Author services vendors play an important role for authors, journals, and publishers, and at best, they can support the interests and ethical behavior of everyone who participates in academic publishing. Because such vendors occupy an intermediate space among those parties, ethical vendors will display an understanding of publishing norms and act on that understanding to the benefit of all involved, and ethical vendors will not cross certain boundaries or encourage authors to do so.
Avoiding fraud and other deceptive practices
The most basic ethical conduct for author services vendors is to refuse to participate in outright academic fraud or deception. No author services vendor should help fabricate or manipulate results or figures for a client, nor should any author services vendor help a client illegitimately achieve authorship, by for example, selling a place in the author list on a paper. In summary, an ethical author services vendor will have clear ethical limits on what it will and will not provide, and it will deny a client’s request that crosses an ethical boundary.
Ethical author services vendors also acknowledge their limits with respect to the publication process and show respect for basic publishing norms. Because an author services vendor is not a publisher, it cannot promise a particular fate for a paper, be it publication in a specific journal or even publication at all. Ethical author services vendors, though working for clients (typically authors) also have obligations to academic publishing as a whole and should refrain from supporting any behavior that runs contrary to the established ethics of that domain, such as simultaneously submitting one manuscript to multiple journals. For this reason, AJE is a proud member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), which allows us to stay current on best practices in scholarly publishing.
Avoiding activities that would rise to the level of authorship
Finally, author services vendors should not do anything that rises to the level of authorship. (The ICMJE criteria are instructive on this point.) Authorship would include interpreting raw data or analyzing data start to finish. Service providers should also avoid the pretense of authorship, such as signing over copyright to a journal on behalf of the manuscript’s true authors. Instead, an ethical author services vendor will improve a manuscript’s form without changing the manuscript’s content. Language editing, for example, should entail clarifying language without adding or subtracting information. Formatting a manuscript should consist of changing layout elements and references to conform to a journal’s specifications but not inserting new citations to appeal to would-be reviewers. Review services should assess a manuscript’s content, statistics, and novelty without directly rewriting thea manuscript to improve those aspects.
When looking to an author services vendor for help preparing a manuscript, researchers, journals, and publishers must assess normal transactional concerns such as service level agreement, price, and quality. Working with research articles, however, forces an extra consideration that most business arrangements do not: academic and publishing ethics. Because the variety of author services vendors has resulted in differing levels of commitment to academic and publishing ethics, how an author services vendor conducts itself ethically is an important concern for any client. Furthermore, because author services vendors function in a space filled by journals and publishers as well as authors, their ethical obligations extend not just to paying clients but to the ethics of academic publishing more broadly.