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Talking Peer Review: Q&A with COPE

Not long to go!

On the 19th of September we will be announcing the winner of our Sentinel Award - for outstanding advocacy, innovation or contribution to scholarly peer review.

In this series of Q&A posts leading up to the announcement, we meet our eight finalists and get to know a bit more about them.

Up today, we speak with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Here's what the COPE Council said about working towards an improved peer review system now and in the future:

Can you tell us a bit about COPE?

COPE was established in 1997 by a small group of journal editors in the UK, and now has over 11 000 members worldwide from all academic fields. We are international and cross-disciplinary. COPE provides advice to editors, publishers and the wider academic community on all aspects of publication ethics and, in particular, how to handle cases of research and publication misconduct. COPE provides leadership in thinking on publication ethics, practical resources to educate and support members, and offers a professional voice in current debates (all through our many resources). Our resources (freely available, and in many languages) promote integrity in research and its publication. One of our new initiatives enables collaboration with institutions and moves our efforts upstream, much earlier in the research process and in researcher careers, where we aim to help support and advise institutions on how we can work on prevention.

What does an improved peer review process look like to you, and how is COPE helping to achieve this?

Robust peer review gives a level of assurance for readers about the reliability and integrity of the work they're reading, and that the work was conducted ethically. For authors, robust peer review is fair, useful, and timely. The whole peer review process -- looking beyond the work of the peer reviewers themselves to the other members of a journal team – it works well when it respects confidentiality, treats information as privileged, and manages conflicts of interest. If we could all do all of those things all of the time, then we’d be in a good place.

Here are our peer review guidelines. We've updated these -- with input from the research institutions taking part in our institutional membership pilot -- and the revised version will be launched during Peer Review Week.

Who or what inspired you to work towards this aim?

COPE celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and we are inspired by our members, and the 20 years of questions, answers, and debate they've contributed to COPE, and the volunteers, our COPE Council Members, who give freely of their time to support COPE achieve its aim. In particular, our members shape the future direction of COPE by bringing issues (we refer to them as “cases”) that are discussed at Forum. A spirit of collegiate discussion and collective problem-solving has always been central to COPE's values. Continuing those debates together ensures that we continue to evolve and to serve the communities we represent.

Peer review is a human activity and as such, requires constant review and clarification. COPE's work is to champion those discussions and work towards clarifying the issues involved with peer review and other aspects of publication ethics.

Here's a summary of the world that we all work in, from which we draw inspiration.

All of the (now 700+) cases brought to COPE for discussion are entered into a searchable database with advice and follow up: https://publicationethics.org/cases

What does transparency in peer review (the theme of this year's Peer Review Week) mean to you?

Transparency in peer review means different things to different people but at COPE we think it is about encouraging journals to make it clear and obvious to authors and readers how peer review works. There are many ways that the world's journals and researchers use peer review. This diversity means communities can adopt approaches that suit their culture and needs. We embrace that diversity. We ask that journals make it clear to their communities how they use peer review. At the same time, journals need to provide clarity about all of their publication practices and the ethical guidelines that form the basis of the work.

(Here are our Principles the first of which asks journals to make clear how they conduct peer review. These Principles are being updated by COPE, OASPA, and DOAJ, and WAME).

What are you plans for the future?

Our future is all about diversity, collaboration, and education. This is how we'll best promote integrity in research and its publication (our mission) -- by working together with people and organizations that share that goal. That means representing good practice in more regional and disciplinary communities than we currently do and to continue expanding the mission of COPE globally. We have initiatives, for example, to engage more actively with scholars in the arts, social sciences, and humanities. We have initiatives that bring research institutions into our membership. In the words of our previous Chair, Ginny Barbour, "We need a culture of responsibility for the integrity of the literature… it’s not just the job of editors".

Here's our summary of what COPE looks like today and will look like tomorrow, from our 20th Anniversary Seminar in London earlier this year.

Sponsors for Publons Peer Review Awards are:

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