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Peer review processes

All peer review processes must be transparently described and well managed. Journals should provide training for editors and reviewers and have policies on diverse aspects of peer review, especially with respect to adoption of appropriate models of review and processes for handling conflicts of interest, appeals and disputes that may arise in peer review

Our core practices

Core practices are the policies and practices journals and publishers need, to reach the highest standards in publication ethics. We include cases with advice, guidance for day-to-day practice, education modules and events on topical issues, to support journals and publishers fulfil their policies.

Salami publication


A paper submitted to Journal A was rejected after critical peer review. Although the data and methods were sound, the data in the paper were not new and had been described, at least in part, in previous publications. The authors could also have combined the outcomes in the current paper with previous papers, thereby avoiding salami publication. The methods section was opaque, making it very difficult to decipher which subjects were new and which were already counted in previous studies.


Palestinian refugee conditions


A journal received a simple, cross-sectional survey of Palestinian refugees. The author was a Palestinian, employed by a charity and undertaking research based at a university overseas. The study contained new data and within the constraints of a cross-sectional survey seemed methodologically sound. The paper was sent to two peer reviewers with expertise in the area, experience in international issues in the Middle East, and an understanding of the sensitivities involved.


Multiple submissions of a paper


A paper suggested that a cluster of symptoms, signs, and tests could be combined to diagnose pneumonia in general practice. The paper was rejected after being read by two editors, because it was preliminary and had not been validated in an independent population. The authors submitted a new manuscript the following year, describing the same patients and focusing on the accuracy of individual symptoms and test results in differentiating bacterial from viral chest infections.


The disgraced author


An editorial was commissioned from a distinguished doctor who was subsequently found guilty of research misconduct overseas. There was a lack of consensus in the journal’s country as to whether this judgment was correct. The author continues to work, but is awaiting a judgment from his regulatory body. - Should the editorial be published? - Should the editorial be published with a footnote referring to these events? - If so, what should this footnote say?


A highly critical obituary


A journal published a highly critical obituary, which provoked uproar and prompted the deceased’s family to complain to the national body responsible for regulating the media. The journal believed that the basis of the criticisms were accurate and acknowledged that it had not cited sufficient evidence in the obituary. The journal was considering whether to publish the evidence in full.


A problematic obituary


A short obituary for a recently deceased doctor was received. Just before the issue went to print, one of the editors recognised the deceased as having been at the centre of disciplinary proceedings for having had a sexual relationship with a patient. As a result, he had been removed from the medical register for professional misconduct around two years before his death.


An accusation of racism


An article on the community based diagnosis of a common disease was submitted. The journal had never received a paper from this particular country before. The diagnostic test used in the study is known to have a low sensitivity and is not the accepted gold standard. The editors felt that as the author was a senior academic, it was likely that his/her institution would be one of the few in the country to be able to afford the gold standard test.


An author thinks that a journal’s decision not to publish is ethically incorrect


A submitted paper reported on the investigation and management of an outbreak of a disease in a work environment (Company A). The authors acknowledged the referring physician from the workplace—who had declined on legal advice to be listed as an author—and also declared that the lead author had provided medical advice for remuneration to Company A during legal proceedings related to the outbreak discussed in the article.


Contacting Research Ethics Committees with concerns over studies


A paper was submitted, detailing a small overseas trial of a drug treatment of a politically controversial disease. The treatment was moderately toxic. The paper was seen by two referees (A and B), who had considerable criticisms of the methodology used. Comments were also received from C, who was invited to review but refused, because s/he did not want his/her name known to the authors under the terms of the journal’s open peer review policy.


Alleged plagiarism


Journal A published a review paper. About a year later, the author of a paper published in 1997 in Journal B wrote to say that he had come across the paper in Journal A during a literature search. He pointed out that parts of this paper were virtually identical with his paper in Journal B. Although the author of the article in Journal A had made one reference to his article, this was only to one specific point and the nearly identical sections had not been referenced.