Publishing ethics for journal editors: FAQs - Editor Resources

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Publishing ethics for journal editors: FAQs

It is our collective responsibility to preserve the integrity of scholarly publishing and your role as an Editor is essential in ensuring this. These FAQs outline some of the common issues you may face and serve to remind you that our internal specialist teams at Taylor & Francis are here and ready to support our Editors at each step of the process.  If you are an Editor of a journal which is owned by and published on behalf of a learned society or association, you should refer to any additional requirements set out by the society or association around informing and agreeing on a solution where relevant.

Jump to section:

Post-publication notices & changes
Investigating ethical concerns
Data & images
Authorship
Peer review
Guest editors
Handling queries, appeals and complaints
Legal & compliance issues


Post publication notices & changes

Published articles are a permanent contribution to the scholarly record, and so if a change is necessary this must be accompanied with a post-publication notice which will be permanently linked to the original article. This can be in the form of a Correction notice, an Expression of Concern, a Retraction and in rare circumstances a Removal. The purpose of this mechanism is to keep readers fully informed of any necessary changes.

When can a Correction notice be issued?

A Correction notice can be issued when there is an error or omission that may impact the interpretation of an article but does not impact the scholarly integrity or overall conclusions of the article.

What criteria are used to decide whether an article should be retracted?

A Retraction notice is a permanent notice, which will be published when a major issue affects the integrity of the content. Authors and institutions may request a retraction of their articles if their reasons meet the criteria for retraction.

What is an Expression of Concern?

An Expression of Concern (EoC) notice may be considered where concerns of a major nature (e.g. concerns about data integrity) have been raised but where the outcome of the investigation is inconclusive or where, due to various complexities, the investigation will not be complete for a considerable time. Editors can issue this notice to inform readers that an investigation is underway, but as these are permanent notices, the decision of when to publish these must be made carefully. It is important to inform your Portfolio Manager if you think an EoC notice is necessary.

Why can’t I remove articles which have been published online?

Published articles are part of the permanent, scholarly record and should not be removed unless further damage could be caused by an article’s visibility, for example privacy issues or legal concerns with the article. It is important to inform your Portfolio Manager if a removal is necessary.

Further resources:

Taylor & Francis Editorial Policies section on Correction, retractions and updates to published articles

Publishing Ethics for Journal Editors module (video)

COPE retraction guidelines on the COPE website.


Investigating ethical concerns

What support can I expect from Taylor & Francis when handling publishing ethics cases?

When you encounter a research integrity or ethics case, first share it with your Portfolio Manager. Often, their first step is to gather and review all the facts so that they can identify the relevant COPE flowchart/guidance and then work in collaboration with you as the Editor to proceed accordingly. If the case is complex or further support is needed, the Portfolio Manager may contact other Taylor & Francis departments for specialist assistance such as the Publishing Ethics & Integrity team.

Further resources: Publishing Ethics for Editors module on the Role of the Editor (video).

What happens if there is a difference of opinion between Taylor & Francis staff and the Editor on how to resolve a publication ethics issue?

Resolution of ethics cases is a collaborative effort between the Editor and Publisher. As publishers, we will make every effort to have an open discussion with Editors such that we can agree on a resolution. This is exemplified by the language of Retractions and Expressions of Concerns, which begin with “We, the Editors and Publishers…” which makes clear to readers that we share accountability regarding integrity of content.

How do we deal with investigations where the authors and institutions are not responding?

Sometimes, despite best efforts, authors and/or their institutions do not respond to communications (typically emails). In a typical case, your Portfolio Manager will first attempt to contact the authors and follow up regularly (e.g. every 2 weeks) if a response is not received. If a response is not received after two or three attempts, the Portfolio Manager will try to identify an alternate contact address or another contact point at the authors’ institution – e.g. a dean or a member of the ethics committee. Emails will always include a clear deadline by which we expect a response and our planned next steps.

Further resources: Publishing Ethics for Journal Editors module (video)


Data & Images

What do I do if I suspect manipulation of the publishing process?

If you suspect that an aspect of the publishing process has been manipulated, the first thing to do is inform your Portfolio Manager, who can trigger an investigation process. Examples of manipulative activities include suggesting reviewers with false email addresses, articles containing images that appear altered from their original state without an explanation (e.g. “Photoshopped”), submissions that appear to be a product of a “paper mill,” or data sets that seem implausible.

Further resources: Potential “paper mills” and what to do about them – a publisher’s perspective

How can I proactively spot papers with image manipulation? Is there software I can use?

