2.5 Relations between Editors and Publishers, Sponsoring Societies, or Journal Owners

Scientific and editorial ethics are founded on integrity, competence, and a responsibility to protect the communal and public interest. Scientific editors strive to advance the reporting of science in ways that ensure the highest standards of reliability, accessibility, transparency, and integrity of the scientific enterprise and promote the broader ethical and communal interests of science in the public domain.

Editors should have total responsibility, authority, and accountability for the scientific content of the journal, an arrangement that is usually referred to as “editorial independence.” The journal should have a stated policy on editorial independence, and a disclaimer indicating that material published in the journal does not represent the opinion of the publisher, sponsoring society, or journal owner should be published regularly. Editors should resist any action that might compromise editorial independence. Editors must be free to authorize publication of peer-reviewed and other appropriate research reports, as well as society news, appropriate advertising, and other materials. Editors should have independent authority to select their editorial boards. The publisher, sponsoring society, or journal owner is usually responsible for financial and other management issues and business policies, but it should always recognize and accept the journal’s scientific integrity and objectivity and the editorial independence of the editor, and it should not interfere in the assessment, selection, or editing of journal articles. The relationship between the editor and the publisher, sponsoring society, or journal owner should be based on trust and respect.

Editors and publishers, sponsoring societies, or journal owners should have a signed contract to ensure proper editorial freedom and responsibility. The contract should identify the officers, committee, or other management group to whom the editor is primarily responsible. The publisher, sponsoring society, or journal owner should ensure that the editor has direct access to the highest management level and, preferably, reports to a governing body and not to an individual administrator or owner. The contract should state the editor’s rights and duties and contain the editor’s job description, reporting responsibilities, and performance measurements (see section 2.1). These should include statements of the scientific, editorial, and administrative expectations of all parties; the length of the contract; financial conditions including operating expenses and remuneration (if any); and terms for termination by either party. There should be a mechanism for resolving conflicts between the editor and the publisher, sponsoring society, or journal owner. An independent and objective journal oversight committee for performance review and evaluation and for conflict resolution should be considered.

To maintain the professional autonomy associated with publication of peer-reviewed reports, editors should not allow their editorial judgment to be influenced by political, commercial, or other considerations. Editors should be able to express views that might run counter to the positions, commercial aims, or strategic plans of the publisher, sponsoring society, or journal owner. Editors should have the right to review and refuse advertisements and advertising placement. Advertising considerations should not influence editorial decisions.

The editor and the publisher, sponsoring society, or journal owner should confer about any political, commercial, or other incidents that could impair the scientific credibility of the publication and should agree to measures necessary to ensure that such incidents do not affect the decisions of the editor.

Editors should annually disclose any scientifically related activities (whether editorial or noneditorial) in which they are engaged to the publisher, sponsoring society, or journal owner, regardless of whether the editor is a volunteer or employed on a part- or full-time basis.

Peer-review and other publication assignments should be undertaken by qualified specialists as necessary. These specialists should disclose any conflicts of interest with the editor, submitting authors, publisher, sponsoring society, or journal owner. The journal should institute procedures that guard against potential conflicts involving the editor or the journal owner.

Editors and publishers, sponsoring societies, or journal owners should work together to ensure that services and products of contractors, vendors, and other commercial interests required for proper publication are selected on the basis of merit. Publishers, sponsoring societies, or journal owners should consider maintaining the necessary insurance to cover themselves and other key decision makers against legal action.

Editors should not disclose confidential information about submissions unless they are authorized by the source of that information, there are allegations of misconduct that require access to that confidential information for proper investigation (see section 3.6), or they are required by law to do so. In the case of misconduct, if the editor determines that disclosure is warranted and appropriate, the allegations of misconduct should be made known to the publisher, sponsoring society, or journal owner. To maintain editorial independence, there should be agreement between the editor and the publisher, sponsoring society, or journal owner on the nature of editorial material, whether manuscripts, reviews, or minutes, that may rightly be viewed as confidential and thus unavailable to the journal owner.

The editor may be called on to assist the publisher, sponsoring organization, or journal owner in the education and training of new editors.

2.5.1 Resources and Case Studies

American Medical Association Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors, 10th ed. New York: Oxford University Press; 2007:246-59.

Callaham ML. Journal policy on ethics in scientific publication. Ann Emerg Med. 2003;41:82-89.

Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Code of conduct and best practice guidelines for journal editors. Available at: https://publicationethics.org/files/Code%20of%20conduct%20for%20journal%20editors_0.pdf (Accessed April 29, 2018).

Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Code of conduct for journal publishers. Available at: http://publicationethics.org/files/Code%20of%20conduct%20for%20publishers%20FINAL_1.pdf  (Accessed January 12, 2012).

Davis RM, Mullner M. Editorial independence at medical journals owned by professional associations. Sci Eng Ethics. 2002;8:513-528.

Gastel B. The relationship between journal editors and journal owners. Science Editor. 2001;24:43.

Geological Society of America. Ethical guidelines for publication. Available at: http://www.geosociety.org/pubs/ethics.htm (Accessed March 9, 2012).

International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). Uniform requirements for manuscripts submitted to biomedical journals. II.B. Editorship. Available at: http://www.icmje.org/ethical_2editor.html (Accessed March 9, 2012).

World Association of Medical Editors (WAME). Relation of the journal to the sponsoring society. Available at: http://www.wame.org/resources/publication-ethics-policies-for-medical-journals#sponsoring (Accessed March 9, 2012).

World Association of Medical Editors (WAME). The relationship between journal editors-in-chief and owners. Available at: http://www.wame.org/resources/policies#independence(Accessed March 9, 2012).

(Authorship: Stephen Morrissey took the lead in writing this section of the white paper on behalf of the CSE Editorial Policy Committee. Stephen Morrissey and Elizabeth Blalock revised this section for the 2009 Update. Howard Browman and Stephen Morrissey revised this section for the 2012 Update. Members of the Editorial Policy Committee and the CSE Board of Directors reviewed and commented on it. This section was formally approved by the CSE Board of Directors March 30, 2012.)

2.5.2 Publication Oversight Committees

Oversight of journals may be provided by a publications oversight committee (POC). A POC is intended as an objective intermediary between the owner-publisher and the Editor-in-Chief/Editorial Board and is tasked with ensuring the editorial independence of the latter while at the same time respecting and implementing the objectives of the former.

Terms of reference

  • Provide independent, objective assessments of the performance of the publication, its Editor-in-Chief, Editorial Board, and, if appropriate, its publisher.
  • Ensure that the scientific content of the publications is of the highest quality.
  • Ensure the scientific publishing operations are conducted in accordance with sound business practices.
  • Establish goals and objectives for the scientific journals and assess whether or not they are met.
  • Form and/or participate in search committees to appoint new Editors or Editors-in-Chief when necessary or desirable, noting that the final decisions regarding these senior appointments are often made by the owner’s governing body.
  • Recommend the creation and discontinuance of scientific journals. Assess proposals for new books and other publications as deemed appropriate.
  • Conduct an in-depth evaluation of scientific quality and business operation for each journal the year before a new editor-in-chief is appointed; identify any problems, develop corrective action, and report results to the organization’s governing body.
  • Develop and approve policies governing scientific publications and consult with the organization’s governing body as appropriate. Examples of such policies include (but are not limited to), conflict resolution, conflicts of interest, ethics, and advertising.


POCs should be populated with members with diverse experience and knowledge of, for example, journal management and finances, editorial conventions, policies and practices, production and archiving, journal ranking metrics, journal promotion (including social media), and publication ethics.

The number of members will depend upon the extent of the POC’s remit. In general, an odd number of members is recommended to avoid ties in voting on contentious issues.

Appointments to POCs

A POC should have a Chair and a Vice-Chair whose terms end at different times (to ensure continuity). Chairs and Vice-Chairs are appointed via whatever process is established by the organization. In populating a POC, some considerations include: balancing disciplines; gender equality; early-career representation. Conflicts of interest should be scrupulously avoided. Some examples of such are:

  • Members who sit on the organization’s governing body, or on higher-level committees to which the POC reports.
  • Members who sit on POCs for journals that are direct competitors of the journal(s) being overseen.
  • Members who simultaneously hold high-level (decision-making) positions on the editorial boards of direct competitors of the journal(s) being overseen.

If some members have a conflict of interest (COI) over certain issues, these COIs should be disclosed and discussed and, if appropriate, that member should be asked to leave the room for the discussion of the issue(s) over which they have a COI.

Terms of office

Membership should be refreshed regularly and terms should be of limited and clearly specified duration.

(Authorship: Howard Browman took the lead in authoring this section of the White Paper on behalf of the CSE Editorial Policy Committee. This section was approved by the CSE Board of Directors on February 21, 2017 and it was added to the White Paper on May 4, 2018.)