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COPE Digest: Peer Review Week. September 2016 (Vol. 4, Issue 9)

Letter from this month’s editor

It’s Peer Review Week, where we celebrate how peer review helps maintain academic quality. Much of this month’s COPE Digest has been chosen to reflect just that, to share with you relevant insights from COPE members and the COPE team, and to give you the opportunity to contribute yourself. Please, dive in.

This month… You can read and reflect on the recent meeting funded by US Office of Research Integrity, where delegates discussed prevention and management of misconduct related retractions under the theme “keeping the pool clean”. COPE’s reaction, and it’s not controversial, is that knowledgeable reviewers are at the heart of the careful processes that create reliable corrections. Our roundup of research and publication ethics news this month also provides reason to pause. This month, from among the headlines, we flag a new discussion about hypercompetition, one of the themes from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Report on the Culture of Scientific Research, we share news about a fake journal publisher being shut-down, and we highlight a story about improving peer review by training peer reviewers... But who should do the training?

This month… You can watch videos from our North American Seminar, available now, including who's reviewing the peer reviewers (Kristen Overstreet, Origin Editorial), spotting fake peer review (Alison McCook, Retraction Watch) and manipulated peer review (Elizabeth Moylan, BioMed Central and COPE Council member).

This month… You can contribute to the evolution of the “best practice” that COPE members and others in the research publishing community rely on and refer to, via commenting on COPE’s open discussion document 'Who "owns" peer reviews?', and the COPE guidance document, Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers.

This month… You can learn from our four cases of the month, each chosen from our database of real cases to illustrate different problems and solutions that editors and authors face: confidentiality around the peer review process and also conflicts of interest, who ‘owns’ peer review, how to reduce bias in the peer review process, and how fake peer reviewers may manipulate the peer review process.

Thanks for reading this far, and please read on. And if you have thoughts that you’d like to share, then we’d love to hear them.

Chris Graf, COPE Co-Vice Chair

Peer review cases

COPE has seen many cases related to peer review submitted for discussion over the years. A search of the COPE cases database, using the classification ‘peer review’, reveals 56 cases on various aspects of peer review.

For Peer Review Week 2016, we share some cases which highlight the diversity of issues around peer review, including: breaches in confidentiality; conflicts of interest; who owns peer review reports; potential bias in the process and compromises in peer review.

Case 16-12—Author of rejected paper publicly names and criticises peer reviewer—raises issues of confidentiality around the peer review process and also conflicts of interest. An author of a rejected paper publicly identified one of the peer reviewers of the paper by name during a media interview after the paper was published by another journal, implying that the paper was rejected because of that person's review. The author also claimed the reviewer did not reveal relevant conflicts of interest. The Forum agreed with the course of action of the editor to resolve the issue and take steps to change the journal processes to avoid a similar situation in future. The Forum also noted that a reviewer being in the same field as the author is not in itself a conflict of interest, but a reason to invite a reviewer. However, it may be helpful to have some clarifying examples in the journal’s guidelines to help reviewers identify conflicts of interest. Read the full discussion and advice from the Forum.

Case 16-13—Author requests permission to publish review comments raises the issue of who ‘owns’ peer reviews. A paper was reviewed by three reviewers who all recommended rejection. The author appealed the decision but the decision was upheld. The author informed the journal that they intended to make the version of the manuscript publicly available online along with the reviews and a commentary on the issues raised, prior to submission to a journal with open peer review. The author requested the journal’s consent for the review comments to be made public. The Forum discussed the wider issue of who owns the peer reviews. Copyright is with the reviewer unless it is formally transferred to the author. However, if all parties consent (journal, author, reviewers) then the reviews can be made public. Read the full discussion and advice from the Forum.

Who "own's" peer reviews is also the subject of a new discussion document from COPE (see below).

Case 16-08—Author requests for certain experts not to be included in the editorial process highlights the issue of how to reduce bias in the peer review process. Can an author request for certain experts not to be involved in reviewing their paper? The Forum felt that the author is entitled to make this request, but the editor should not be bound to exclude specific reviewers. Otherwise there is potential manipulation of the peer review process by the author. The author should give reasons for their requests. Many journals allow authors to specify "non-preferred" individuals at submission, but no guarantee is given that the editor will exclude those individuals. Read the full discussion and advice from the Forum

Case 12-16—Compromised peer review (unpublished)—highlights how fake peer reviewers may manipulate the peer review process. A manuscript was flagged as having received reviewers’ reports indicating very high interest. On checking the credentials of the three reviewers, the editor was unable to find the publication record of any of them. All three reviewers were found to have been suggested by the authors, but the reviewers were found not to exist. The Forum noted that the case was brought about by the failure of journal processes and the journal’s peer review system. Good practice is always to check the names, addresses and email contacts of reviewers, and especially those that are recommended by authors. Read the full discussion and advice from the Forum.

See also

COPE eLearning: Reviewer misconduct
COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers
COPE cases database
COPE case taxonomy


It all starts with the reviewers

Report from the COPE Education Committee

On July 20–21, 2016, the Colorado State University at Fort Collins hosted a conference on research integrity. “Keeping the Pool Clean: Prevention and Management of Misconduct Related Retractions” was funded by the US Office of Research Integrity. The conference was unique in that the agenda covered scientific misconduct through a multidisciplinary perspective, including perspectives from ethics, biomedicine, bench science, sociology, organizational behaviour, criminology, as well as other disciplines (for more information see the conference website and the conference proceedings.

