Peer review in scientific publications - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Supplementary written evidence submitted by Elsevier (PR 81a)

I am writing to you following my appearance before the Science and Technology Committee on 11 May as part of their ongoing inquiry into Peer Review. I am grateful for being given the opportunity to provide oral evidence as part of this important inquiry.

The purpose of this letter is to provide additional information regarding three specific points requested by the Committee subsequent to my appearance on 11 May: (1) clarification of the £2 billion investment made by publishing companies which I cited during my oral evidence; (2) nature of the procedures put in place by Elsevier to prevent the repeat of an isolated case involving the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine where sponsored article compilation publications had been published by a division of Elsevier on behalf of pharmaceutical clients and were made to look like journals, but without proper disclosure of their sponsorship; and (3) detail of editorial training provided by Elsevier.


In the oral evidence provided to the Committee I made reference when responding to a question posed by Mr Barwell (Q103 in the Uncorrected Transcript of Oral Evidence) to the estimated £2 billion of technology investment that has been made by publishing companies.

This industry estimate was based on a detailed review of Elsevier's own technology investments, which were then extrapolated to the entire industry. Elsevier investments in the period 2000-10 were around £600 million. Elsevier has a share of published journal articles of around 20%. Extrapolating this to the industry (600/0.2) gives a total of £3 billion. A lower estimate of "in the order of £2 billion of investment" was communicated in my oral evidence in order to allow for differences in starting points for different publishers. This £2 billion estimate was shared with trade bodies (The Publishers Association, The International Association of STM Publishers and Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers) who endorsed the estimate after consultation with a selection of their member publishers. This estimate was incorporated into a broader presentation issued by the three trade bodies which I have summarised in the table below for ease of reference.[49]
Technology investment areas (2000-10) Industry estimate
Author submission & editorial systems >£70m
e-journals and reference works back files >£150m
Production Tracking Systems>£50m
Electronic Warehousing>£60m
Electronic Publishing Platforms, incl. search and discovery platforms >£1500m
Other related back-office and cross-industry systems. eg digital preservation, Crossref for linking, CrossCheck for plagiarism detection, creation of special font sets, development of technical standards >£300m

This estimate is for technology investments only and does not include the cost of establishing journals, setting up and maintaining Editorial Boards and marketing-related costs.


During my oral evidence I committed to providing further information regarding procedures which have been put in place by Elsevier to ensure there is no repeat of an isolated case in Australia where a series of sponsored article compilation publications had been published in the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine by a division of Elsevier on behalf of pharmaceutical clients and were made to look like journals, but without proper disclosure of their sponsorship. This was an issue raised by Mr Metcalfe during the oral evidence session (Q110-Q113 in the Uncorrected Transcript of Oral Evidence).

2.1  Background

This episode occurred when an Elsevier publication—the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine—published reprinted original, peer-reviewed research articles, plus other summarised articles, conference reviews and news clips and was single-sponsored by a global pharmaceutical company. The employees responsible for publishing this publication did not make the sponsorship sufficiently clear to readers. I would like to state again that although isolated, this incident was unacceptable and did not meet the high standards of transparency and disclosure that Elsevier seeks to maintain.

An additional eight "Journal of" titles were published with ads from multiple advertisers and therefore did not call for additional disclosure. None of these titles were primary research journals and should not have been called journals. Single issues were typically distributed to between 2,000 and 10,000 general practitioners (GP) in Australia, and the company is aware of one issue that went to 20,000 (the estimated total number of GPs in Australia). Customised and reprinted compilation publications—including the "Australasian Journal of" series—are not posted on Science Direct, Elsevier's electronic journal platform for its peer reviewed STM journals. Also, they are not required to be archived or retained.

When this practice was brought to the attention of senior Elsevier management in 2009, a public statement was issued by Michael Hansen, CEO of Elsevier's Health Sciences Division on 7 May 2009, making clear that: "This was an unacceptable practice, and we regret that it took place".[50] At the same time Elsevier also announced that an internal review related to this episode had been launched.

2.2  Action taken by Elsevier

On 4 June 2009 a further public statement was issued by Elsevier announcing that following the internal review, the company had moved to provide consistent internal guidelines for its pharmaceutical services divisions when producing reprints, article compilations or custom publications on behalf of pharmaceutical companies.[51] While pharmaceutical services divisions often reprint peer reviewed articles from Elsevier, they are managed separately from the division that publishes the company's core collection of primary peer-reviewed research journals.

