COPE’s core practice # 3 recommends that:
“Journals should have a clearly described process for handling complaints against the journal, its staff, editorial board or publisher.”
Such complaints can take many forms (there are 133 cases in the COPE case database), some fairly common and straight forward, others less so.
Complaints may arise over the conduct of editors and/or peer reviewers; for example, breaches of confidentiality, undisclosed conflicts of interest, or misuse of privileged information obtained during peer review. Or they may arise from disputes about substantive decisions: disagreements over retractions and expressions of concern and also how they are handled. Still others may be more administrative in nature; e.g., irregularities in editorial processes or complaints that journal staff are unresponsive.
In addition to the published archive of complaints and how COPE has recommended resolving them, the COPE flowcharts offer a framework within which editors can judge the effectiveness of their processes, and COPE’s elearning modules provide training on issues such as reviewer misconduct and addressing conflicts of interest. Common principles include the importance of handling such cases promptly, transparently, fairly and objectively; adhering to the Journal’s stated policy on handling them; and communicating, as necessary, with all parties, informing them of the process that will be followed and keeping them updated. The use of neutral and professional language in all such communication is essential, as is avoiding all forms of conflict of interest in the investigation process, both real and, even more importantly, perceived. In some cases, this may require that the complaint is overseen by an independent oversight committee or other objective third party.
Howard Browman on behalf of the COPE Education Subcommittee
Read COPE Digest newsletter for more advice and resources to support your complaints and appeals policies and procedures, a new preprints discussion document, the case of the month, details of our Australia Seminar, the upcoming COPE Forum and more.
Read April 2018 Digest: Complaints and Appeals