One way to ensure images have not been manipulated is to request that authors submit their original, unprocessed images upon submission or during peer review. The handling editor or the reviewers can then review the images as part of the peer review process. Taylor & Francis does not currently use any image manipulation detection software, although we are proactively reviewing options.

What do I need to consider if I want the authors to share their original data with the editorial team to complete peer review or as part of an ethics investigation process?

If you request authors to share the data underlying the results presented in articles, you need to be careful about the potential for such datasets to contain sensitive information (please see definition and examples below) which must be treated securely. If the data contains sensitive information, we need to ensure that confidentiality is upheld throughout, even if this is part of an investigation process. We also need to ensure compliance with data protection laws, such as GDPR in Europe.

What is “sensitive” data?

Any dataset which contains detailed information about something that is expected to be kept confidential. Such datasets need to be anonymised and appropriately codified before they can be shared more widely.

Examples of sensitive data:

  • Where the data includes personally identifiable information e.g. names, medical ID numbers, social security numbers, telephone numbers, photographs, biometric information;
  • If the data contains information on confidential locations which can lead to harm if made public;
  • Restricted information (e.g. financial or proprietary information).

How do I manage data files that authors submit in response to our request for original data?

If you need to request data from the authors, please:

  • Be clear about the data required and what it will be used for (e.g. additional checks or verification);
  • Ask about any restrictions on the data, and things to be aware of for those who may not be familiar with the data set;
  • If there is sensitive data included (please see definition and examples above) make sure you password protect the dataset. If you need to share the dataset with others (e.g. reviewers) send the password in an email separate from the data;
  • Ensure that everyone who receives the data is clear about the confidential nature of the information included;
  • At the end of the investigation ensure everyone included deletes the data from their emails and drives.

For questions or further information please contact your Portfolio Manager. If data is required as part of a publishing ethics investigation process, we can assist you in managing the data.


Authorship

How should I handle authorship disputes?

It’s important to involve the relevant institutions to help resolve authorship disputes. This is because as the journal Publisher or Editor we cannot access all the investigative material required to resolve an authorship dispute. Therefore, the relevant institutions must be contacted to liaise with the authors and conduct an investigation. They are asked to keep us informed of the outcome so that we can take any necessary actions (e.g. publishing a Correction notice).  Please contact your Portfolio Manager, who can assist in drafting and managing communications with the authors and their institution(s) where needed.

Further resources:

Authorship Changes section in our Editorial Policies,

Publishing Ethics for Journal Editors module on Authorship (video).

COPE Flowcharts

As an Editor, how do I handle any competing interests I may have?

If you have any financial or non-financial competing interests that may influence your decisions on an article, then you should recuse yourself from the decision-making process and delegate the responsibility to another member of the editorial team with appropriate expertise.

Further resources:

Taylor & Francis/ Routledge Journal Editor Code of Conduct

Publishing Ethics for Journal Editors module on the Role of the Editor (video).

Taylor & Francis Editorial Policies on Competing Interests

Can I publish original articles in a journal I am Editor of?

Yes. Editors can publish original articles in their own journals, but they must ensure they have a recusal process in place, i.e. they should not be involved in the peer review and editorial decision-making process for their own articles. This should also be made clear to readers (e.g. via a footnote on the article and on the journal homepage) so that it’s clear to others that a fair process was upheld.

Further resources:

COPE: A short guide to ethical editing for new editors (Section 9)

Publishing Ethics for Journal Editors module on the Role of the Editor (video).

Can I ask authors to cite articles published in the journal?

You can suggest that authors cite articles published in the journal (or anywhere else) if it is a neutral suggestion based on importance, relevance and timeliness. Explicitly or implicitly asking authors to add citations to articles should not be a condition for acceptance unless the article(s) you are suggesting are considered to be crucial to the scholarly integrity of the content.  Please note, doing this too frequently puts the journal at risk for being flagged for potential citation stacking, and so you should always provide a strong rationale to authors if you are suggesting articles to be cited.

Further resources:

Taylor & Francis/ Routledge Journal Editor Code of Conduct

Citations section of our Editorial Policies

Publishing Ethics for Journal Editors module on the Role of the Editor (video).

Can I ban authors from publishing in the journal?

No, but you can reject papers that are out of scope or inappropriate. The submission and peer review systems we use do not have the capability to block particular authors. If you are concerned about a particular author group, please inform your Portfolio Manager.


