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Good practices

Inappropriate reviewer behavior

The Oxford University Press journal Bioinformatics recently published a case study on misconduct in the peer review process. Perhaps most surprising is that the incident involved one of the journal’s own reviewers, who was found to have suggested that the authors of a submission add more than 30 citations to his or her own articles, making it clear that doing so would influence whether or not the paper would be recommended for publication. An investigation by Bioinformatics confirmed the accusations and the researcher was subsequently fired from the publication’s review team.

The journal decided to reassess its processes to prevent such problems occurring again in the future and discussed the issue with the Committee on Publication Ethics, which resulted in the creation of a new set of guidelines. Reviewers are advised to refrain from suggesting high numbers of citations and to be open and transparent about any citations they do recommend. Publishers, in turn, should provide concrete rules on the behavior expected of reviewers and should always check whether they are asking for their own work to be cited. Authors should evaluate whether new citations are relevant and should not accept any that they find unnecessary or inappropriate. If the reviewer reacts negatively, the authors should inform the publisher.