the journal.