When Does a Conflict of Interest Exist?
If you have a conflict of interest with a submission, you should not be involved in the decision process for that submission in any capacity, as Reviewer, Associate Editor, or Editor-in-Chief.
If you are asked to participate in the reviewing of a submission and have a conflict of interest, please let the requester know and decline to participate. Most conflicts of interest can be recognized with common sense: Would an outsider who knew that you were involved in the reviewing process reasonably be concerned that you might be biased either for or against the submission because of your relationship to the authors or their research?
There is usually a conflict of interest if the submission concerns work ...
- ... from an institution at which you have recently worked
- ... by a recent coauthor
- ... by a family member
- ... by an advisor or advisee of yours
- ... in which you have a non-trivial financial stake
“Recent” can be read as “within the last 5 years”. Membership in an author’s Ph.D. committee should be viewed as similar to coauthorship, and the criterion of “recency” applies. But note that there is no time limit associated with the advisor/advisee relationship.
Other circumstances may create a potential conflict, requiring careful thought on a case-to-case basis.
If you are in doubt, please describe the potential conflict to the Associate Editor who requested your participation – or, if you are an Associate Editor, to the editors-in-chief – and ask for guidance.
Conflict-of-Interest Policy for Associate Editors
Conflict-of-Interest Policy for Editors-in-Chief
If one of the Editors-in-Chief (EiCs) has a conflict of interest with a submission but is not an author of that submission, the other EiC will assign an Associate Editor to handle the submission. This other EiC will make the final decision. If both EiCs have a conflict of interest with a submission, the same procedure will be applied as for a submission by an EiC (see the following section).
Conflict-of-Interest Policy for a Submission by an Editor-in-Chief
(Note: ACM requires that a policy for this situation exist and be published on the journal’s website.)
The purpose of this policy is to address the conflict of interest that arises when an Editor-in-Chief (EiC) of an ACM journal is an author of a manuscript submitted to that journal.
Reasons for Allowing Submissions by an Editor-in-Chief
ACM does permit an EiC to be an author of an article in the EiC’s journal. Outright prohibition of EiC authorship is considered too severe for at least three reasons: First, it can unduly penalize the EiC’s coauthors. In several computing disciplines, the ACM Transactions is the premier – and sometimes the only – high-quality, archival venue for research publication. A strict prohibition would impact the EiC’s coauthors, especially if they were just starting their research careers. Second, a general prohibition could prevent some high-quality articles from appearing in ACM journals. ACM’s stated mission is to be the publisher of choice. Good work should be evaluated on its merits and not on the basis of authorship. Third, a prohibition could be a disincentive for leading researchers to serve as EiC, especially insofar as this prohibition would affect coauthors, in particular graduate students.
Many ACM conferences do not permit a program chair to submit papers. The three arguments given above apply with some force to ACM conferences as well; but because of the multiyear terms of EiCs, there is a more compelling case for journals than for conferences.
Details of the Policy
The procedure for processing a submission to TiiS with an EiC as an author is as follows:
- The EiC will submit the manuscript to an Associate Editor who has been specifically designated for this purpose and explicitly identified in the TiiS website. The designated Associate Editor must have agreed to accept this responsibility and should not be a collaborator of an EiC or from the same organization as an EiC.
- The Associate Editor designated in Step 1 (called “Alice” for concreteness) will not process the submission herself, but will hand it to another Associate Editor (“Bob”) whose identity will not be disclosed to the EiCs.
- Bob will execute the normal function of an Associate Editor for the submission (see the description of the reviewing procedure), except that that he will also make the final decision, without consulting the EiCs. Bob will report the final decision to Alice, who will in turn convey it to the EiCs.
As an exception, if the EiC’s manuscript is submitted for consideration for a special issue that is being managed by a Guest Editor, the Associate Editors will not be involved in the way described above. Instead, the Guest Editor will make the final decision. The identities of the reviewers of the EiC’s submission will not be disclosed to the EiC.
In order to avoid the possible impression of biased processing, the (implicit or explicit) standards of acceptability must be applied especially rigorously and conservatively to any submission (co)authored by an EiC; if such a submission is marginal in any way, it should be rejected.