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AGU Publications Scientific Ethics and Integrity

Scientific Ethics and Integrity

AGU strives to maintain the highest ethical standards for our publications and to be transparent with our policies and procedures. This page outlines the ethical obligations of those participating in our peer reviewed publication process and provides documentation on the procedures for appealing decisions, presenting ethical violations, and handling comments and replies to published papers.

In general, AGU follows the standards of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Per these guidelines, scientific research, and the preparation of the results, must be free of any impropriety or undisclosed conflicts of interest. Intentional plagiarism, fabrication, or falsification are serious examples of scientific misconduct and as such are inappropriate actions that will discredit the union and compromise the integrity of science. If there is a concern with the peer review or publication of research in an AGU journal, authors are encouraged to follow the guidelines to file a formal appeal or complaint.

The AGU Publications Ethics procedures and policies are overseen by Ethics Manager Sarah Dedej, and supported by the AGU Director of Publications Operations, VP of Publications, the Publications Committee, and the AGU Ethics and D&I Office. Any inquiries can be directed to [email protected].

For information on general publication policies, visit the AGU Publications Policies page.

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Authors, reviewers, and editors are expected to adhere to the ethical obligations outlined below, from AGU’s Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics Policy PDF icon.

Authors are expected to do the following to contribute the highest quality science to AGU publications:

  1. Present a precise and accurate account of the research performed and a clear, objective discussion of its significance.
  2. Include sufficient detail and references to sources of information in a manuscript to permit the author’s peers to repeat the work.
  3. Include sufficient detail in the Data and Methods section and provide a Data Availability Statement for data and software in the Open Research section, and citations for data and software as well as other consulted sources in the References section that permit the author’s peers to repeat the work. Access restrictions and licensing (terms of use) need to be clearly stated in the availability statement and the acceptance of such restrictions are at the discretion of the editor. Details, templates, and examples are in the Data and Software for Authors guidance.
  4. Identify sources of all information and cite those publications that have been influential in determining the nature of the reported work and that guide the reader quickly to the primary and other earlier work essential for understanding the present investigation. Information obtained privately, as in conversation or correspondence, should not be used or reported without explicit permission from the source.
  5. Carefully document methodology, assumptions, and uncertainty.
  6. Follow the appropriate procedures in force in their countries that govern the ethics of work done with human or animal subjects.
  7. Never plagiarize the work or ideas of others or your own work. Always provide appropriate citation. (Please see below for additional information on avoiding plagiarism of your own work or that of others.)
  8. Avoid unnecessary fragmentation or redundant publication of research reports to artificially increase the number of publications.
  9. Never include personal criticism in a written piece of work.
  10. Report to the editor any changes made to the manuscript after acceptance.
  11. Include as coauthors only those persons who have made significant scientific contributions to the work and determine order of authorship in a manner appropriate to the contribution. All coauthors share responsibility for the quality and integrity of the submitted and published manuscript.
  12. List all funding sources including persistent identifiers (e.g. Grant ID, Funder ID) or other in-kind support for all authors in the Acknowledgments.
  13. Disclose any potential conflict of interest for any author that might be affected by publication of the results contained in a manuscript or in the development of the research. (For more information about conflict of interest, see below.) For AGU Advances, Community Science, and GeoHealth, authors will be required to state these conflicts and fill out a form. Journal staff and editors will assess the disclosures.
  14. In the role of corresponding author, ensure that all coauthors are fully cognizant of the steps and changes in the manuscript during the peer review process including any and all changes in authorship or author order and decisions made on the manuscript.

Authorship Policy

All authors have read and approved the paper and will be informed about all reviews and revisions. It is expected that authors will have: (1) made substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data, or creation of new software used in the work; or have drafted the work or substantively revised it; (2) approved the submitted version (and any substantially modified version that involves the author’s contribution to the study); and (3) agreed to be personally accountable for their own contributions and for ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work, even ones in which the author was not personally involved, are appropriately investigated, resolved, and documented in the literature. AGU will notify each co-author about a submission and all revisions. For information on authorship policies, visit the AGU Publications Policies page.

