Jen Lynch, SETAC Publications Manager

The SETAC publications, including our journals Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ET&C) and Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM), adhere to high ethical standards. While that statement sounds lovely, what does it mean, exactly? What are the publication ethics standards, who sets them, and who monitors the journal to ensure they are being met? SETAC publications’ ethical standards conform to SETAC’s Code of Ethics and rely on guidelines from the Committee on Publishing Ethics (COPE) as well as those by the Council of Science Editors (CSE), on whom we rely for our journal style.

Publication ethics go far beyond monitoring for plagiarism, though the SETAC journals do that with every submission. Every person who engages with the journal – authors, reviewers, editors and editorial office staff – has an ethical obligation.

Authors

Author ethical obligations are pretty well known: Authors may not submit work that is not their own. They cannot submit their research to more than one journal at a time. They must disclose their funding sources. They are expected to share all raw data used in the analysis reported in the journal article.

One issue that does come up with some regularity is the author list. The CSE defines authors as:

…individuals identified by the research group to have made substantial contributions to the reported work and agree to be accountable for these contributions. In addition to being accountable for the parts of the work he or she has done, an author should be able to identify which of their coauthors are responsible for specific other parts of the work. In addition, an author should have confidence in the integrity of the contributions of their co-authors. All authors should review and approve the final manuscript (CSE 2006).

Authorship disputes arising from those who feel their contributions have been overlooked or marginalized are one of the most common issues that editorial offices have to navigate.

Reviewers

Reviewers are the backbone of our journal operations. They are responsible for vetting the quality of the work the journals publish, and their feedback often results in a stronger research paper. They are privy to the newest research and must treat the work they are reviewing with confidentiality. They cannot share manuscripts or knowledge they have learned from manuscripts until after publication. Starting in 2019, ET&C and IEAM are moving to a double-blind peer review process, wherein the identities of the authors will be withheld from the reviewers. Reviewers may not be able to discern if they are reviewing the work of someone who has been employed at their institution recently (e.g., within the past three years), or if the paper has been authored by mentors, mentees, close collaborators, joint grant holders or known competitors. However, they must decline to review if they do perceive a conflict of interest, which may be personal, financial, intellectual, professional, political or religious in nature.

Editors and Editorial Staff

SETAC editors and editorial staff have un-equal access to sensitive material as well as a lot of control and influence over the journals. Author and reviewer identities are known to them, and they have an inside look at the latest research. Editors and members of the editorial staff are not to disclose information about a manuscript under consideration to anyone other than those from whom professional advice is sought, and conflicts – their own as well as those from the potential reviewer – should be considered when seeking such advice. Peer review is confidential, and the names of the authors or reviewers are not to be released without explicit consent. We also rely on the editors and editorial staff to help resolve possible cases of plagiarism, duplication of previous published work, falsified data, misappropriation of intellectual property, duplicate submission of manuscripts, inappropriate attribution or incorrect co-author listing.

Finally, SETAC editors have the power to accept or reject. They select reviewers and determine if resubmitted articles have adequately addressed reviewer comments. As we all know from Spiderman, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” Our editors agree to ensure an efficient, fair and timely review process while establishing and maintaining high standards of technical and professional quality. They are asked to provide unbiased consideration to all manuscripts offered for publication, judging each on its merit.

Peer review is based on trust, and it is SETAC’s responsibility as a community to protect the integrity of our publications. In doing so, it is important to ask what would cause an author, an editor or a reviewer to behave unethically. In many institutions and countries, there are perverse incentives for researchers to publish in high impact factor journals, which can create immense pressures on potential authors. As the journal landscape becomes more competitive, editors and reviewers are asked to shorten the time to publication, which could compromise ethical reviewing standards. Further, as with any group, long tenure on editorial boards can lead to bias. While some of these are systemic issues that will take a long time to overcome, work can be done to remediate others. The editorial staff continuously review production and process procedures to reduce the pressure on reviewers. The journal editors are discussing the length of editorial tenure and have been actively recruiting new and more diverse board members to reduce bias and the likelihood of conflict. Additionally, the Publications Advisory Committee (PAC) is working with the journal editors to ensure that clear written guidelines for editors, authors and reviewers are available to prevent or help resolve ethical publishing issues.

Interested in publishing ethics? The PAC is seeking nominations for new members. Please send a letter of interest and your CV to Jen Lynch, SETAC Publications Manager.

Author’s contact information: jen.lynch@setac.org

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References

[COPE] COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers [Internet]. COPE Council; 2013. [modified September 2017; cited 30 March 2018]. Available from: https://publicationethics.org/files/Ethical_Guidelines_For_Peer_Reviewers_2.pdf

[CSE] Council of Science Editors, Style Manual Committee. Scientific style and format: the CSE manual for authors, editors, and publishers. 7thed. Reston (VA): The Council; 2006.