2. Reviewers of Manuscripts
SfN expects high standards and compliance with these guidelines by all SfN members who review manuscripts for any journal and for all reviewers of any manuscript submitted to an SfN publication.
Peer review is an essential step in the publication process, and therefore in research. It helps to ensure that published articles describe experiments that focus on important issues and that the research is well designed and executed. In addition, it serves to promote the presentation of methods in sufficient detail to permit replication, data that are unambiguous and properly analyzed, and conclusions that are supported by the data. Finally, it promotes the proper citation of prior literature. In these ways peer review serves as a safeguard for both the authors and the readers.
2.1. Thorough scientific review is in the interest of the scientific community. Although readers of the scientific literature must judge the quality of a research article for themselves, the peer-review system is an extremely valuable safeguard. First, it allows readers some degree of confidence regarding the quality of the article, which is particularly important in areas with which they are not familiar. Second, it reduces the time spent reading a paper that fails to conform to generally accepted standards. Thus, it is essential that reviewers carefully evaluate a manuscript, a process that often requires several hours. A thorough review should objectively judge all aspects of the manuscript.
2.1.2. A reviewer should consider the quality and significance of the experimental and theoretical work, the completeness of the description of methods and materials, the logical basis of the interpretation of the results, and the exposition with due regard to the maintenance of high standards of communication.
2.2. A thorough review must include consideration of the ethical dimensions of a manuscript as well as its scientific merit. It is essential that experiments be conducted and reported in an ethical manner. Whereas the primary responsibility for this assurance lies with the authors, the reviewer has a critical role to play in safeguarding the integrity of the scientific literature.
2.2.1. A reviewer must consider the ethical dimensions of a manuscript and should advise the editor of any suspicions of violations of ethical standards in the research or the reporting. The editor should then relay appropriate questions to the authors in a timely manner.
2.2.2. The issues for consideration include but are not limited to the following: the unethical treatment of animals and human subjects, fabrication or falsification, the improper analysis of data, the use of misleading graphics, duplicate publication, and improper or omitted citation of the work of others (including plagiarism).
2.3. All scientists are encouraged to participate if possible when asked to review a manuscript. Each year, many thousands of manuscripts that are related to neuroscience are submitted to journals for consideration. Distributing the responsibility for reviewing these manuscripts as broadly as possible helps to provide expertise in a variety of areas and a diversity of opinion; it also minimizes the burdens assumed by diligent individuals.
2.4. Anonymity of reviewers should be preserved unless otherwise stated in the guidelines for authors and for reviewers, or unless a reviewer requests disclosure.Both authors and reviewers should observe the policies for confidentiality as set by the journal concerned, noting that such policies can differ significantly among journals. Most journals in neuroscience and related fields do not identify reviewers to the authors of manuscripts because it is felt that disclosure might inhibit adequate review. However, those journals usually reveal the identity of the authors to the reviewer because it is assumed that this information assists in evaluating a manuscript’s quality. For example, it may be important to know whether a given author has experience with a particular technique. When such imbalance in information exists, it should not be permitted to affect either the quality or the confidentiality of the review process.
2.4.1. Reviewers should not communicate with authors about a manuscript under consideration. Likewise, authors should not initiate such a communication with a reviewer but instead should communicate only with the editor. If an author persists in attempting to communicate with a reviewer, that reviewer should notify the editor.
2.5. Reviewers should be chosen for their high qualifications and objectivity regarding a particular manuscript. Individuals who are active in the area of research addressed in a manuscript may often be the most qualified reviewers. However, for the peer review process to work effectively, authors and editors also must be assured that reviewers are impartial. For these reasons, reviewers should be sensitive to any conflict of interest or appearance of such conflict in regard to a particular manuscript that they are asked to review.
2.5.1. An individual who is asked to review a manuscript and who feels inadequately qualified to judge that manuscript should return the manuscript promptly without review and advise the editor of the circumstances.
2.5.2. Individuals must inform the editor of any potential conflict of interest regarding a manuscript, and should decline to review the manuscript if they believe that the conflict of interest might impair their objectivity. Examples of a conflict of interest might include but are not limited to: (a) a manuscript that is so closely related to the potential reviewer’s work in progress that it would be difficult to ensure that the reviewer would not be influenced by reading the manuscript; (b) a manuscript that strongly supports or refutes the potential reviewer’s opinions; (c) an author who has recently been associated with the potential reviewer as a mentor, student, collaborator, or protagonist; or (d) a manuscript that discusses an issue or an organization in which the potential reviewer has a financial interest. If in doubt on this issue, a prospective reviewer should (a) return the manuscript promptly without review and advise the editor of the circumstances, (b) contact the editor and defer to the editor's judgment with regard to the appropriateness of serving as a reviewer, or (c) explain to the editor the possible conflict of interest in a confidential comment that accompanies the review.