Elsevier also initiated a review of practices related to all article reprint, compilation or custom publications and set out guidelines on content, permission, use of imprint and repackaging to ensure that such publications were not confused with Elsevier's core peer review journals and that the sponsorship of any publication is clearly disclosed.

On 16 February 2010 Elsevier announced that it was publicly sharing its internal custom publication guidelines for producing custom and sponsored publications.[52] These guidelines are publicly available and cover the necessity for full disclosure of funding and the origin of content and provide guidance on obtaining permission for the use of content.[53] The guidelines also point employees to best practices for medical publications from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), the Committee on Publications Ethics (COPE) and the Institute of Medicine. Elsevier publishing units will consider in their approval processes whether a custom publication is consistent with Elsevier's historical standard for world-class content and whether appropriate disclosures are made. They also need to follow the established record retention policy to ensure the company maintains an archive of all custom products produced.

Following the issuing of these new guidelines, affected employees attended presentations on implementation. Elsevier management continue to monitor and assess adherence to the guidelines and standards by its business units globally.


At the request of the Committee, I would also like to detail the training which is provided by Elsevier to the Editors of our journals.

3.1  Background

Editors who are appointed are not usually new to journal publishing and peer review. They are invariably experienced researchers who have a track record of publishing in and refereeing for several journals. Some have been Editorial Board members or associates or Section Editors of journals before being appointed as Editors. The support and training of journal Editors is a mixture of training on specific tasks, sharing knowledge and providing guidance on broader issues. The training which is detailed below applies mainly to Editors who are external to Elsevier (the majority) and not full-time employees as in the case for some top-end journals such as The Lancet and Cell. However, the guiding principles and policies that apply are the same. Editorial matters for some learned society-owned journals, which are published by Elsevier on a contractual basis, are wholly or partially managed by the society. Elsevier advise and provide training and support as required by the society.

3.2  Support and training provided

It is probably most useful to outline the support and training provided by Elsevier to the Editors of our journals into three areas: (1) that provided prior to appointment as an Editor; (2) on appointment as a new Editor; and (3) on-going support and training.

3.2.1  Prior to appointment as Editor (or Editor-in-Chief)

Newly appointed Editors will usually have had the benefit of being members of an Editorial Board or served as Associate Editors, Regional Editors or Section Editors prior to their appointment. Elsevier's public website[54] for Editors provides guidance and related reading to all Editors and potential Editors—not just those for Elsevier journals—on a range of issues including impact factors, peer review, ethical issues, support for authors and reviewers, as well as links to matters related to scientific publishing broadly. The site also includes a guide to "Being an Editor-in-Chief on a primary research journal" which Elsevier has produced with the help of long-standing Editors and feedback received from existing Editors.

3.2.2  Appointment of new Editors

On appointment, new Editors are given an outline of responsibilities in their contractual agreement and provided with a Welcome Pack which, in some 50 pages, introduces new Editors to Elsevier, its policies, procedures, the editorial and publishing teams which support the journal, the peer review process including tools to find reviewers, ethical guidelines, as well as support tools (please see Appendix I for full contents list of the Welcome Pack. The pack was last revised in March 2011 and updated twice a year).

In addition, new Editors are introduced to key publishing contact(s) at Elsevier to discuss their needs and requirements, including task areas and core responsibilities in a "how to be a successful Editor" presentation and invited to one of two new editor workshops/conferences held annually where they can discuss broader topics in scientific publishing such as peer review, ethics, citation metrics as well as get practical advice on day-to-day management of journals such as working with electronic submission systems or finding reviewers.

3.2.3  Ongoing support and training

Elsevier view as a priority the ongoing support and training provided to our journal Editors. This is an understandably broad range of activity and I have sought to summarise below the key constituents of ongoing assistance provided to journal Editors:

—  Continued liaison with publishing contacts on all matters related to the journal. This is a core task of all publishing staff.

—  Editorial board meetings—periodic meetings with the Editorial Board of the journal, typically one such meeting is held each year per journal.

—  A dedicated website on Elsevier's public site that guides editors to resources at their disposal, including policies and ethical guidelines.

