A journal operated double blind peer-review, so the reviewers do not know the identity of the authors, and vice versa. However, the anonymity of the authors is not guaranteed, as the reviewers may discover the identity of the authors (because of the area of research, references, writing style, etc). But rarely can the authors identify the reviewers.
The journal received a request from a reviewer to share a post on twitter, which may disclose the reviewer’s identity to the authors.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum
Does the double-blind peer-review process apply after publication?
What should be the position of a journal when reviewers ask to share their report or experience on social media?
The journal’s course of action in this case needs to be guided by the objective. The point of double blind peer review is to reduce bias during the review process. While of course anonymity of the authors ends upon publication of the work, anonymity of the reviewers’ identity in a double blind peer review process typically continues after publication because of the contract that the journal has made with its reviewers. As the right of confidentiality lies with the reviewer, if the reviewer wants to reveal the information, then it is reasonable to consider granting that request. However, many journals require permission from the author after their paper is published if the reviewer is going to disclose information, and this is considered to be a good practice to follow.
An author has contacted the journal enquiring about the need for institutional review board approval for a survey. The survey is not derived from a specific institution but rather out of the personal interest of the author(s) who are targeting a point of wide scientific interest. The authors have a broad reach in social media.
The topic is of significant interest to the field, and there is a high potential for publication once the data are gathered and analysed. There are no patient data involved or publicised.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum
What is the policy on institutional review board approval for social media surveys or research?
The Forum agreed that institutional review board (IRB) approval is required for social media surveys or research. The Forum suggested that if the authors are associated with an institution, they should be using the institutional IRB for approval of the research. If researchers are gathering data about people, and social media is just a means of collecting the data, then some form of ethical oversight is needed.
The editor told the Forum that the response from the institution was that because the study did not involve an intervention on a patient, they were not responsible for oversight of the study. The Forum noted that often IRBs are only interested in interventional research, and they will not consider survey, qualitative or quality improvement research as part of their remit. In the USA, the American Association for Public Opinion Research has information on standards, ethics and suggested IRB forms. But ultimately, it is the university's responsibility to approve the research.
Surveys might be asking questions about people’s health, sexual orientation or criminality, for example, and the survey could involve vulnerable groups. An IRB would be concerned about these aspects and so the survey would clearly require ethical review in these circumstances. Most universities have a distinction in terms of light touch versus heavy touch institutional review, where the IRB might review the research questions, who the researchers are talking to, is private information being requested, are the individuals identifiable? Interacting with people online could also be considered an intervention and hence ethical approval would be required.
The authors ultimately decided to file for institutional review board approval at their institution and this was granted for the social media survey.