Version of Record online: 19 JAN 2006
Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
Volume 13, Issue 1, pages 1–2, February 2006
How to Cite
FRESHWATER, D. (2006), Editorial. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 13: 1–2. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2850.2006.00949.x
- Issue online: 19 JAN 2006
- Version of Record online: 19 JAN 2006
Editors and publishing: integrity, trust and faith
In the JPMHN editorial of August 2005 I commented on the credibility of the peer review process, encouraging reviewers and readers of this and other nursing journals to ‘interrogate the fundamental assumptions upon which the peer review process is based’ (Freshwater 2005, p. 387). This was written in the context of the call by some editors to standardize peer review processes through training, and my own concerns about the way in which editors and reviewers ‘politicize knowledge production’. With the Research Assessment Exercise beginning to feel the collars of academics in UK Higher Education Institutes (HEIs), and many other countries similarly focusing on the impact factor of publications (see e.g. Bloch & Walter 2001, Brice & Bligh 2004, Snell & Spencer 2005), it is not surprising to see a number of editorials emerging placing emphasis on and sharpening the authors’ or readers’ attention to the ethics of publishing.
In their paper entitled ‘Author misconduct not just the editor's responsibility’, Brice & Bligh (2004) acknowledge that in the fiercely competitive world of publishing, authors, under increasing pressure, may cut corners. Raising a challenge to all researchers to appreciate their responsibility for maintaining and improving standards in research outputs, the authors present a specific challenge to editors, whom, they argue, should make themselves more accountable to their readers and authors.
Brice and Bligh then go on to discuss a number of cases of author misconduct, including plagiarism, authorship, duplicate submission; unprofessional conduct, ethical approval and redundant or duplicate publication. Bennett & Taylor (2003) similarly examine unethical practices in authorship, addressing the failure of authorship guidelines to address authorship irregularities. It is clear, not just from reading the literature on such matters, but also from first hand experience as an editor, reviewer and author, that a number of these issues are picked up in the process of peer review; but by no means all of them. Does this mean that our faith in the peer review process is misplaced? Sufficient questions have been asked to drive the formation of such groups as Committee on Publication Ethics and other self help groups, which serve to ‘promulgate the concept of academic honesty’ (Tandon & Roberts-Thompson 2002, p. 817).
Certainly, it does seem that the ethics of publishing are currently demanding, rightly so in my view, a closer reading. In a recent editorial, Hegyvary (2005) described the concepts of redundant and duplicate publications. While Fenton & Jones (2002) refer to the importance of integrity in the publishing of medical research. Tandon & Roberts-Thompson (2002, p. 816) share some interesting thoughts and ideas on how to better manage what they term the ‘grey zone’. As the editor of JPMHN, I was specifically drawn to their comments relating to editors publishing in their own journals, I quote: ‘There is the potential for compromise and leniency unless the article is critically assessed by independent peers. However, if there is a policy to forbid editors to contribute to their own journals, the journal may be poorer for the absence of their contribution’. Where does this position the editor, whom one assumes, by the very nature of their appointment, has something of value to contribute to the development of the profession?
Little is said specifically about the ethics of the peer review process. In a recent issue of this journal, a commentary was published on a paper by Buchanan-Barker & Barker (2005). In the commentary (see McKenzie 2005), the author made several references to the peer review process, directly relating this in places to the paper co-authored by Buchanan-Barker and Barker. It is important to clarify here that the question of whether a paper, which has been the cause of some debate during the review process (and many are), should or should not be published is an interesting and important one. It is also an ethical one. In point of fact, any paper that is accepted and published in the JPMHN has had to undergo rigorous review processes, but how do you, the reader, know that? And by what/whose standards are the processes considered to be rigorous? Editorial decisions are of course based on the expert opinions of experienced practitioners, educators, researchers and users. However, such decisions are very rarely straightforward. I am sure many of the readers of this journal have received feedback on a paper from reviewers in which the conflict of comments is near polemic, and often the editor, in this situation, decides to reject the paper or requests a review from a third party, suggesting that consensus is an important (if not implicit) aspect of peer review.
I agree with Brice & Bligh (2004) that editors are and should be accountable; it is a position of privilege, power and influence, which, in my view, should be carried out with integrity and reflexivity. It makes certain, implicit, demands of reviewers, authors and readers, necessitating a high level of trust and faith, not only in the peer review processes, but also with the editors, associate editors, reviewers and indeed the authors. In reality, the once apparently stable, simple and objective discourses of authorship and peer-reviewed publication are now being decentralized. Processes of peer review, authorship and editorship are in fact complicated and complex grey zones, which, while they may be based on ethical and robust time honoured structures, require a great deal of faith and trust in the integrity not only of the editor, but importantly the editorial board and the team of reviewers. And last but not least – the author.
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