Human Studies and Subjects

For manuscripts reporting studies involving human participants, including but extending beyond medical research, journals should require a statement from authors to confirm that the appropriate ethical approval has been received, along with details of the approving ethics committee, and that the study conforms to recognized standards, see for example, Declaration of HelsinkiUS Federal Policy for the Protection of Human SubjectsEuropean Medicines Agency Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice or the Ethical Review Methods for Biomedical Research involving Humans adopted by the National Health and Family Planning Commission of the People’s Republic of China. (Credit: Wiley’s Best Practice Guidelines on Research Integrity and Publishing Ethics)

Reviewing manuscripts is an essential step in the publication process and all scientists have an obligation to do their fair share of reviewing as part of their service to the scientific community. Reviewers provide important expertise to help editors make their final decision on the manuscript. Reviewers for AGU Publications are expected to do the following:

  1. A chosen reviewer who feels inadequately qualified or lacks the time to judge the research reported in a manuscript should return it promptly to the editor. In this case, our editors welcome recommendations for alternate reviewers.
  2. Reviewers should judge objectively the quality of the manuscript and respect the intellectual independence of the authors. A criticism of a published paper may be justified; however, in no case is personal criticism considered acceptable. All reviewers should strive to provide constructive and clear criticism. (For help with phrasing and examples to avoid see the Reviewer Tone Table below.)
  3. A reviewer should be sensitive even to the appearance of a conflict of interest when the manuscript under review is closely related to the reviewer’s work in progress or in a published work. When in doubt, the reviewer should return the manuscript promptly without review, advising the editor of the conflict of interest or bias.
  4. A reviewer should not evaluate a manuscript authored or co-authored by a person with whom the reviewer has a personal or professional connection if the relationship would bias judgment of the manuscript.
  5. A reviewer should treat a manuscript sent for review as a confidential document. The reviewer should not share or discuss the manuscript with others. (An exception to this policy is an official co-review. In an official co-review one or two junior scientists, research assistants, postdocs or similar assist in all stages of the review as a learning experience and are given credit via the reviewer form in the submission system. All other case of collaboration should be run by the editor before sharing the manuscript.)
  6. Reviewers should explain and support their judgments adequately so that editors and authors may understand the basis of their comments. Any statement that an observation, derivation, or argument in a manuscript was previously reported should be accompanied by the relevant citation.
  7. A reviewer should be on the alert to the failure of authors to cite relevant work by other scientists. A reviewer should call to the editor’s attention any substantial similarity between the manuscript under consideration and any published paper or manuscript submitted concurrently to another journal.
  8. Reviewers should not use or disclose unpublished information, arguments, or interpretations contained in a manuscript under consideration, except with the consent of the author. These guidelines regarding unpublished information do not include an author's own preprints.

Reviewer tone table

Please be constructive in your feedback. Review the table below for suggestions on phrasing to avoid and ways to frame constructive comments.

Examples of Review Language

Not Constructive More Constructive Category Explanation

“This paper is unreadable. You didn’t proofread at all.”

“This paper would benefit from a close reading, there are many errors that take away from the clarity of the argument.”

Vague statement

This statement is not constructive. A better statement would elaborate on what needs to change without making judgements about the authors’ effort.

“You need to. . .”

“The authors should. . .”


Reviews are best written in third person (e.g., “they” statements instead of “you”), as the tone in this example can be construed as accusatory.

“The writing is too emotional.”

“The authors are encouraged to use more concise and focused language to underscore the importance of their conclusions.”


This statement is derogatory and focuses on gender stereotypes instead of the science. It also does not offer any constructive guidance on how to adjust the language the reviewer finds problematic.

“The paper needs to be edited by a native English speaker.”

This paper contains numerous grammatical and spelling errors throughout. The authors should consider having the paper reviewed by an editing service. [It is useful to highlight a few examples to illustrate your point, but you should not copyedit the entire paper.]

Culturally insensitive

The stage at which a language is learned does not indicate technical proficiency. Providing a few examples of the types of errors found in the paper will allow the authors to understand and address the errors. Please note that you are not expected to point out every error; providing a few (3-5) examples should be sufficient.

“The authors have no understanding of the literature (or X topic).”

“I recommend reading the following papers, which could better inform the authors’ findings: [list citations].”

Makes assumptions

The statement calls the authors’ qualifications into question instead of elaborating on where the science or writing is lacking.

“This paper contributes nothing to the field.”

“Although this paper's findings are relevant to the field, these findings have already been explored in previous work. The authors are encouraged to review [list citations] to determine a novel approach to their topic.”


This statement makes assumptions about the paper instead of offering guidance to the authors on how they can broaden their research so it may contribute something to the field.

“You’re wrong [or any other negative adjective like stupid, useless, etc.]”

“This was a waste of my time”

"You’re making ridiculous claims.”

These types of comments should be withheld, as they are not constructive.


These comments do not provide feedback authors can use to revise their work. Review comments should give the authors actionable feedback. Review comments should avoid inflammatory and personal attacks.

Bringing personal issues into a review: e.g., “These authors have a history of doing X, this study is useless just like their previous study on Y.”

Personal attacks should always be withheld. Reviews must be objective and unbiased. If a reviewer cannot ensure this, then they should recuse themselves from the review. If any conflicts of interest are present that could impact a review, reviewers must disclose this to the Editor prior to accepting a review invitation.

