Conflict of Interest Policy for ACM Publications

Approved by Publications Board, November 15, 2018

Executive Summary

This policy outlines a Conflict of Interest (COI) policy for ACM Publications. It describes what a COI is, who is responsible for being aware of such conflicts, how to manage COIs, and how to report violations.

Conflicts of Interest in publication are to be avoided because they raise questions about the quality, impartiality, and accuracy of published items, even when the parties involved believe they have been fair and impartial. Sometimes, a conflict will lead to an unconscious bias that can influence decisions, even if the parties involved believed they are objective. Thus, a credible COI policy cannot rely solely on individuals to make their own COI self-determinations.

Avoiding a COI means avoiding circumstances that would lead to a reasonable person believing there might be some biased processes or results. The exact definitions of “reasonable” and “biased” are nuanced and context-dependent, and as a result cannot be completely framed, so this policy provides guidance on their interpretation in specific instances related to ACM Publications. In general, when determining what to do, the advice is to: 

  • Use common sense
  • Disclose any potential conflicts
  • Consult with others not involved with the current instance

This document provides specific guidelines for common instances with the goal of assisting in the process of identifying and resolving potential Conflicts of Interest. It also describes how the policy can be augmented, and how exceptions may be approved.

It is in the interest of all professionals — especially ACM members — to uphold the highest standards of professional, ethical behavior. Thus, this Policy is directly related to the ACM Code of Ethics. Violations of this policy will be referred to one or both of the ACM Publications Board (via the Committee on Ethics and Plagiarism) and the ACM Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE).

Introduction

This policy outlines:

  • What constitutes a conflict of interest (COI) for ACM publications
  • Who is in a position to identify and report potential COIs
  • How a potential COI should be managed

ACM is a major publisher of scholarly and technological materials, some of which are peer-reviewed. These materials include journals, magazines, online materials, collections of data, conference and workshop proceedings, awards, images and movies, and other content of professional interest. It is essential that these materials are accurate and issued based on merit and published criteria, without a perception of improper influence. (Cf. ACM Code of Ethicsa>, especially 1.3, "Be honest and trustworthy;" 1.4, "Be fair and take action not to discriminate:" 1.5, "Respect the work required to produce new ideas, inventions, creative works, and computing artifacts;" 2.2, "Maintain high standards of professional competence, conduct, and ethical practice;" 2.3, "Know and respect existing rules pertaining to professional work;" and 2.4, “Accept and provide appropriate professional review.")

This ACM Policy on Conflict of Interest in Publication always applies to:

  • Any material that is formally reviewed or refereed as per ACM policy (cf. ACM policy on Pre-Publication Evaluation")
  • Awards based on content published in ACM venues
  • Authors, reviewers, editors, PC members, judges, and other persons associated with ACM-published materials, whether the specific individuals are ACM members or not

This policy should be considered for application to ACM publishing of other materials, including:

  • Curated or invited content with informal or no peer review
  • Auxiliary and supporting materials with publications (e.g., “badging”)
  • 3rd-party content (e.g., proceedings of non-ACM conferences)

This policy should be explicitly referenced in any call for papers or guide for submissions for those venues. For example, a call for papers could state, "Authors and reviewers will be asked to indicate their understanding and acceptance of the ACM Policy on Conflict of Interest in Publication when items are submitted and reviewed."

What Constitutes a Conflict of Interest

A COI occurs when a person’s objective judgment is — or is perceived by a reasonable observer to be — compromised by an existing relationship, affiliation, or connection to a person whose work they must evaluate.

The following are considered to be specific exemplars of relationships that produce COIs. Individuals in such relationships should not be involved in peer review of, or making editorial decisions about, ACM published materials provided by the related parties.

  • Notable personal or professional rivalry/animosity (publicly known or not)
  • The lifelong relationship between Ph.D. student and Ph.D. supervisor
  • Personal or family relationships that would reasonably cause others to doubt impartiality.
  • Potential for financial gain or significant recognition, personally or for a close associate or family member
  • Within the last two years or reasonably expected within the next year:
    • Working closely together (e.g., at the same institution, company or organization; or within the same organizational team)
    • Supervisor/Supervisee relationship exists
    • Funder or program manager/awardee relationship exists
    • Recipients of joint funding or significant professional collaboration
    • Joint authorship of an archival publication (e.g., an item having a DOI)

Identifying a Conflict of Interest

A potential conflict of interest can be identified at any point during the publication process, but when possible, potential conflicts should be determined before acceptance and publication decisions are made. Anyone involved in this process can identify a potential COI and request that COI to be evaluated and managed, including but not limited to:

  • Content Producers (e.g., authors)
  • Direct Content Evaluators (e.g., reviewers)
  • Indirect Content Evaluators (e.g., associate chairs, associate editors)
  • Other Content Evaluators (e.g., member of a program committee not directly involved in submission evaluation)
  • Professional colleagues

All content evaluators, direct and indirect, bear primary responsibility for identifying and disclosing potential COIs in reviews; all content creators also bear responsibility for providing complete and honest information about COIs wherever requested.

