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Good Practices

A new guide for reviewers

011_BoasPraticas_207DANIEL BUENOThe Committee on Publication Ethics (Cope), a forum based in the UK that brings together editors of scientific journals to discuss topics related to ethics in research, released a guide to aid the work of reviewers on March 25. The document contains the basic principles and standards that should be followed during the peer review process. The recommendations range from the most general, such as the need for reviewers to evaluate only articles in their own fields, to the more specific, such as not allowing the review to be influenced by the origins of the manuscript, such as the nationality, religion, political positions and gender of the author of the paper.

The guidelines presented by Cope—which currently has over 7,600 members from 80 countries, including representatives from the largest publishers, such as Elsevier, Springer and Wiley-Blackwell— include the recommendation that publications ensure that their reviewers work constructively, respecting confidentiality and avoiding conflicts of interest. The committee also emphasizes the prohibition against using information obtained during the review to benefit oneself or others, or as a way to discredit the author of the paper.

In a note, project coordinator Irene Hames, a biologist and editor-in-chief of the committee’s quarterly newsletter, said that while about 1.8 million articles are published each year, in approximately 28,000 academic publications, “reviewers often do not have a guide outlining good review practices, which makes it difficult for them to fulfill their ethical obligations.”

The guide defines specific guidelines for each stage of the process. For example, before starting to review, the researcher must declare any potentially conflicting or competing interests (personal, financial, professional, political or religious) that may interfere with their review. If this occurs, the reviewer must notify the editor. One of the recommendations states that the reviewer may not ask subordinates to help with a review, including younger researchers just starting their careers, without first obtaining permission from the journal.

The names of those who helped in the process should be included in the response to the author, for them to receive proper credit. When preparing the report, the review should focus on suggestions to improve the manuscript, and always avoid making personal comments and accusations.