Publication ethics and related editorial policies

Topic lead: Andrea Chiarelli, Chris Hartgerink
Last updated: 06/06/2023

Editorial policies are key to support the publication of high-quality, ethical research. They can address good research practice, conflict of interest, intellectual property, open sharing and more. Editorial policies should be clearly communicated to authors, reviewers and readers, and editors should be fully aware of the journal’s position in these dimensions to ensure that any issues are dealt with promptly and consistently.

Editorial policies are essential for maintaining the quality, integrity and credibility of academic journals. They provide guidelines for authors, reviewers and editors to ensure that the publication process is consistent, transparent and fair. It is the duty of editors and publishers to preserve the integrity of their journals: they must clearly communicate editorial policies and procedures for dealing with issues like plagiarism, citation manipulation and data falsification/fabrication.

Promoting ethical research practices

Editorial policies help promote ethical research practices and prevent the publication of fraudulent or unethical research. These policies should outline the journal’s stance on issues such as plagiarism, data fabrication and image manipulation, as well as providing guidelines for addressing potential breaches of research ethics. Journal policies should also cover authorship and contributorship, including the processes followed in cases where these are disputed, and their complaints and appeals process.

In addition to outlining ethical standards, editorial policies should also provide guidance on the responsible conduct of research in their chosen disciplinary domain. By promoting ethical research practices and holding authors accountable for their work, editorial policies help to maintain the integrity of the scientific record and protect the reputation of the journal.

Addressing conflicts of interest

Conflicts of interest can arise in various stages of the publication process, including among authors, reviewers and editors. Editorial policies should clearly define what constitutes a conflict of interest and provide guidelines for managing and disclosing these conflicts. Transparent and well-defined policies help to ensure that the peer-review and editorial decision-making processes remain unbiased and objective.

For instance, editorial policies may require reviewers to disclose any conflicts of interest, such as personal or professional relationships with the authors, financial interests in the research or prior access to the manuscript. Similarly, editors should recuse themselves from handling manuscripts where they have conflicts of interest.

Protecting intellectual property

Another important aspect of editorial policies is the protection and management of intellectual property rights. Academic journals need to establish clear guidelines for authors regarding copyright, licensing and the use of third-party materials. This helps to ensure that the rights of authors, publishers and other stakeholders are respected and protected.

Editorial policies should specify the copyright and licensing terms applicable to published articles. For instance, some journals may require authors to transfer copyright to the publisher, while others may adopt a more flexible approach, such as using Creative Commons licences that allow authors to retain certain rights. Additionally, policies should provide guidance on the proper attribution and citation of sources, as well as the use of copyrighted materials, such as images, figures or text from other publications.

Setting expectations around data sharing and reproducibility

Data sharing and reproducibility are emerging as key components of robust and transparent scientific research. Editorial policies should encourage authors to make their data, code and methods publicly available, allowing other researchers to verify, reproduce or build upon their findings.

Editorial policies should outline the journal’s requirements for data sharing, including any preferred repositories or data formats, as well as expectations for data citation and acknowledgement. Notably, different types of repositories are available, including institutional, disciplinary or generalist. Because many repositories are available, it may be challenging for journals to find and choose a suitable option to recommend to authors. The re3data database may be a helpful starting point in this regard, but journals may also consider mirroring the requirements of other journals in similar fields.

In some cases, journals may require authors to submit a data availability statement, detailing how and where their data can be accessed. Additionally, policies should provide guidance on sharing other research materials, such as software, algorithms and detailed methodologies, which are critical for ensuring the reproducibility of published results.

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