Researchers from the Institute for Science in Society (Radboud University Nijmegen) and CWTS (Leiden University) organized a workshop on the use of IT Tools in academic publishing on 5-6 June 2018. The meeting focused on the outcomes of the Printeger project and tied up with IMPER (Improving Peer Review). Beyond discussing the use and issues of IT tools on editorial procedures, the conversation revolved around editorial policies and their lack of transparency.
It is surprisingly hard to learn the details of research journals’ peer review procedures and editorial policies from their websites and editorial instructions. Journal websites often do not contain information about reviewer selection, review criteria, blinding, the use of digital tools such as text similarity scanners, as well as policies on corrections and retractions. As a result, the workshop participants have issued the following declaration which can be signed here.
Declaration on transparent editorial policies for academic journals
Transparency about editorial policies is vital for several reasons. Authors are entitled to know exactly how and on what grounds their manuscript will be assessed. Reviewers benefit from clear and specific instructions about their task and role in the review process. Quality journals may distinguish themselves from predatory ones by articulating clear editorial policies. Transparent policies also enable research on the benefits of different peer review practices, which is required to ultimately facilitate better review. In general, transparency is crucial for building trust in the community, which is essential for the functioning of science.
Transparent editorial policies should explain procedures for four publication and peer review phases:
Explain editorial governance, including the precise composition of the editorial board, the scope of the journal, the applicable ethics policies, and the use of journal metrics, including rejection rates.
Explain the criteria for article selection (e.g. the relevance of novelty and/or anticipated impact and methodological rigour) and the timing of review in the publication process (e.g. whether registered reports and/or post-publication review are used). Be clear about the extent to which authors’ and reviewers’ identities will be known (blinding), and to whom review reports will be communicated. Specify how reviewers will be selected, instructed, or possibly trained. Also explain how digital tools such as similarity scanners and scanners for digital image manipulation will be used and whether any reporting guidelines are applied.
Make information about the review process of published articles available on the article-level, by detailing the roles in the review process (e.g. specify how many reviewers were involved and what other people contributed to the final decision), what criteria for acceptance and what digital tools were used.
Explain the criteria and procedures for corrections, expressions of concern, retractions, or other rectifications or changes to published material.
Transparent editorial policies should be explicit and detailed. For example, mentioning that ‘blind review’ is performed is not enough, since this can refer to anonymised authors, authors removed from references, anonymised reviewers, identities that are revealed after review or publication, or even anonymised editors. Similarly, announcing the use of a similarity check does not explain what will be done with the results. Hence, procedures should be specified in detail. Information about editorial policies should be kept up to date and changes should be documented and archived. This can either be done on the journal homepage, in the guide for authors or on the article-level along with published articles.
Making editorial policies transparent will require an effort by publishers and editors. However, it builds trust in the research community and constitutes an essential measure to improve the fairness, integrity and quality of the journal review process.
The participants of the workshop “IT Tools in Academic Publishing: between Expectations and Challenges” held at Leiden University 5-6 July 2018 are authors of this declaration. While drawing on their professional backgrounds, the participants are signatories of the declaration in their private capacity:
IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg (Elsevier)
Isabelle Boutron (Paris Descartes University, INSERM- Sorbonne Paris Cité)
Kim Eggleton (IOP)
Joed Elich (Brill)
Catriona Fennell (Elsevier)
Laura Henderson (Frontiers Media)
Jean Philippe de Jong (Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen)
Cyril Labbé (Université Grenoble Alpes)
Ana Marušić (University of Split School of Medicine, European Association of Science Editors)
Bahar Mehmani (Elsevier)
Hans van der Mey (Brill)
Alenka Princic (TU Delft library)
Brandon Stell (PubPeer)
Jason Roberts (Origin Editorial)
Johan Rooryck (Leiden University)
Jelte Wicherts (Tilburg University, StatCheck)
Willem Halffman (Radboud University)
Serge Horbach (Radboud University, Leiden University)
Thed van Leeuwen (Leiden University)
Andrea Reyes Elizondo (Leiden University)
Sarah de Rijcke (Leiden University)