The cochrane library oversight committee.

Richard Smith*, David Tovey, Lisa Bero, Godwin Busuttil, Cindy Farquhar, Tracey Pérez Koehlmoos, David Moher, Magne Nylenna, Prem Pais

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorial


The main output of The Cochrane Collaboration's more than 20,000 global participants is The Cochrane Library. The library is growing in both size and quality, and the appointment of David Tovey as Editor in Chief in 2008 was an important step in ensuring its continued development. At the same time that David was appointed, the Cochrane Collaboration Steering Group (CCSG) decided that there should also be an oversight committee for The Cochrane Library. As the remit of the Committee says, "The primary purpose of the Oversight Committee is to support the Editor in Chief's editorial independence by providing a mechanism for avoiding or resolving disputes about the content of The Cochrane Library or any editorial positions taken by the Editor in Chief in respect to the Library that may arise between the Editor in Chief and the Cochrane Collaboration Steering Group, other Cochrane entities or individuals or the publisher for The Cochrane Library." The Oversight Committee is now in place.Why does The Cochrane Library need an oversight committee? The concept of an oversight committee arose after George Lundberg was spectacularly fired in 1999 as the Editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). There have been many examples of editors falling out with the owners of the journals they edit, and some tension between editors and owners may be not only inevitable but also desirable. Editors and their teams must have considerable independence in order for their journals to be taken seriously, and inevitably independent editors will sometimes take decisions that will offend owners, readers, authors, publishers, or the many other stakeholders of journals. Most of these disagreements can be settled amicably, but sometimes they can lead to major problems, including the firing of the editor and serious damage being done to the journal. One of the functions of an oversight committee is to serve as a buffer between the editor and the offended party and to resolve serious disputes.In the aftermath of the firing of Lundberg, Huw Davies, a Management Academic, and Drummond Rennie, Deputy Editor of JAMA, reflected on what is needed for a trusting and productive relationship between owners and editors. Firstly, they suggest, there is a need to recognise mutual accountability. Secondly, there should be "a clearly defined and shared vision for the enterprise." For most journals this is probably missing, but it certainly exists for The Cochrane Collaboration and The Cochrane Library. Thirdly, editors should be responsible for delivering measurable objectives - perhaps an increase in the impact factor of the journal or the time to process manuscripts - from a defined and agreed strategy. Fourthly, the editors should be free to decide the tactics to deliver the strategy; regular interference with short-term objectives is ruinous for a journal. Fifthly, there should be a regular flow of information for communication rather than for judgement, which should help build trust. And finally, owners and editors should always try to resolve disputes informally, but there needs to be a back-up formal system. The Oversight Committee is that system.The functions of the JAMA Oversight Committee were defined in 1999 as "a system to evaluate the Editor-in Chief ... [and] to foster objective consideration of the inevitable issues that arise between a journal and its parent body". The Committee has been in existence ever since. The Oversight Committee has been useful in resolving many editorial disputes, including in 2009 when it was asked by the American Medical Association to examine "concerns raised over how Journal of the American Medical Association senior editors responded to a report that a study author had failed to comply with the journal's editorial policies regarding conflicts of interest". This was a dramatic story, including the editor of the journal allegedly telling an author that he was "a nobody and a nothing".

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)ED000021
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2011


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