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COPE Education Subcommittee focus: Peer Review

Not surprisingly, COPE has substantial resources available regarding peer review and peer review processes are one of our 10 core practices. Peer review comes in many shapes and forms, and the process varies widely among different publications. The fundamental principle of transparency is critical given this variety. COPE asserts that the peer review process must be “transparently described and well managed”.

Journals must have policies in place for the process, conflicts of interest, appeals by authors and other disputes.

Journal leadership must make sure that editors and reviewers are knowledgeable of journal polices regarding the process.

One of the key documents that COPE revised in 2017 is the COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers. This journal editor includes it in on-boarding information for all new editorial board members and in the content for new reviewers, as well as in teaching materials in didactic discussions of the peer review process. These guidelines describe different models of peer review and the responsibilities of reviewers, including declaration of competing interests, timeliness, and requirement of having sufficient expertise in the topic or methods to provide an unbiased, useful review. The COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers includes information about ethics, transferability of reviews, confidentiality and formatting of a review.

As the peer review process is so critical to publishing, and at such risk for ethical violations, there is other important content available. There are flowcharts designed to help guide editors and publishers through common issues such as what to do if:
A reviewer suspects undisclosed conflict of interest in a submitted manuscript
• You suspect a reviewer has appropriated an author’s ideas or data

Reviewer informs an editor about suspected plagiarism
An additional flowchart addresses how to spot potential manipulation of the peer review process and there is one for potential reviewers on What to consider when asked to peer review a manuscript. Flowcharts are translated into 10 different languages.

The flowcharts and guidelines present broad strokes of common concerns about the peer review process. We all have experienced however the odd case or concern that wouldn’t be found in a summative document.  This is where the cases come in. There are currently 73 cases tagged as addressing issues related to the peer review process.  While there are certainly some unique issues that come up in publications, it’s likely you’ll find a similar problem to one you are addressing by perusing the cases. If not, you can always submit a case for discussion.

As is clear, COPE provides a lot of material for users about the peer review process. I encourage you to look through the content. It’s always terrific to find that one does not have to reinvent the wheel or ask the search engine to provide content when COPE will at least get you off to a good start solving or preventing problems.

Nancy Chescheir on behalf of the COPE Education Subcommittee

Read September Digest: Peer Review for new and revised peer review resources, podcast on diversity in peer review, a member survey for your views on diversity and more.