Possible conflicts should be reported to the individual in charge of the venue involved (e.g., editor or program chair). In the case that the individual in charge is also conflicted, then conflicts can be reported to a predesignated alternate or to the ACM Director of Publications. A best practice would be for there to be one or more predesignated alternates identified and publicized in advance of any potential need for reporting.

Managing a Conflict of Interest

If a potential conflict of interest is identified, the party or parties should note this, and then recuse themselves from any further deliberation or decision-making.

In cases where COIs are unavoidable (for example, in specialized communities with small reviewing pools), those conflicts should be fully disclosed to cognizant personnel (e.g., to editors, PC chairs, the Director of ACM Publications) who are in a position to advise, remediate, or mitigate any conflict. A COI can be managed in this way so long as the conflicted person is not directly responsible for decisions in the peer review process.

Double-blind reviewing may help to reduce — but not eliminate — COIs. Editors and program chairs may consider this as a practice but should also be aware it may raise other problems related to COIs.

In all cases of identified COIs, it is best practice for the alternate decision-maker to "blind" any conflicted parties (e.g., reviewers, editors) as to who has assumed their roles. If the conflicted party is in a lead decision-making role (e.g., EiC, PC chair), s/he should designate an appropriate colleague (e.g., Associate Editor, co-chair) to appoint another person to the decision-making role. Using this process, the third person remains anonymous from all conflicted parties, when feasible.

If a COI is suggested or identified, it should be addressed as follows:

Before or During Evaluation
Senior reviewer (for example EiC, Program Chair) determines if there is a valid conflict and if so, reassigns any reviewer found to have a COI or who reports a potential COI. If the COI is alleged for the Editor or PC chair, the decision is delegated to an appropriate alternate, as per the above. Evaluation proceeds as usual.

After Evaluation (Rejected, or Accepted before Publication)
Senior Reviewer (for example EiC, Program Chair) determines if reviews by conflicted reviewers influenced publication decision and may reopen the evaluation or remove the item from publication. If the COI is alleged for the Editor or PC chair, the decision is delegated to an appropriate alternate.

Published Content
The matter should be reported for investigation (see below). After investigation, a determination that a COI existed for an item that has been published may result in the item being retracted or removed from the ACM Digital Library and replaced with a posted notation that a violation of COI policy was the reason.

In each of these cases, the outcome of the determination will be reported to the parties identifying the potential COI.

Violations

Knowingly and falsely asserting a COI — e.g., to prevent or alter peer reviewing, to discourage appropriate editorial oversight, or to seek disadvantage of another — is a violation of the ACM Code of Ethics and this policy.

Knowingly hiding or falsifying a stated COI is a violation of the ACM Code of Ethics and this policy.

Any violation of this policy should be reported (see below) for investigation by the Publications Board Ethics and Plagiarism Committee. A referral to the ACM Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE) may also be made.

Deviations from this Policy

Alternate COI policies that differ from this one must be submitted to the ACM Director of Publications along with a detailed rationale. Requests will be reviewed, and if approved they must be published in advance of any application of that revised policy. Approved deviations can be applied at the SIG or conference level.

For example, a conference may seek a more restrictive COI policy by including as a COI cross-reviewing (reviewing or supervising reviews on an item for which the reviewer has a submission in the same venue on the same general topics), or increase the 3-year exclusion to 5 years.

A less restrictive policy than this one will only be considered in special cases, backed by extraordinary reasons. The request must explicitly describe how resulting COIs will be remediated.

Decisions by the Director of Publication regarding COI variations may be appealed to the Publications Board Committee on Ethics and Plagiarism, whose majority decision is final.

See also the discussion under "Managing A Conflict of Interest" about unavoidable, single deviations from the above examples.

Questions, Deviations, and Reporting Violations

The ACM Director of Publications should be contacted for any

  • Questions about the interpretation of this policy
  • Requests for deviations from, or extensions to, this policy
  • Reporting of egregious behavior related to this policy, including purposeful evasion of the policy or false reporting

 

Mailing address:
ACM Director of Publications
Attn: Publication Policy Claim
2 Penn Plaza, Suite 701
New York, NY 10121

Phone:
+1-212-626-0659

Or via email:
publication-policies@hq.acm.org
RE: Publication COI Issue

 

If there is concern that the COI issue involves the Director of Publications, the current chairs of the ACM Publications Board or the chair(s) of the ACM Publications Ethics and Plagiarism Committee may be contacted directly. (see https://www.acm.org/publications/publications-board-committees)

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