Report of the Task Force on Policy on the Release of Peer Review Materials

The committee recognizes that providing scholarly access to peer review records is a complex issue with a long history. The issue involves competing interests: maintaining the quality of the peer review process by avoiding potential damage to it from release of sensitive material versus improving the understanding of the origins and character of scientific practice by study of the review process. Until now, APS policy and practice has been flexible and decided on a case-by-case basis. This seems to have worked well in the relatively few times it has been invoked, and so the committee sees its task as formulating this policy more explicitly. The committee proposes the following policy, one that largely codifies the current practice and is in line with the policy of comparable institutions:

POLICY ON THE RELEASE OF PEER REVIEW MATERIALS

Adopted by APS Council, 18 April 2010

"Peer review material is confidential and access is restricted. Requests for access should be addressed to the Editor in Chief, who will consider the purposes of the research, the qualifications of the researchers, and the cost to APS of making the material available, among other factors. Material will not normally be released for scholarly purposes until at least fifty years after the events involved. No material identifying living people will be released without their written consent. Exceptions regarding when, whether, and what kind of release to make are at the discretion of the Editor in Chief. In particular, access to files to allow data analysis may be granted to a qualified researcher prior to fifty years, with appropriate conditions protecting the confidentiality of information regarding individual people or manuscripts."

DISCUSSION OF RELATED ISSUES

Appeals. The committee recognized the possibility of appeals but felt that spelling out a policy in this statement is unneeded and unwise. In the event of a serious dispute over application of the policy statement on peer review materials, the Editor in Chief could consult an Editor in Chief emeritus on the decision.

Archives. The committee notes the implicit obligation of the APS to maintain archives.

Electronic Files. The committee recommends revisiting this policy when the electronic files are opened. These files contain more material than editor-author correspondence, referee reports, and manuscripts and thus introduce new issues of confidentiality.

Multi-Authored Papers. For papers with very many authors, it may be impossible to locate and obtain consent from all living authors, or even to be certain which ones are still living. In such cases, the Editor in Chief is authorized to decide what is sufficient.

Robert P. Crease (chairman), Stony Brook University
George Basbas, Editor, PRL
Stanley Brown, APS Editorial Director Emeritus
Amy Halsted, Assistant to the APS Editor in Chief
Daniel Kennefick, University of Arkansas
Daniel Kleppner, MIT

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