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Role of the Editorial Board 

Role of the Editorial Board

Ethical and Legal Considerations

Annette Flanagin

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Role of the Editorial Board

Editorial boards comprise leaders and experts in the subject area(s) represented by a journal. Editorial board members provide various functions, including representation of the journal and outreach to the community of readers and authors served by the journal; advising the editor on policies, editorial content, and editorial direction of the journal; serving as peer reviewers; writing and recruiting manuscripts; and/or assisting the editor on editorial decisions (ie, handling manuscripts with which the editor has a conflict, serving as guest editor, or serving as section editor or editor for specific types of manuscripts). Some journals use editorial board members as decision-making editors who conduct initial triage of the quality and suitability of manuscripts or assign papers to peer reviewers. Journals without independent oversight committees may wish to position the editorial board with the ability to help maintain the editorial freedom and integrity of the editor and journal (see also 5.10, Editorial Freedom and Integrity). Editorial boards should be working, functional boards, with specific roles, responsibilities, direction, a clear reporting relationship, and term limits.10,32 While nonworking figurehead boards may help the image or marketing of a journal, they will not provide reliable and consistent advice and assistance to the editor.

An editorial board should be independent of the publisher, owner, or other external forces, and the journal’s editor in chief should serve as the chair of the editorial board. Editorial board members should be selected and appointed by the journal’s editor, not the publisher or the owner.10 However, if the editor has an agreement with the publisher or owner that permits an external group (eg, professional society that owns or has a formal relationship with the journal) to nominate board members, the editor should have the final authority to appoint these individuals and to review their performance, and the number of editorial board members identified by the owner or an external group should be limited to a minority of the total board membership. Editors should maintain confidentiality and fairness when making decisions to renew or not renew a specific board member’s appointment.

Editors should develop, review, and update as necessary an editorial board member position description that clearly lists roles, responsibilities, requirements, and term limits. For example, see the position description for an editorial board member for JAMA (Box 1).

A conflict of interest policy should also be established for editorial board members (see also 5.5.7, Conflicts of Interest, Requirements for Editors and Editorial Board Members). Editorial board members should disclose all relevant conflicts of interest (financial and nonfinancial) to the editor; they should not participate in the review of or decisions on any manuscripts in which they may have a conflict of interest; and they should never use information obtained during the review process, editorial consultation, or an editorial board meeting for personal or professional gain. Editorial board members may be asked to serve multiple journals; this may pose a conflict of interest, especially for journals that represent a small community or the same field or specialty. The following questions, developed by the Archives of Ophthalmology, may help editorial board members and editors decide whether positions with 2 journals pose a conflict of interest: Are both journals competing for the same readership, subject matter, and authors? Are the editorial positions and responsibilities similar? Can the editorial board member meet this journal’s requirements as listed in the position description?

Journal editors should hold regular meetings of the editorial board at least annually10 or, if resources are limited, conduct regular meetings via conference call and/or the Web. In any case, the editor should communicate frequently with the editorial board members, ensure that board members understand their responsibilities and terms, and review the performance of each board member on a regular basis and before renewing a term.

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