Journal clarifies its reviewing system after contributor challenges editor

April 12, 2002

An academic journal has been persuaded to review its editorial policy after a contributor complained that it was misleadingly claiming to be peer-reviewed.

Andrea Sabbadini, editor of Psychoanalysis and History , has promised to publish a statement clarifying the journal's policy on peer review in the next edition, after a "thorough review".

Contributor Richard Skues had pushed him to admit that Mr Skues's manuscript had been read and reviewed only by members of an internal editorial board. He had been assured that it had been "dealt with and assessed in line with the normal idea of peer review".

Best-practice guidelines published by the Committee on Publication Ethics to counter research fraud and conflict of interest say that peer reviewers should be "external experts chosen by editors to provide written opinions". Journals "should publish accurate descriptions of their peer review, selection and appeals process".

Mr Skues, a senior lecturer in social studies at the University of North London, submitted his paper to the journal in January 2001 in response to a paper in an earlier edition.

He wanted to "undo some of the damage" that the original paper might cause if its arguments gained credence. His paper questioned the journal's editorial policy for allowing the work to be published.

Mr Sabbadini said Mr Skues's paper was "impressive" but asked him to tone down his criticisms of the journal's editorial judgement.

Mr Skues agreed to some modifications but asked to see copies of the anonymous peer reviews. Mr Sabbadini declined, and Mr Skues then asked directly if the journal received written reports from reviewers outside the editorial board.

After initially failing to answer, and then refusing to be drawn, Mr Sabbadini confirmed: "In the specific case of your paper, it was read and reported about by four members of our editorial group".

He said that the journal "often" used its editorial board as readers but may also involve "other 'peers' not necessarily involved themselves with the journal. We intend to engage in a thorough review of the reviewing system."

Mr Sabbadini told The THES that "different journals adopt different interpretations of the process of peer review".

Edward Timms, professor in German studies at the University of Sussex and one of three of the journal's international advisers, said: "My experience with the work of the editor and editorial board is that they are judicious and discriminating and I would regard the fact that papers submitted to them are read by four different members of the board as an indication of a commitment to high standards".

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