Peer review

I can’t find any reviewers that are willing to review a particular paper, what should I do?

Consider asking a suitable member of the editorial board to serve as a peer reviewer. If they are also unavailable other approaches to consider would be to check relevant papers published in other journals and invite suitable authors from those papers as reviewers or to edit the email inviting the reviewers to make it clear why the paper might be of interest to them. If a paper cannot find reviewers then the authors may need to consider another journal, and if options are available to transfer the article to another Taylor & Francis journal then you can recommend this.

Further resources: Publishing Ethics for Journal Editors module on Peer Review – Part 1 and Part 2 (video).

What is the process for handling peer reviews when one reviewer gives a positive review, and another reviewer gives a negative review for the same article?

In these cases, the Editor can serve as a tiebreaker. Use your subject knowledge and experience in the field to assess whether the submission merits publication. Alternatively, you can invite an additional reviewer for the article.

Further resources: Publishing Ethics for Journal Editors module on Peer Review – Part 1 and Part 2 (video).

When reviewing the Crossref Similarity Check report of a manuscript for plagiarism concerns, is there a % similarity threshold or range which can be considered acceptable/ ‘non-problematic’?

There is not a defined threshold of % similarity because articles vary in their use of secondary sources. Some articles may have a high % similarity that includes quoted sources, such as book or literature review, whereas other articles may have low, but unacceptable similarity, if the sources are not cited appropriately. We encourage all Editors to enrol in a short training webinar on how to use the Crossref Similarity Check software.

Further resources: Plagiarism section of our Editorial Policies.

How should I handle controversial papers submitted for review?

When you are handling articles that address a controversial topic it’s important to be aware that the readership may challenge your decision to publish it. If you decide it is an appropriate scholarly topic to cover in your journal, consider providing a forum for open scholarly debate by commissioning a counter piece to draw on opposite sides of the debate or publishing an accompanying Editorial to explain the journal viewpoint. It is also important to be careful in the selection of peer reviewers to ensure a balanced process and have a plan in place to handle Letters to Editor submissions. To help prepare for any public reaction, please inform your Portfolio Manager about any upcoming controversial content so that they can liaise with our internal specialist teams (e.g. Communications team and Publishing Ethics & Integrity team) to help prepare a response.

Can I edit a reviewer’s report before sending it to the author?

Editing a reviewer’s report is generally not recommended.  If you encounter a review that contains derogatory or inflammatory language, or instances in which the reviewers suggest irrelevant citations to their own work, you are encouraged to discuss this with the reviewers and ask them to make any necessary changes (or get their permission to remove problematic sections) before you send it to the authors.

Grammatical or typological errors may be appropriate to edit prior to sending to the author, though if the general message is coherent, we suggest leaving the report in its original state.

COPE conducted a survey on editing reviewer comments in 2020.


Guest editors

Should Guest Editors for special issues or supplements enter into agreements?

Yes. We require agreements between Taylor & Francis, the Guest Editor and (for UK Journals) the Editor too. This ensures there is a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of Guest Editors and journal Editors, agreement on the editorial, decision-making and peer review processes, and guidance on how to deal with competing interests of authors or reviewers. This process also ensures the Guest Editors provide their own competing interest declarations. Please contact your Portfolio Manager for further information.

Can Guest Editors submit original articles to special issues or supplements they are editing?

Yes, although they should not publish in large volumes, as they will be required to recuse themselves from handling their own article. If they are submitting frequently to a special issue or supplement they are editing, then you should question if they are suitable to serve as Guest Editor. You will also need to consider if another Guest Editor should be recruited who is not closely associated with the first one, so that articles can be handled independently.

How do I handle proposals for special issues, supplements and Guest Editors I am not familiar with?

Although considering proposals can be a good way to develop content for the journal and engage with wider readerships, it’s imperative that key checks are conducted before agreeing to proposals from entities you are not familiar with. This includes checking the expertise and verifying the identity and contact details of the proposed Guest Editors. Unfortunately, there have been incidences where a proposed issue includes a fake Guest Editor or the stolen identity of a researcher who never agreed to be Guest Editor. This is done for the purpose of publishing low quality articles in reputable journals. This is another reason why verifying the identity of Guest Editors and ensuring they sign agreements is important.

Further resources: Publishing Ethics for Editors module on Guest Editors – roles and responsibilities (video).


Handling queries, appeals and complaints

How do I handle author appeals?

