For Authors: Updates from eLife’s Ethics Committee

An update on eLife’s Ethics Committee’s recent efforts and future plans.

By the eLife Ethics Committee

eLife is committed to supporting researchers to publish their work openly and transparently while following best research and ethical practice. The role of the eLife Ethics Committee is to establish and develop journal policies relating to publishing ethics and advise on a vast array of ethical issues as they arise. Here we provide an update about the Ethics Committee’s recent efforts and future plans.

Data availability

We have updated our data sharing policies to provide more detailed guidance for authors and to clearly set out requirements for the public release of data in research that eLife reviews and publishes. This includes mechanisms of data sharing, timing of data release, compliance with local laws and requirements, and handling of situations where data sharing may be restricted. From next year, eLife will be eliminating accept/reject decisions after peer review and publishing Reviewed Preprints. There are plans to add badges to the Reviewed Preprint so it is easy for readers to know what criteria the work has, or has not yet, satisfied in terms of open data, open materials and preregistration. When publishing a Version of Record, we will still check that the data, methods and code are made available.

Image integrity

The eLife Ethics Committee has recently created detailed internal documentation for editors and staff to help them handle cases where concerns arise about the integrity of images in a published eLife article. With this guidance they can decide whether the publication of a notice, such as a Correction, Expression of Concern or Retraction, is warranted.

eLife has also recently introduced the following submission requirements to assist authors with including the correct information in figures, and to improve image preparation and data visualisation:

  • Include scale bars for micrographs, and molecular weight markers for gels and blots.
  • Provide information about data processing and analysis in their figure legends and/or the main article. For example, statistical tests applied, sample number, p values of tests, replicates, and so on.
  • Provide the original raw gel and blot images for the underlying figures in the manuscript as Source data.

Ethical provenance of materials

eLife now follows the guidance set forth in a letter from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) when considering research involving Myanmar amber fossils. In support of the SVP guidance, which is based on recommendations from the scientific community, eLife has introduced new submission checks to confirm the ethical provenance of Myanmar amber specimens and will not consider submissions that don’t meet these requirements.

Parachute science

Also known as helicopter science, this describes the practice whereby researchers from wealthy institutions carry out fieldwork or institutional visits in lower-income countries or otherwise use data or resources from these countries without meaningfully collaborating with local researchers or involving the local communities. This often becomes apparent when the work is published with no, or minor, authorship roles attributed to local researchers. There have been ongoing internal and external discussions involving the Ethics Committee and eLife’s Communities team to identify active steps that eLife can take to address parachute science. We welcome comments from those affected by this issue.

Future plans

We will be exploring the issue of parachute science, including discussing a potential magazine piece to address the issue. We will also finalise an anti-parachute science policy for eLife that is based on the policy on inclusivity in global research implemented across all PLOS journals. Our hope is to raise awareness and encourage all authors to carefully think about the ethical considerations, permissions and authorship decisions that they have made in relation to equity and inclusion in global research.

Other potential topics the committee will explore include: (1) a “pandemic pathogens policy” for research where there may be implications for biosafety, biosecurity; (2) potential dual-use research of concern; (3) “unrepresented, vulnerable populations” and their role/involvement in research; (4) falsified research case studies, and journal and institutional approaches to handling misconduct; (5) journal carbon footprint – including data policies for very large datasets.

The Ethics Committee will next meet in early 2023 when we will continue our remit to discuss relevant ethical issues, and identify where and how the committee can raise awareness or take the lead in policy development. We will also be exploring ways to increase the coverage of publishing ethics and related issues in eLife (by, for example, encouraging the submission of magazine content and blog-post writing). We welcome suggestions from the community for other issues that the ethics committee should consider.


We welcome comments/questions from researchers as well as other journals. Please annotate publicly on the article or contact us at hello [at] elifesciences [dot] org.

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