In the news: October 2018 Digest

Journal Management

This month’s topic is “journal management” and on first blush, it isn’t obvious how the concept of “ethics” applies to this topic. I thought of things like selection and implementation of a manuscript manager, paying bills, identifying reviewers, etc. But when I got past my concrete thinking it’s clear journals must be managed based on fundamental ethical principles. These include: Autonomy, Justice, beneficence, non-malfeasance.

I’ll point out a few examples of these principles as they apply to journal management, and then highlight resources that touch on Journal Management.

Autonomy: During the revision process, do the journal editors require major new analyses, inclusion of citations for their own journal to boost impact factor, or in other ways amend the article beyond the scope and content of the original paper?

Justice:  Is the peer review system set up so that everyone is treated the same way? Do gender, nationality, institution, political beliefs of authors, reviewers, and editors influence the selection of reviewers, the content of reviews, or ultimate decision on a paper? Are members of the editorial board and panel of reviewers reflective of the readers and contributors to the journal?

Beneficence: Do the journal processes promote rapid decision-making for authors so they can submit elsewhere if the paper is not accepted? Are the editors and editorial board members committed to publishing high quality work to advance the science, practice, concepts and mission of the journal?

Non-malfeasance: Journal processes should not harm people—the most obvious application of this principle in publishing is standard-setting for the tone and content of reviews. Reviews should address the content of the manuscript, not the character of the authors. Hostile reviewers should be reminded of this standard, and removed from the reviewer panel if they cannot comply.

Justice, Benifesence

  • A new online tool from the EQUATOR network to help find and use reporting guidelines

Two technologic innovations are introduced. GoodReports Tool helps authors of health research to find the right guideline, download checklists and validate completion. Penelope is a tool that journals can use to help authors obtain an automated manuscript check against journal requirements before they submit their manuscript to the journal. BMJ Open is participating in a study of the benefits of these 2 tools.

  • Open Access

PayWall: The Business of Scholarship
Video of interviews with a wide range of stakeholders about profit margin (30-40%) in publishing. The video was directed by Jason Schmitt, an associate professor of communication and media at Clarkson University. Interesting documentary of thought leaders in this model of publications. The producer intends that movie be shared. The links below are to the movie itself and a discussion of the movie.

  • cOAlition S: Plan S

The European Commission and the European Research Council supported the launch of cOAlition S, whose goal is to implement by January 1, 2020 the plan that all publicly funded grants from EU sources, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on other open access-compliant platforms. This plan is based on 10 principles. The science article describes the contents of the announcement of the creation of cOAlition S, while the other link is a rebuttal of this idea. It’s clear that if successful, this will change academic publications.

One of the principles is that the Article Processing Charge is capped. This will likely have the consequence of prohibiting some researchers from submitting to elite journals, while for the journals there is concern that they will either be receiving lower quality papers or have to cut expenses by decreasing reviewing and editing.  In the Sept 20, 2018, an argument is made to impose a submission fee and if the paper is accepted, then having an APC that will be within the cap of Plan S.  Interesting things to consider.

At the October 2018 meeting of the group Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO), there is an active twitter chronicle of meeting contents, much of which focused on Plan S.  Obviously some other content, but if you’re interested, search for #SciELO20 on Twitter.

  • The Hindawi organization is launching an open-source manuscript management and peer review system which they intend to share with the research community.

Avoiding malfeasance, Justice, beneficence

  • Publons released a report on the Global State of Peer Review. One conclusion from the review is the disparity in the geographic diversity among peer reviewers harms development of non-Western researchers. The peer review process has become more efficient in some ways, but less so in others. The full report is available at this link (

Benficence, non-malfeasance, justice, autonomy

  • Brazilian researchers who publish in predatory journals at a significant rate are not junior researchers, but more experienced one and funding for the APR’s often come from publicly funded grants. The authors conclude that while predatory journals have not yet undermined the Brazilian academic system—it may in the future.

Justine, Autonomy

  • Use of checklists to standardize mundane tasks in aeronautics, medicine and architecture are proven tools. These authors propose a checklist approach for reviewers (specifically in ecology, although the general concepts are easily transferred) to promote reduction of biases of authors and reviewers and an increase in transparent presentation of results

  • Do you use conference calls for conducting journal business?  Report from the business sector, affirming data from other sectors, show that men spoke 92% of the time on conference calls discussing quarterly earnings.  This is related to not only the disparity in the number of men v women on the calls, but also in the number of times women v men actually on the call actually speak.    Perhaps organizers of journal conference calls should work to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, and that the callers are diverse themselves.