All Taylor & Francis journals adhere to the principles of publications ethics outlined by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and as such Editors have a responsibility to respond to all queries, complaints and appeal requests.

When you receive a genuine appeal to an editorial decision, and it meets the requirements stated in the journal’s appeals policy, we recommend that you first send a polite holding email (ideally within 5 working days) letting the author know that you will investigate and respond as soon as possible. Once you have a sense of the issue, you may wish to contact your Portfolio Manager so that they are aware of the issue and can offer any appropriate support. This is particularly important for appeals involving a manuscript linked to any sort of litigation (particularly if it is still ongoing).  ​

Further resources:

T&F Editorial Policies: Appeals and complaints,

Council of Science Editor’s White Paper of Publication Ethics,

Publishing Ethics for Journal Editors module on Handling queries, complaints and appeals (video).

Author appeals: what should I do if an author won’t accept a final decision on their paper?

The Taylor & Francis author appeals and complaints policy explains that Editors will consider one appeal per article and all decisions on appeals are final. If you find that an author is refusing to accept a final decision on their paper, even after it has been clearly explained to them in writing that the decision on their appeal request is final, it may be necessary to request additional support from your Portfolio Manager.

We will fully support an Editor when they feel threatened or harassed. The earlier you can inform us of these cases, the quicker we will be able to help put a resolution in place.

How do I deal with journalist queries?

Journalists often contact Editors regarding content published in their journals. If a journalist contacts you regarding a publication ethics issue, we recommend coordinating the response with your journal publishing contact. Therefore, please:

  • Inform your Portfolio Manager, rather than responding directly to the journalist;
  • Depending upon the query, they will inform other Taylor & Francis teams as appropriate (e.g. Publishing Ethics and Integrity, Legal, Communications teams) to decide the best approach when responding. ​

Our Communications team has extensive experience in dealing with press queries (including those made on social media channels). They can manage the response approach in consultation with you as the Editor.​ It is important to involve your Taylor & Francis team from the beginning and share all relevant information with your Portfolio Manager. We are here to help and have extensive experience to draw from and can support you in handling these situations. ​

Further resources:

Taylor & Francis Editorial Policies

Publishing Ethics for Journal Editors module on Handling queries, complaints and appeals (video).

How do I handle queries from whistle-blowers (including anonymous queries/complaints)?

From time to time, you may be alerted to potential problems with published research from readers or whistle-blowers. If an Editor receives a credible allegation of misconduct by an author, reviewer, or journal editor, they have a duty to investigate the matter with Taylor & Francis. This includes allegations made anonymously.

If you are contacted about an article in your journal:​

  • Immediately inform the Portfolio Manager for the journal, providing details about the article in question and any relevant communication from the reader or whistle-blower​;
  • They will provide you with guidance on next steps and involve other Taylor & Francis teams as appropriate, e.g. the Publishing Ethics and Integrity team if an investigation is required;
  • The Portfolio Manager can acknowledge receipt of the email or letter on behalf of the Editor and manage any communications with the authors and whistle-blower​.

​We will support the investigation process following COPE guidance and our own editorial policies. Also, we will ensure that we consult with you as the Editor as required and keep you informed of any developments.  ​

Further resources:

Taylor & Francis/Routledge Editor Code of Conduct

Publishing Ethics for Journal Editors module on Handling queries, complaints and appeals (video).


Legal & compliance issues

How should I handle claims of defamation and other legal concerns?

If you are concerned about libel and slander within an article (collectively known as “defamation”) please inform your Portfolio Manager, as these can have legal consequences. They will be able to liaise with our internal legal team to assess the risks and provide guidance accordingly.

Further resources:

Defamation guidance for Editors

Publishing Ethics for Journal Editors module on Dealing with Potential Misconduct and Spotting Red Flags (video).

How do I handle submissions from authors based in sanctioned countries?

Due to international sanctions imposed on certain countries by various authorities, Taylor & Francis has an obligation to implement additional processes to ensure we comply with these restrictions. In the vast majority of cases, these additional processes are carried out shortly after submission and do not require Editor input. These processes include “screening” authors based in sanctioned countries to ensure we are not doing business with a sanctioned individual, however unlikely this might be. In the rare circumstances where additional steps are required, you will be contacted by your Portfolio Manager. Authors based in certain countries subject to stricter sanctions requirements are asked to declare that their work was performed in their “personal capacity” rather than on behalf of their respective governments.

Further resources: Publishing Ethics for Journal Editors module on Sanctions and Compliance (video).

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