Personal attack

Reviews should be unbiased, respectful, and constructive. Personal attacks that call an author’s character into question should never be included in a peer review.


Inclusive Practices

AGU is committed to reducing bias in peer review, and we ask our reviewers to minimize the influence that their unconscious biases have on their recommendations by:

  • Focusing on the research in the article, not the author’s attributes such as their name, language, institutional affiliation, nationality, and gender
  • Being aware of potential unconscious biases that you may have
  • Carefully considering the reasons for your recommendation

If you received a review invitation and need to recommend an alternate reviewer, please consider suggesting reviewers that span all career stages, gender, geographic location, race, ethnicity, etc.

For more information on AGU Publications’ diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility efforts, visit our DEIA page.

AGU Editors facilitate the manuscript peer review process and are responsible for the ethical handling of all manuscripts whether accepted, rejected, withdrawn or transferred. AGU editors, including associate editors, guest editors, handling editors, and editors-in-chief are expected to do the following:

  1. The editor of an AGU publication should consider without bias all manuscripts submitted for publication. Each must be judged on intrinsic research merit without regard to race, gender, religious belief, ethnic origin, citizenship, or political philosophy of the author(s).
  2. Editors should not impede the efficient and timely flow of manuscripts through the peer review process.
  3. The editor has complete responsibility and authority to accept a submitted paper for publication or to reject it without interference from any outside influence. The editor confers with associate editors and reviewers to ensure a comprehensive and unbiased evaluation is used in making the decision whether to publish a paper.
  4. An editor should respect the intellectual independence of authors.
  5. AGU’s editorial staff will maintain strict confidentiality of manuscripts under consideration for publication.
  6. They should not disclose any information about a manuscript to anyone other than reviewers and potential reviewers. Reviews and a reviewer’s identity can be shared with other editors of AGU journals only if the author consents to having a paper transferred. With the exception of AGU Advances, which publishes all reviews with permission, our policy prohibits editors from releasing reviews or the identity of reviewers to editors of non-AGU journals.
  7. Editors should avoid situations of real or perceived conflicts of interest. Such conflicts include handling papers from: present and former students; colleagues with whom the editor has recently collaborated; and individuals employed by the editor’s institution.
  8. Editorial responsibility and authority for any manuscript authored by an editor and submitted to the editor’s journal should be delegated to another qualified editor or associate editor of that journal. If an editor chooses to participate in an ongoing scientific debate within his journal, the editor should arrange for another qualified member of the editorial team to assume editorial responsibility.
  9. Unpublished information, arguments, or interpretations disclosed in a submitted manuscript should not be used in an editor’s own research except with the consent of the author.
  10. If an editor is presented with convincing evidence that the main substance or conclusions of a paper published in an editor’s journal are erroneous, the editor should facilitate publication of a correction to the original paper pointing out the error and, if possible, correcting it.

Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit. For the purposes of AGU Publication ethics, this should include anything that can be found within a manuscript, data, figures, text, methods and any other documented aspects of the manuscript may be plagiarized.

AGU journals use plagiarism detection software from iThenticate upon submission to help identify any duplication in submitted manuscripts.


Self-plagiarism, the act of reproducing your own work without significant changes for the current science and submission, is also a violation of our plagiarism standards. It potentially constitutes dual publication or prior publication. Including a few identical sentences from your own previous paper is not likely to be considered plagiarism; any material quoted verbatim should be placed within quotation marks with appropriate citation. Author reuse of figures from prior published work is often acceptable, please refer to the publisher’s reuse guidelines for more information. For example, AGU allows the reuse of a few figures from prior papers published in AGU journals with proper attribution without acquiring formal permission. However, including significant portions of your own work—whether text, datasets or the majority of figures —without acknowledging the source is unacceptable and could also violate copyrights.

For policies on Copyright and Permissions, Dual Publication Policy, and Duplicate Submissions see AGU Publications Policies.

The editors or authors of AGU books are now required to complete a simple professional conduct self-disclosure form.

This is an opportunity to disclose any past allegations or institutional proceedings resulting in a finding of professional misconduct, or any current formal complaints related to professional conduct, even if the matter is still pending.

This disclosure is required starting in January 2020 following implementation of AGU’s revised Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics Policy PDF icon. This Policy includes a Code of Conduct that sets expectations for professional conduct related to harassment, bullying, and other scientific misconduct issues.

Concurrent with finalizing the book contract with Wiley, all relevant editors and authors will be invited to complete and return the form to the AGU ethics inbox.

This applies to editors or authors of books across all AGU series. It is not a requirement for authors of chapters within edited volumes.

A self-disclosure does not automatically disqualify someone from publishing with AGU, but each disclosure will receive a review and follow-up discussion if there are areas of concern.

