Peer review in scientific publications - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Supplementary written evidence submitted by the Royal Society of Chemistry (PR 68a)


You stated that you "deal with a lot of requests from US referees, young academics, wanting a letter of endorsement saying that they have acted as a referee for the RSC and that they have been reasonably good at it. It will help them to gain tenure". Can you provide us with further information on this, in particular, how many requests you deal with in an average year and what sort of information is required in the letter?

These requests normally come from young academics working in the US, whose country of birth is elsewhere. For the process of their application for US permanent residence as an "Alien of Extraordinary Ability", they need to gather as much information as possible for their immigration lawyers on their skills and achievements. We receive about five requests for support letters per week across all RSC journals. This currently accounts for approximately 250 per year, although anecdotally the number of such requests seems to have increased somewhat in recent years.

The RSC has a standard letter in response to such requests which purely states facts on the number of times the person in question has provided a referee report or published a paper and for which journal. In the case of a referee, the letter states that, "our journal editors select reviewers based on their research expertise and experience". No comment is made on the person's particular capability.


Do all your journals participate in cascading submissions/reviews? Do you have any data on: How many articles get cascaded? What percentage of those offered take up the invitation? What percentage of those cascaded articles are accepted?

All RSC journals participate in cascading submissions/reviews in some form, whether giving or receiving articles. Such "transfers" may occur before or after peer review, depending on when it becomes apparent a paper would be better suited to an alternative journal. If after peer review, the referee reports are cascaded along with the paper. A paper may or may not be accepted based on these previous reports; it would depend on the nature of them and extent of revisions which may be required. No article is ever transferred to another journal without the consent of the authors. We see it as a way to help authors publish their work in the most appropriate forum.

Accurate data on the number of articles cascaded and published is difficult to track with the workflow system the RSC uses as it may be several months or a different year before a paper is resubmitted to another journal. Currently a small percentage of published papers are the result of cascading; we would estimate this as being in the region of 2%. The uptake rate of authors depends largely on the particular journals in question.


Where inaccurate, misleading or fraudulent articles are published, what processes are in place to ensure that corrections or retractions are implemented in a timely fashion? Are retractions published by all your journals free for everyone to read (or do they sit behind a paywall)?

Where errors occur in published manuscripts yet the main body of the paper remains viable, an Addition & Correction statement is published. This appears on the web alongside the article in question and is free to view. The same statement is published in the final print issue of the year to complete the record.

When more serious errors are discovered, a retraction may be considered. These are fairly rare in RSC publications and only occur in the most serious cases which affect the entirety of the article. In these cases, the electronic version can not be taken down from the website, but the title of the article is changed to include the words "Retracted article". The text of the abstract is changed to indicate that the article has been retracted and an additional page is added to the PDF for all who download the article to see. See for example All this information is free to view.

As soon as the RSC editorial office is made aware of any potential problems with a paper we act as quickly as possible to ensure the scientific record is correct. It takes very little time to arrange for these amending statements to appear.

1 June 2011

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 28 July 2011