2.6. Reviews should not contain harsh language or personal attacks. Reviewers need not refrain from rendering a critical judgment; indeed, this is in the best interest of science. However, reviewers should comment tactfully. Harsh language and personal attacks on the authors are unacceptable; they also may call into question the validity of the reviewer's comments. Editors may choose to modify a review if necessary to ensure that civility is preserved.
2.7. Reviews should be prompt as well as thorough. Objectivity and thoroughness are essential qualities of a review; so is promptness. Authors profit from timely feedback, as when an additional experiment or modification of a method is recommended. Moreover, priority — publishing a finding before others do so — is often an important criterion in the evaluation of an author’s productivity.
2.7.1. Reviewers must be allowed and should take the time necessary to provide a thorough review. They also should submit their evaluation of the manuscript in a timely manner. SfN considers that two weeks is usually an adequate period of time to complete the review of a full-length manuscript.
2.7.2. Should a reviewer receive an invitation to review a manuscript at a time when circumstances preclude prompt attention to it, the reviewer should decline the invitation in a timely manner. Alternatively, the reviewer may notify the editor of probable delays, propose a revised deadline for the review, and defer to the editor’s judgment regarding the acceptability of a delay.
2.8. Reviewers must not use non-public information contained in a manuscript to advance their own research or financial interests. The resources necessary for research are scarce and are awarded in large part to those individuals who are credited with the best ideas and the highest productivity. Yet, authors willingly submit manuscripts for review before receiving credit for their work. Thus, it is essential that reviewers not abuse their privileged positions by attempting to benefit from their advanced access to new ideas, methods, or data.
2.8.1. Reviewers should not use any information, arguments, or interpretations contained in a manuscript under consideration to advance their research unless the information has been made publicly available through another source, such as an abstract or a presentation at a meeting, a stock offering, or a new article.
2.8.2. There is one exception to this rule: If information obtained during the review of a manuscript indicates that some of the reviewer’s own research is unlikely to be successful, it would be ethical for the reviewer to discontinue the research.
2.8.3. Individuals should not buy or sell stock in a company whose product figures prominently in a manuscript they are reviewing until after the manuscript is published or the information contained in the manuscript becomes publicly available through some other means. Neither should they buy or sell stock in a competitor based upon non-public information in a manuscript they have reviewed.
2.9. Information contained in a manuscript under review is confidential and must not be shared with others. The rationale prohibiting reviewers from profiting from their advanced access to a manuscript also dictates that reviewers treat the document as confidential. If it is in the best interests of the review process to obtain additional advice, this must be done with careful attention to matters of conflict of interest and confidentiality, and in conformity with the journal’s policies.
2.9.1. Reviewers, as well as their administrative staff who deal with the manuscript, should neither share nor discuss a manuscript with others, except in special cases when additional specific advice is necessary to provide a thorough review, and then only if consistent with instructions from the editor.
2.9.2. In the event that outside advice is deemed necessary and requires that confidential information be revealed, the reviewer should request permission from the editor if journal instructions so indicate. This will allow the editor to determine whether the authors of the manuscript have requested that the individual in question not be assigned as a reviewer.
2.9.3. If the designated reviewer does consult additional colleagues, the number of such individuals should be kept to a minimum. Moreover, it is the reviewer’s responsibility to ensure that each such individual is aware of all relevant aspects of these Guidelines and other pertinent policies for the journal concerned, especially those dealing with conflict of interest and confidentiality.
2.9.4. An exception is made for reviewers to instruct their trainees in the process of peer review. A reviewer may bring an immediate lab member with appropriate expertise into the process for training purposes. In such situations, the reviewer is responsible for ensuring that the trainee fulfills all obligations for confidentiality, and the reviewer must report to the journal the identity of the trainee. The reviewer remains fully responsible for the content and quality of the review.
2.9.5. Unless otherwise agreed upon by the editor or indicated in the instructions, the person to whom the manuscript was originally sent bears ultimate responsibility for the accuracy of the review and for ensuring that additional readers do not compromise the integrity of the review process.