Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


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 team.

  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 appropriate repositories.

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.

March 2004

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Prepared 20 July 2004