Medical journal editors lacked familiarity with scientific publication issues despite training and regular exposure
To characterize medical editors by determining their demographics, training, potential sources of conflict of interest (COI), and familiarity with ethical standards. We selected editors of clinical medical journals with the highest annual citation rates. One hundred eighty-three editors were electronically surveyed (response rate, 52%) on demographics and experiences with editorial training, publication ethics, industry, and scientific publication organizations. Editors reported formal (76%) and informal (89%) training in medical editing topics. Most editors saw publication ethics issues (e.g., authorship, COIs) at least once a year. When presented with four questions about editorial issues discussed in commonly cited authoritative policy sources, performance was poor on topics of authorship (30% answered correctly), COI (15%), peer review (16%), and plagiarism (17%). Despite this, confidence level in editorial skills on a Likert scale from the beginning to the end of the survey dropped only slightly from 4.2 to 3.9 (P<0.0001). Our study presents a current look at editors of major clinical medical journals. Most editors reported training in medical editing topics, saw ethical issues regularly, and were aware of scientific publication organizations, but their knowledge of four common and well-disseminated publication ethics topics appears poor.