Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Science

  1.  The integrity of Science's peer review process is assured by the familiarity our in-house editors have with those experts in the discipline and to the history of their participation in our process. The performance of outside reviewers is evaluated ex-post facto; on the basis of our experiences with reviewers, we cease using those who fail to approach the task conscientiously, or who regularly return opinions that are at odds with those of other, equally capable reviewers on a consistent basis.

  2.  No matter how it is implemented, I cannot see how a "pay-to-publish" business model (your term) or "open-access model" (their term) would have any impact on our peer review process. We undertake peer review because our readers and those who submit to us expect it. With regard to peer review, it costs us approximately as much to reject a paper as to accept one, so there are questions about the scalability of the process for any "pay-to-publish" journal as the ratio of rejections to acceptances rises.

  3.  Our responsibility for papers we publish after their publication is limited, as it is for any journal. When we publish a paper, we make a decision about its newsworthiness. We carefully vet the press releases prepared by the American Association for the Advancement of Science's News Office, and we will occasionally hold press briefings for especially important papers in order to explain their content more carefully to members of the media. If papers have a special appeal to "certain campaigners", we might under some circumstances send letters of correction to media outlets that contain distortions or misrepresentations. But it would be plainly impossible for Science, or any other journal, to systematically monitor all kinds of press outlets to search for inaccuracies in the representation of our papers, and we would consider it a misallocation of resources were we to do so. We do supply Perspective articles and articles in our News section that help to place the results in the appropriate context.

  4.  We require authors to submit statements of possible real or perceived conflicts of interest, and publish these if they might influence a reader's perception of the objectivity of the report. In Science's News section we ask our journalists to be certain to report possible conflicts on the part of persons who are quoted or to whom attributions are made. The COPE guidelines are among the many we have reviewed in establishing and refining our publishing policies over the years. Others include the "Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals" from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors and the "Ethical Guidelines to Publication of Chemical Research" developed by the American Chemical Society. Our publication policies are outlined in our Information For Authors/Contributors. As Editor-in-Chief, it is my duty to see that these policies are followed. I work closely with the Executive Editor and Deputy Editors to review our compliance with these policies. In addition, we routinely review these policies with our Senior Editorial Board to assure that they evolve as circumstances change.

  5.  The retraction issue arises only when one or more of the authors declare that they are (a) aware that they are unable to replicate the result they found in the publication; or (b) when one or more of the authors is found to have made a mistake, or to have used fraudulently obtained data. In this last case, we may be informed of irregularities by the authors' institution or by the Office of Research Integrity at the National Institutes of Health. We require that all authors must agree on a retraction. In the event that an agreement is not forthcoming, we attempt to persuade the reluctant author or authors to participate. We will allow the authors' institution to retract the paper under certain circumstances. In the event of a disagreement among authors, we may issue an Editorial Retraction, announcing that Science no longer regards the findings published in the report as valid. In rare cases, authors may retract a particular interpretation but not the main results of the paper.

  You should perhaps know that Science has an office with Editorial and News staff in Cambridge, UK Processes of peer review are carried out both in our Washington office and in Cambridge. Where the work is conducted has nothing to do with country of origin; rather, it relates to the distribution of particular areas of expertise among our Editorial staff, of whom seven are resident in Cambridge.

March 2004

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