You are here

HEI’s Processes for Special Reports


The Special Reports of the Health Effects Institute present comprehensive and state-of-the-science reviews of research on air pollution and its health effects, including research on exposure assessment, accountability, statistical and other methods, global air pollution issues, epidemiology, and other health-related studies. They are prepared by expert panels (“Special Panel”) appointed by the HEI Board of Directors and assisted by HEI scientific staff. Before publication, the reports are peer-reviewed independently by outside experts (“Review Panel”) in the area of knowledge pertinent to the report, as explained in detail below.


Editorial Board

An expert Review Panel (which functions as the Editorial Board) for Special Reports is convened by HEI for each report. The Panel members — who have not been involved in the preparation of the reports — are recruited by an HEI scientist, who has also not been involved in writing the report and who manages the review process. The Review Panel’s composition depends on the breadth of the report, perspectives of the reviewers, and specific areas to be covered, and generally comprises 4 to 10 members.

Peer-Review Process

The peer reviewers on the Review Panel are asked to comment on the final draft of the Special Report, as follows:

  • whether the evidence gathered and summarized is complete and impartial;
  • whether the interpretations and conclusions are supported by the evidence;
  • whether any important lines of evidence have been neglected; and
  • whether the text, tables, and graphics are clearly presented.

In some cases, HEI may ask peer-reviewers to focus on specific chapters or sections of the Special Report in the area of expertise of the reviewer. If the Special Report includes detailed statistical analyses or sections that focused on specialized areas, HEI asks appropriate experts (e.g., in biostatistics) to review those sections. A compilation of anonymized external reviewers’ comments is sent to the authors, who are asked to respond to these comments and revise the report.

The Editor-in-Chief is the final authority on all editorial decisions.


HEI’s Special Reports are prepared and authored by Special Panels comprising experts appointed by the HEI Board of Directors and assisted by HEI scientific staff.

Conflict of Interest

HEI requires members of the Special Panels developing these reports to disclose any actual or potential conflicts of interest. Panel members are asked to report financial relationships with entities in the exposure science or environmental health arenas that could be perceived to influence, or that give the appearance of potentially influencing, the research described in the final report. 

Special Panel members are required to report all sources of revenue paid (or promised to be paid) directly to them or their institution on their behalf over the past 36 months greater than $3,000. They should disclose any personal fees (monies paid to them for services rendered, such as honoraria, royalties, or fees for consulting, lectures, speakers bureaus, or expert testimony) and non-financial support (e.g., reagents or equipment, travel costs, etc.). They should also report any patents — whether planned, pending, or issued — broadly relevant to the work, and any other financial relationships or activities, including investment interests (stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments and investments, including partnerships).

Sample disclaimer to be added to the final report submitted to HEI:

This report was prepared by a Special Panel appointed by the HEI Board of Directors. Each Panel member was required to submit a disclosure of conflict of interest before their appointment.

If there is no disclosure, HEI will publish the following statement: “No potential conflict of interest was reported by the Special Panel.”

Human and Animal Rights, and Informed Consent

HEI Special Reports are not the result of original research and, therefore, do not require statements regarding human and animal rights and informed consent.

Data-Sharing Policy

Throughout its history, HEI has had a commitment to transparency and data access, which extends to making data from HEI-funded studies available for reanalysis, replication, and extended analyses by others. HEI maintains a strong policy on facilitating access to underlying data and methods for the studies it funds. (See HEI’s data access policy.)

A similar approach applies to other HEI projects, such as literature reviews published in Special Reports. To promote data access and transparency, HEI actively supports the following activities:

  • Creation of databases compiled for large research programs and other key studies, such as those accompanying Research Report 94 (NMMAPS), Samet et al.; Research Report 178 (NPACT), Vedal et al.; Research Report 130 (RIOPA), Weisel et al.; Research Report 192 (MOSES), Frampton et al.; and Research Report 199, Wang et al., providing access to those data for other researchers. 
  • Reanalyses of studies with regulatory importance in response to requests from government, industry, and others. See for example the following Special Reports: Reanalysis of the Harvard Six Cities Study and the American Cancer Society Study of Particulate Air Pollution and MortalityRevised Analyses of Time-Series Studies of Air Pollution and Health; and Diesel Emissions and Lung Cancer: An Evaluation of Recent Epidemiological Evidence for Quantitative Risk Assessment. Such reanalyses have evaluated the overall strengths and weaknesses of the original studies and, in some cases, their suitability for use in quantitative risk assessment. 
  • Future efforts (e.g., the upcoming Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Selected Health Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Traffic-Related Air Pollution) aimed at making available the detailed protocol that was followed in identifying relevant scientific papers and procedures for assessing their quality and inclusion in the review, as well as all results and data tables.
  • Extended analyses to further delve into scientific questions raised by original work, especially in the area of accountability research, that have provided important insights regarding the original findings. (See, for example, Research Reports 176, Dockery et al.; 170, Wong et al.; and 148, Peel et al.)

Going forward, HEI plans to emphasize such efforts by continuing to identify and promote approaches to data sharing, discuss how to make data more widely available, and identify challenges to data sharing in the context of confidentiality and other privacy protections. 


HEI’s policy on correcting errors in its published reports is as follows: A corrected PDF is posted on the HEI website with the date of revision.