Policy on conflict of interest
A conflict of interest (CoI) is a situation in which a person is involved in multiple interests, one of which could affect the judgment of that individual. In the context of scientific reviewing on behalf of the IACR CiC, a CoI exists when particular relationships between reviewers and authors, or their respective institutions, may taint a reviewer’s decision making, or are likely to be perceived by others as doing so. CoIs can induce undesirable biases, distorting Editorial Board decisions and damage community perception of the fairness of the review process.
The Communications in Cryptology (CiC) policy on CoI, which closely follows the IACR Policy on Conflict of Interests, aims to reduce the likelihood of inappropriately biased judgments while simultaneously minimizing the loss of well-qualified reviewers. Authors, reviewers, and board members (including the Editors-in-Chief and Area Chairs) in the context of CiC’s operations should adhere to the highest of ethical standards when dealing with CoIs. The IACR requires all involved parties to pay attention to CoIs, to be transparent about potential CoIs, and to be open about how they deal with them.
Bias, including unconscious and unintentional bias, is an age-old problem in scientific research. There is no simple or universal solution. CoIs are routine, complex, and edge cases certainly occur. The integrity of reviewing is maximized when all parties take CoIs seriously, disclose them, discuss them, and recognize their complexity.
In this document reviewer refers to any person who evaluates a submission with respect to its suitability for publication in the CiC. Reviewers include Editorial Board members, potential sub-reviewers, and individuals doing ad hoc reviews for an editor.
We say that a reviewer has an automatic CoI with an author
- if one is or was the thesis advisor to the other, no matter how long ago;
- if they shared an institutional affiliation within the last two years;
- if they published two or more jointly authored works in the last three years; or
- if they are immediate family members.
A reviewer has an automatic CoI with a submission
- if they have an automatic CoI with any of its authors; or
- if the reviewer is authoring a paper (in submission or in preparation) whose content substantially overlaps with that of the submission.
Clarifying some of the language used above, thesis advisor (also sometimes called supervisor) refers to a (primary or secondary) thesis advisor (the reviewer was advisor or advisee of an author). It does not include members of a dissertation committee that were not a student’s advisor. Thesis includes any doctoral thesis as well as graduate theses which have a substantial novel research component (which may include Master’s, Diplom, etc.), supervision of which constitute an automatic CoI. For undergraduate theses and other types of non-research graduate projects, it may or may not raise to the level of a CoI; for this case the authors and reviewers must disclose the situation to Editors-in-Chief who will decide if it should be treated as a CoI. Sharing an institutional affiliation means working at the same company or the same location/campus of the same university. It does not include universities or institutes which belong to the same umbrella organization but are otherwise independent. Examples are the "University of California" or "INRIA". In case of doubt, authors and reviewers have to disclose the situation to the Editors-in-Chief who will make a decision. The date relevant for a paper in submission is the date when it was submitted. Jointly authored work refers to jointly authored papers and books, whether formally published or just posted online, resulting from collaboration on a scientific problem. It usually does not include joint editorial functions, like a jointly edited proceedings volume. For online publication, the first posting (not revisions) is the relevant date. Multiple versions of a paper (conference, ePrint, journal) count as a single paper. Immediate family members include at least parents, children, siblings, spouse or significant other.
CoIs are not restricted to automatic ones, others being possible. CoIs beyond automatic CoIs could involve financial, intellectual, or personal interests. Examples include closely related technical work, cooperation in the form of joint projects or grant applications, business relationships, close personal friendships, instances of personal enmity. Full transparency is of utmost importance. Authors and reviewers must disclose to the Editors-in-Chief any circumstances that they think may create bias, even if it does not raise to the level of a CoI. The Editors-in-Chief will decide if such circumstances should be treated as a CoI.
When an Editorial Board member has an automatic CoI with a paper, they may not see the paper or its reviews, comment on it, or vote to select it for any awards.