Despite the variety of disciplines and perspectives represented, a common denominator in the discussions was the importance of peer reviewers in detecting scientific misconduct. Whether the reviewers were the initial peer reviewers who act as gate keepers to keep flawed science from being published, or post-publication reviewers or whistleblowers who bring misconduct or honest error to light after a paper is published, it is the rigorous peer review process that is helping us to “keep the pool clean.”  Some lament the amount of time it takes for this review to be completed, but the fact is that reviewers are busy people, and careful and thoughtful reviews take time to complete.

From COPE’s perspective, appropriate action on an accusation of misconduct brought to a journal editor should also take time. Our resources guide editors to verify information with the reviewers or whistleblowers and the authors, and to review the evidence carefully; this also takes time. The editor must gather additional information from everyone concerned, at times contacting research integrity officers at academic or research institutions. But everyone is well served when a careful and thoughtful process is employed that results in the correction of honest error or misconduct. And, it all starts with knowledgeable and thoughtful reviewers.

In the news

If we want to improve peer review, we'll need to invest in training

But who will do it: publishers or institutions?

Train researchers to peer review

Reforming scientific publishing to value integrity

“Challenges facing early career researchers because of hypercompetition are damaging the efficiency of science”

Competition compromises good science

The changing face of scientific collaboration

Scientists now increasingly ask who did exactly what to produce the result, and what percentage of the whole may be apportioned to each co-author
Assigning precise credit to authors

Brexit: UK considers alternative options to EU research association

British universities need to explore all options to find a politically acceptable solution amid signs that free movement of people between the UK and the EU will end
International movement of researchers without barriers

Five (bad) reasons to publish your research in predatory journals

Publication numbers count most, and more
Question your choice of journal

Fake journal publisher defrauds millions

Chinese pay-to-publish chain of academic journals has been shut down and its operators now face punishment
Crack down on fake Chinese journals

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged OMICS with deceiving academics and researchers about the nature of its publications and hiding steep publication fees

The FTC’s complaint charges the defendants, OMICS Group Inc, iMedPub LLC, Conference Series LLC and Srinubabu Gedela, with multiple violations of the FTC Act’s prohibition on deceptive acts or practices
FTC charges deceptive publisher

Many clinical trial findings never get published. Here’s why that’s bad

Lost information, non-evidence based treatment decisions, trials repeated unnecessarily
Push for registration of all research studies

Ethics in medicine

Research misconduct: time for a rethink?
Increase in research misconduct

Another scathing report causes more eminent heads to roll in the Macchiarini scandal

Results of other investigations to follow
Outcome of investigative report into hiring of surgeon

European Commission mandates open data from 1 January 2017

All Horizon 2020 funded proposals will need to make all of the data and digital research outputs they generate openly available, raising issue of participant consent
EC funded research openly available from 2017

Call for comments: Who "owns" peer reviews?

Who "owns" peer reviews?

COPE has published a new discussion document on ‘Who "owns" peer reviews?'. This guidance has been drafted following a COPE Discussion Forum (9 September 2015) and a panel discussion at the COPE North American Seminar (August 2016). A podcast with Pete Binfield, cofounder with Jason Hoyt of PeerJ and Elizabeth Moylan, BioMed Central and COPE council member highlights some of the issues.

While there is increasing acceptance of the need to give recognition to the work peer reviewers do there are a number of issues at stake for all parties involved - authors, reviewers, editors, journals and other stakeholders.

This documents aim to stimulate discussion about the issue to help inform the debate and provide guidance where that is needed. We encourage journal editors, reviewers, researchers, institutions, funders, and third party services to comment (whether or not they are COPE members). Please email all comments to Natalie Ridgeway, COPE Executive Officer by 31 October.


Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers

While peer review is the hot topic of the week we’re taking this opportunity to update our Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers with your feedback. Last updated in 2013, have a look at our Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers and help us bring the guidelines in line with the current landscape.

The COPE guidelines give peer reviewers the basic principles and standards required. They can be applied to all disciplines. We encourage journal editors, reviewers, researchers, institutions, funders, and third party services to comment (whether or not they are COPE members). Please send us your feedback by 31 October.

COPE North American Seminar 2016: presentation videos

Nearly 100 delegates attended the  COPE North Amercian Seminar 2016, on Wednesday10 August at the Hilton Philadelphia City Avenue, Philadelphia. This was COPE's seventh North American seminar, and the theme this year seminar was "Ethics in peer review". The meeting was held in collaboration with ISMTE (International Society of Managing and Technical Editors). 

The morning session included three plenary presentations. Alison McCook from Retraction Watch, asked, "Can you spot a fake?" and discussed the trends of fake peer reviews. Next up Kristen Overstreet, a Senior Partner of Origin Editorial, presented her talk on "Who's reviewing the reviewers". This was followed by a talk on "Peer review manipulation". Elizabeth Moylan from BioMed Central discussed the new challenges and solutions that we face. A copy of each presentation can be downloaded from here.

The afternoon began with a panel discussion on "Who owns peer reviews". Panellists included Anne Coghill from the American Chemical Society Publications, Tara Hoke, from the American Society of Civil Engineers (and a COPE Council member), and Pete Binfield, co-founder with Jason Hoyt, of PeerJ.  The discussion around peer review continued in workshop discussions of particular cases and provided an opportunity to share stories and insights.

The day ended with a reception hosted jointly by COPE and ISMTE.

Who's reviewing the reviewers? - Kristen Overstreet, Origin Editorial, LLC


Can you spot a fake? The trend of fake peer reviews - Alison McCook, Retraction Watch


Peer review manipulation. New challenges and new solutions - Elizabeth Moylan, BioMed Central