Memorandum from Dr Emilie Marcus, Editor,
Cell and Executive Editor, Cell Press
Question 1: How do you insure the integrity of
the peer review process? Do you review your reviewers, and if
so by what process?
An in-house team of professional editors oversee
all aspects of the peer review process for manuscripts submitted
to Cell and is responsible for all publication decisions. Members
of the editorial team hold PhDs in relevant areas of biomedical
research; most have significant postdoctoral research experience
as well. Submitted manuscripts are evaluated in-house and those
that are deemed appropriate candidates for Cell based on topic,
originality, general interest and scientific merit are sent to
external experts in the field for review. Decisions after review
are made by the in-house editorial group following careful evaluation
and consideration of the reviewers' comments. Manuscripts are
typically evaluated by 3 external reviewers.
Cell maintains an Editorial Board of 65 internationally-recognized
scientists who serve as frequent reviewers and advise the editorial
team on policy issues; the Editorial Board is not responsible
for publication decisions. As the in-house editors are full-time
employees of Elsevier and are no longer engaged in active research,
editorial conflicts of interest are rare and, in those cases where
there is concern about the perception of impartiality, the review
process is handled independently by another member of the editorial
To insure the integrity of the review process,
authors are permitted to exclude up to three potential reviewers
for reasons of potential conflict of interest. These exclusions
are invariantly honored. In addition, editors track the reviewers'
consistency from manuscript to manuscript and make note of reviews
that seem uncharacteristically uncritical or overly harsh. The
editor evaluates all claims of reviewer bias or misconduct, and,
if they are found to be justified, sends the manuscript to additional
new reviewers for comment. The Editor also notifies the original
reviewer about the violation of journal policy. Lastly, we make
note of situations of misconduct and refrain from using those
reviewers who have engaged in unethical behaviour.
Question 2: What are your views on the impact
that a "pay-to-publish" business model would have on
your peer-review process?
Cell's current subscription-based business model
highlights the journal's value to its readership and as such revenue
is tied to the quality of the journal's content. This means any
potential conflict between editorial decision-making and revenue
favors a more selective review process and increased pressure
to ensure that the journal publishes only the most interesting
and rigorous research. In a pay-to-publish business model, revenue
is directly linked to the quantity rather than the quality of
what the journal publishes and as such has the potential to create
a conflict between editorial independence and revenue. In addition,
subsidizing the costs of the entire review process with author
fees from accepted manuscripts ties the acceptance rate to the
submission rate. As submissions increase, the editor is compelled
to accept more manuscripts in order to cover the costs of handling
the additional submissions.
Question 3: Does Cell take responsibility for
the papers it publishes after publication? For example, in deciding
to publish a paper, what weight is attached to the possibility
that certain campaigners are likely to attach an exaggerated significance
to certain papers which support their view? What steps do you
take to respond to the distortion or misrepresentation of papers
published in your journal in cases of great public interest?
Yes it does. Cell takes responsibility for the
scientific accuracy of all its published papers and ensures that
authors fairly state the appropriate implications, conclusions
and limitations of their findings. Cell also takes responsibility
for representing the papers it publishes fairly and accurately
to the general media. It has not happened at Cell that a paper
of great public interest has been significantly misrepresented
or distorted, but if it were to happen, we would take a step such
as publishing an editorial to clarify the content of the paper.
We would also take steps to make sure that the relevant media
outlets were denied access to our press releases.
Cell also takes responsibility for the papers
it publishes after publication by ensuring their availability
as part of the permanent archive of scientific information with
the creation of complete electronic backfiles and deposition in
Question 4: Does Cell adhere to a set of good
publishing practice guidelines, such as the COPE guidelines in
the UK? If so, how are such guidelines put into practice?
Cell's editorial and publishing policies are
fully in line with the COPE Guidelines on Good Publication Practice
including issues related to Study Design and Ethical Approval,
Data Analysis, Authorship, Peer Review, Redundant Publication,
Plagiarism, Duties of Editors, Media Relations, Advertising and
Dealing with Misconduct. The work published in Cell is held to
extremely high technical standards by both the reviewers and the
editors and the editorial process is actively monitored to ensure
speed, fairness and accuracy. Conflict of interest and media relations
policies are stated in our Information for Contributors and are
in line with COPE recommendations. Disputes regarding authorship,
plagiarism, fraud, or undisclosed conflicts of interest are handled
by the Editor again in keeping with the guidelines set forth by
COPE to protect the rights and reputations of both the author
and the accuser and referring the matter to the relevant authorities
as appropriate. All allegations are investigated and Corrections/Errata
are published as necessary.
Question 5: Can you outline your policy on retraction?
Does it allow for partial retraction and if so, on what grounds?
Retractions are either author-initiated or editor-initiated.
Author-initiated retractions arise when some component of the
paper fails to be reproducible in the author's own lab. The author
brings the matter to the attention of the Editor and a Retraction
is published the next available issue. The Retraction is also
linked to the original paper on line in abstracting services and
the online PDF is watermarked "Retracted".
Editor-instigated retractions occur when the
Editor receives correspondence from a third party who cannot reproduce
the original data; the authors of the original paper are invited
to respond in writing and both sets of data are then evaluated
by independent reviewers. Decisions about publication of a retraction
are made based on the advice of the reviewers. In addition, the
Editor may also publish a retraction if authors fail to make reagents
available as required by journal policy as this limits the ability
of others to independently reproduce the findings.
In principle, partial retractions are possible
if the data and/or figure in question are deemed non-central to
the main argument of the paper and the rest of the findings in
the paper are unchallenged, but to my knowledge Cell to date has
not published a partial retraction. Cell has published Corrections/Errata
that address errors contained in a single figure of a manuscript,
but in these cases the findings themselves were not contested
and these publications do not constitute a Retraction.