—  A newsletter (Editors' Update) which is a quarterly forum for sharing a broad range of issues of relevance to journals Editors. Now in its 31st issue, topics have included peer review, journal performance, ethical issues related to research publishing, as well as tips from experienced Editors

—  A newly-introduced webinar series for Editors which so far has addressed women in science, journal strategies, and peer review. When fully operational we aim to run four to six such webinars ach year

—  Editor conferences where Editors are invited to attend over a day and a half to discuss longer-term and day-to-day issues. Together with the new Editor conferences mentioned previously, we now have five events each year and over 2,500 Editors (from across the world) have attended the 40 conferences so far to discuss, share and learn about new technologies, peer review approaches and processes, ethical issues, strategies to address needs of the research community, as well as practical matters on how to manage their roles and how best to use the electronic systems provided to manage submissions, identifying suitable referees, or deal with ethical problems. The agenda from a recent conference is shown in Appendix II for the reference of the Committee.

—  A team dedicated to providing training and support for the Elsevier Editorial System (EES) for managing the submission and peer review process. This team provides training via live online webinars, pre-recorded tutorials, personal one-on-one contact, as well as online FAQs. A team of 10 EES trainers in five countries provide training to over 1200 Editors annually. The training desk site for EES ( currently provides 26 recordings on specific functionality in EES which receive approximately 7,000 unique visits from Editors each month. The on-line support site for EES provides 45 interactive tutorials for Editors covering the full spectrum of features available in EES ( These tutorials receive almost 8,000 unique hits per month. The EES user guide for Editors explains the use of EES in greater detail and is particularly useful for new Editors (

—  Training on dealing with ethical issues is further supported through a dedicated Publishing Ethics Resource Kit (PERK), which is an online set of guidelines and decision trees to help editors navigate specific issues. We work directly with editors in resolving ethical issues. Editors can also refer matters to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) of which all Elsevier journals are paid up members.

—  A team of bibliometric (a set of methods used to study or measure texts and information, most notably citation metrics) experts are on hand to provide journal Editors with a range of analyses and advice on the performance of their journals including presenting findings at Editorial Board meetings.

—  Customer feedback (from authors and reviewers) obtained and analysed every quarter is shared with journal Editors periodically via publishing contacts and at editorial board meetings.

I hope this letter has served to provide the level of detail required by the Committee. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require anything further in this regard.

Mayur Amin
Senior Vice President
Research & Academic Relations

1 June 2011





08:30Conference Open
08:40Helping to Solve the Puzzles of Scholarly research by Making Content Smarter—YS Chi
09:30The Changing Journal Landscape—Martin Tanke
10:20Coffee Break
10:40A Look at Trends in Journal Publishing—Mayur Amin
11:30Journal Measures and Reporting—Carl Schwarz
12:15Lunch & iPad Demo Session
13:15Parallel Breakout Sessions—Group A

Ethical Dilemmas Discussed—Jan Bij de Weg
Solving the Challenge of Finding Reviewers—Graham Brumfield
14:00Parallel Breakout Sessions—Group B

as above
14:45Coffee Break
15:00Parallel Breakout Sessions—Group A

Impact Factor and Other Bibliometrics: What Every Editor Should Know—Andrew Plume
EES: Today and Tomorrow—John O'Brien/ Adrian Tedford
15:45Parallel Breakout Sessions—Group B

as above
16:30Elsevier Managers Respond to your Questions
17:30Your EES Questions Answered

SUNDAY 15 MAY 2011
09:00A Discussion on Open Access—Michiel Kolman
09:45Making Global Editorial Boards—Lucia Franco
10:00Coffee break
10:30Open Q&A—A Discussion with Publishing Staff
11.30Conference close

49   "Access to research outputs-a UK success story", presentation produced by The Publishers Association, The International Association of STM Publishers, and Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, 2010: 

50   "Statement From Michael Hansen, CEO Of Elsevier's Health Sciences Division, Regarding Australia Based Sponsored Journal Practices Between 2000 and 2005" on 7 May 2009: 

51   "Elsevier To Create New Guidelines For Pharmaceutical Article Reprint, Compilation and Custom Publications" on 4 June 2009: 

52   "Elsevier's New Custom Publication Guidelines Set New Standards For Publishing Pharma-Sponsored Content" on 16 February 2010: 

53   Elsevier Health Sciences Guidelines for Custom Publications: Back

54   Elsevier "Supporting Editors" website: Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 28 July 2011