Peer Review Week is an annual event to celebrate the value of peer review and its role in scholarly communication. In this post, we explore how the British Ecological Society journals support this year’s theme, ‘Research Integrity: Creating and supporting trust in research’.
The peer review system has been around for centuries and, despite some of its criticisms, remains a widely accepted method for research validation. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t developed over its lifespan, with many publishers introducing different types of peer review as well as alterations to when research is reviewed.
Over the last decade, we have seen a global surge in information sharing that has expedited review processes and enabled more widespread and rapid dissemination of information. Despite their obvious advantages, as observed during the COVID-19 pandemic, these developments have introduced challenges surrounding the differentiation of research that has been vetted for ethical and scientific robustness.
So, what do the British Ecological Society journals do to ensure its published research are trustworthy and conducted ethically?
One of the two pillars of ethical practices we consider is how the authors conduct research. We obviously don’t actually have control over how authors conduct their research, but we have policies in place that aim to avoid publishing research that doesn’t suitably meet our research ethics standards.
When a submitted manuscript involves animals in its research, the journal’s Editorial office check that the conducted study had proper regard for conservation and animal welfare considerations.
Authors need to provide details of how the work complied with ethical standards in their methods section, including details of all relevant approvals for the study, who approved them, and any licence numbers where appropriate. Any exemptions from requiring approval must also be stated if applicable.
We recently updated our policy on animal research ethics across the BES journals to ensure we’re in line with the most up to date thinking on animal ethics. Darren Evans, Senior Editor for Journal of Animal Ecology, shared his views on our latest change in policy:
“It is pleasing that BES not only regularly reviews and updates its animal ethics policy but that it applies to all BES journals in a fully integrated way. This ensures consistency in reporting, whilst acknowledging that legislation and best practice varies in different parts of the world.”
Approval and consent for human studies
Any submitted research involving human data or subjects is also checked for evidence of ethical approval and consent from subjects for use and publication of the information they provide.
Like with all of our other ethical checks, the methods section must clearly provide the name of those who approved the study, any reference numbers, or state if exemption was granted for requiring ethical approval. We may request proof of exemption and manuscripts may be rejected if the Editors feel that the ethical framework of the study is not appropriate.
We also check submissions for appropriate licences, permits, permission statements or statements of exemption for experimental plant research and all field research, whether interventional or observational.
The other key ethical practice we consider is a manuscript’s compliance with publishing standards. The BES journals are member of COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) and follow the principles and recommendations in the event of any alleged research or publication misconduct.
All submitted manuscripts must not be published or considered for publication in other journals. As a member of CrossCheck, we also have the tools to check submissions for plagiarism across all published media and will return any submissions with significant overlaps with existing publications.
However, we will consider submissions with material previously published in an author’s academic thesis. We will also consider work posted on personal websites or preprint servers provided that upon acceptance for publication, the author is still able to grant the BES an exclusive license to publish.
An ongoing process
Beyond the ethical sense checking outlined above, the BES journals continue to adapt and update our policies and practices to ensure the research we publish are scientifically robust and a trustworthy source of the latest information.
For example, BES journals People and Nature and Ecological Solutions and Evidence implement a ‘Reviewer Discussion’ phase once all reviews are received, to allow reviewers to comment on each other’s reviews including any explanations for differences in opinion or supporting another’s comments.
If you have any questions about the BES journals, please get in touch with any of our Editorial offices and we will do our best to answer your queries.