Autonomy, non-malfeasance, Justice

  • Critical Reviews in Toxicology is being taken to task for only publishing an Expression of Concern, rather than a correction for a 2016 article about the safety of Roundup. The concern is that there is some evidence to suggest that Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, contributed significantly (rather than the claimed “non-substantive” contributions) in terms of organizing, reviewing and editing article drafts.  COPE guidelines are cited.

  • Hyperprolific academics “don’t meet author criteria”

Autonomy, Beneficence

  • What does an author want from a university publisher?   The author, writing in the journal Learned Publishers, focuses on the author-university publisher but the list of desired characteristics are not unique to this relationship as they apply as well to any publisher.  They include personalized responsiveness, timely peer reviewer, copyediting and publication quality, and transparency about publication type—open access charges, for instance.


  • Using citation metrics as part of academic recruitment decisions leads to an increase in self-citations

From 2002 to 2014, there was an increase in self-citations after bibliometric standards to inform hiring, promotion and tenure practices were adopted in genetics, psychiatry, managerial engineering, and applied economics.

  • Developing a “responsible assessment” system to improve research impact: a case study from Catalonia

Researchers at AQuAS, a Catalan research assessment agency, have developed a tool to assess the impact of research in the area of health sciences to increase positive impact on society. There are 3 pillars: accountability, analysis and engagement.

  • Who should pay for long term research data preservation? EU grants don’t provide payment for work beyond the life of the grant and data housing is not inexpensive. If built into the “indirect” budget for grants. As these indirect, or overhead payments,usually don’t cover the actual costs incurred for an institution to have a federal grant, these are critical questions if we are to maintain research infrastructure.


Plan S (see above) and the open science movement put pressure on Universities. The authors of this blog note that even though many universities are making more of their research more available than before and delivering societal good and to the national economy, there is a crisis of confidence. In the current environment, what is the value of a university? A book exploring this topic, entitled “Open Knowledge Institutions: Reinventing Universities” is available here (

Research Tools

  • Dataset Search was released by Google which locates files and databases based on the way the authors have classified them—it doesn’t read the contents of the files. The goal is to support the open data movement.

  • Australian “research integrity” training course for researchers, available on line.


  • US FDA is proposing heavy fines on pharmaceutical companies that fail to report clinical-trials results only or to register the trials at

  • In a study of the EU guidance to report trial results within a 1-year time frame, investigators found that only 11% of university-led trials complied, while 68% of those run by companies did so.  This data in advance of next year’s new regulation rules which provides a clear legal obligation with possibility of penalities.

  • The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has called for revocation of fellowship status for those when there is “proven scientific misconduct, serious breaches of professional ethics, or when the Fellow in the view of the AAAS no longer merits the status of Fellow.”  This includes instances of (proven) gender and sexual harassment. The new rule goes into effective October 15, 2018. Responders on Twitter are pushing the NIH to make sure grantees with similar misconduct have their funding revoked. (#TIMESUPNIH)

Peer Review

  • This Scholarly Kitchen author argues that transparency in peer review is the single most important requirement for diversity. This include ideas of open peer review, but also that in making the processes of peer review transparent fosters knowledge creation and democratic values.

  • Following peer review week, INASP blogger summarized the posts on the authoraid website of interviews with researchers from Africa and Asia sharing various perspectives on peer review. The blogger recommends a full read, but in this post, summarizes the common themes.



  • “Sci-Hub is not just stealing PDFs. They’re phishing, they’re spamming, they’re hacking, they’re password-cracking, and basically doing anything to find personal credentials to get into academic institutions. While illegal access to published content is the most obvious target, this is just the tip of an iceberg concealing underlying efforts to steal multiple streams of personal and research data from the world’s academic institutions.”  Andrew Pitts


Academic Misconduct

  • If errors in the scientific record regarding data are identified, what should be done?  The authors suggest that the lack of a support mechanism for supporting corrections is a problem.  Rather than rely on what is termed “data thugs” (which implies a nefarious process) these authors recommend that scientific funders take on the role of data checking—it’s for their own good, and that of the consumers of the research they fund.