Appeals and Complaints

AGU follows COPE guidelines for transparency in our appeals and complaints policy to maintain the highest ethical standards for our publications. The appeal and complaint procedure detailed below allows authors, reviewers, editors, and others involved in the peer review process to report ethical issues and appeal decisions. This process is intended to provide a formal process for dealing with ethical issues and decision appeals and ensure that the process is clearly defined and consistent across journals. All complaints and investigations are held confidential. We do not share the details of ongoing investigations with those who are not directly involved.

Appealing an Editorial Decision

If you feel that the decision on your manuscript was made unfairly and would like to appeal, you may start by contacting the journal inbox. Please include the manuscript number and a description of your appeal or request for additional information. The steps for an appeal of a final decision are listed below.

  1. Appeal is received in the journal inbox.
  2. Program Manager reviews complaint and shares with Editor, Associate Editor (if applicable), and Editor-in-Chief for assessment.
  3. Editor, Associate Editor, or Editor-in-Chief provide a response to the complainant, which the Program Manager e-mails on their behalf from the journal inbox.
  4. If the complainant is not satisfied, they may file a formal complaint.
  5. If a formal complaint is filed, the Program Manager shares the information with Ethics Manager.
  6. The formal complaint is evaluated by the Ethics Manager and Operations Director.
  7. The complaint may be escalated to the Vice President, Publications. VP responds or takes to the AGU Publications Committee.
  8. If the complainant is not satisfied with response from VP, it may be escalated to the Publications Committee. The Publications Committee Ombudsman Group will provide a final response signed by the group.

Most issues will be resolved at the level of editor or editor-in-chief. All appeals will be reviewed by the editor-in-chief and handling editor and will receive a response.

Ethical Complaints

AGU Publications requires all authors, reviewers and editorial staff to behave ethically and avoid any improper behavior. If you are aware of scientific misconduct or if you have been subject to improper behavior during the peer review process, you may submit a formal complaint. The following ethical complaints related to the publication and peer review of manuscripts by AGU Publications may be sent to the journal inbox with a copy to [email protected].

  • Plagiarism, fabrication & falsification
  • Complaints against the Editor-in-Chief, Editor, Associate Editor, or Reviewer
  • Harassment
  • Authorship Disputes
  • Inappropriate use of data
  • Conflicts of Interest

All complaints will be evaluated by the ethics manager with input by the journal editors (where appropriate) and director of publications operations. These cases will be escalated according to the steps below.

  1. Complainant sends allegation to journal inbox and ethics inbox.
  2. Ethics Manager evaluates complaint and obtains additional information to determine whether the case can be evaluated.
  3. Editor, Associate Editor, or Editor-in-Chief evaluates, provides a response to the complainant, which the Ethics Manager e-mails on their behalf from the journal inbox.
  4. If the complainant is not satisfied, Ethics Manager asks if they want to file a formal complaint.
  5. If complainant wants to file a formal complaint, Ethics Manager collects the necessary information.
  6. Ethics Manager and Director of Publications Operations review the complaint, with the Editor-in-Chief as appropriate, prepare a response or escalate to the Vice President of Publications or AGU Ethics, depending on the nature of the complaint.
  7. If the complainant is not satisfied with response from AGU Ethics or VP, escalate the complaint to the AGU Publications Committee. The Publications Committee Ombudsman Group will provide a final response signed by the group.

AGU journals, with the exception of the Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems, will consider for publication comments on papers that have previously appeared in the journal. For the sake of relevance, comments should generally be made on papers published fewer than 5 years ago. The editor of the journal determines whether a comment meets the standards for publication and may elect to decline a comment without further consideration or require revisions before further consideration. If the editor decides to go forward with consideration of a comment, a reply by the author of the paper commented upon will also be considered for publication. Both comments and replies will be refereed to ensure that

  1. the comment addresses significant aspects of the original paper without becoming essentially a new paper;
  2. the reply responds directly to the comment without becoming evasive; and
  3. the tone of each is appropriate for a scientific journal.

A comment will first be reviewed by the editor to determine if it meets the above criteria and can be sent out for review. Once the comment is close to acceptance it will be sent to the author of the original paper, who will be given the opportunity to write a reply. The editor will provide a deadline for receipt of the reply in order to ensure prompt publication of the discussion. If a reply is submitted within the reasonable deadline, the editor will have the reply reviewed. If the original author chooses not to submit a reply or is unwilling to respond within the time frame set by the editor, the editor may elect to publish the comment without a reply.

At this point, a final decision will be made whether to publish the comment and the reply. If it is decided to proceed with publication, both the comment and reply will be posted online on the same day. Both authors will receive copies of the final manuscripts before publication.

Comments and replies will be limited to half the length of the original published paper.  Note that there are no publication fees associated with comments or their replies.