  • By including this paper under the heading of “academic misconduct” I am not implying that that the authors acted inappropriately. Some would argue that they did and perhaps they are correct. These authors, self-described as liberals, submitted 20 fictional research in the area of what they term “grievance studies” and several were accepted. One, a manuscript about rape culture among canines in dog parks-gained special recognition for excellence. Their conclusion: there is a problem with bias in fields influenced by critical constructivist approaches and assumptions.

Cochrane Collaboration News

The Cochrane Collaboration is a 26 year old organization that produces systematic reviews in biomedicine.

In mid-September 2018 at the group’s annual meeting, the board voted 6-5 with 1 abstaining to expel Dr. Peter GØtzsche the director of the Nordic Cochrane Center. Four of the 5  members of the board who voted against this subsequently resigned and 2 appointed trustees stepped down for administrative reasons.  The reason given by the board is that Dr. GØtzsche exhibited a “long-term pattern of behavior that we say is totally, and utterly at variance with [Cochrane’s] principles and governance”. GØtzsche’s written statement noted that there is a “growing top-down authoritarian culture and an increasing commercial business model...that threaten the scientific, moral, and social objectives of the organization”.  GØtzsche countered by asserting that his removal was due to pressure on the board following publications that were critical of pharmaceutical companies, and in particular, about vaccines.

The most recent such publication was co-authored by GØtzsche and was a critique of a systematic review published by the Cochrane Collaborative of trials involving the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a very common sexually-transmitted virus. Some subtypes are strongly associated with (and perhaps almost a required trigger) for cervical cancer, penile cancer and some laryngeal cancers, as well as benign genital and laryngeal polyps.

Dr. GØtzsche wrote “this is not a personal question. It is a highly political, scientific and moral issue about the future of Cochrane.” He asserts that there are multiple commercial interests that influence the reviews.

In contrast, the Cochrane Board statements note that GØtzsche’s behavior has been a source of complaints as far back as 2003. This dispute began over concerns that GØtzsche had used Cochrane letterhead in communications that were his own, not representing the organization. This ultimate intensified, prompting a legal external review, with Cochrane alleging that he had breached Cochrane policies and damaged its reputation”.  The report from the review was delivered hours before the Sept. board meeting was to begin. However, the report found no evidence to support serious allegations. Even so, on September 25, the remaining board voted unanimously to terminate his membership in the organization and his position at the Nordic Cochrane Center.  In a statement on September 26, 2018 the board wrote: “Professor GØtzsche   has repeatedly represented his personal views as those of Cochrane.”  ...This decision considered events after the Cochrane Annual meeting, in which Professor GØtzsche has breached his obligations of confidentiality as a trustee”. 

The fallout from these events will play out over the coming months and years. Cochrane has been a trusted source of systematic reviews in Medicine for a quarter century. Will this shake up change this trust?  If so, what organization will fill the void, if any? For organizations with boards, what do these actions and reactions tell us about the stressors and strengths that prevent, or allow us to serve our goals and missions? How should competing or conflicts of interests be handled on boards with relationship to the outputs of the organization?

There is very little available from September 26, 2018 to October 7, 2018 that is revealed by a Google search. Stay tuned to watch the chain of events for Cochrane, Professor GØtzsche, and biomedical systematic reviews.


The Scientist. Cochrane Collaboration Expels Cofounder, Prompts Resignations.
Sept 18, 2018. Catherine Offord.

The bmjopinion. The Cochrane Collabortion—what crisis? Trish Greenleigh. Sept 17, 2018.

Nature. Mass regination guts board of prestigious Cochrane Collaboraton. Inga Vesper. September 17, 2018 (correction September 19, 2018).

Medscape. Cochrane Board Expels Critic of Group’s HPV Vaccine Review. Zosia Chustecka. Septembe 17, 2018.

PLOS Blogs. Absolutely Maybe. Boilover: the Cochrane HPV Vaccine Fire isn’t really about the evidence—buts critical to science. Hilda Bastian. Sept 18, 2018.

MentalHealthExcellence. Maryanne Demasi. Cochrane-A sinking ship?

Statement from Cochrane’s Governing Board-26, September 2018.

COPE Council member Nancy C Chescheir


Read October Digest: Journal Management with new and updated cases from the COPE Forum, new resources around our topic of Journal Management including a fully revised COPE Audit for our members and a guest article by Peggy Chinn and Leslie Nicoll giving their take on Editor to Editor support based on their experience working with INANE. Our next Forum (5 November) will feature new cases and a discussion topic of ‘predatory publishing’. Read more about this and more in our October Digest.