Reviewing your own article. I imagine no one would try to argue it’s not an ethical violation to review your own article. And yet, people do it, by setting up fake gmail account and requesting that person as a reviewer. As an editor it must be great at first – many reviewers take a while to respond to a request to review, often say no, and then need to be nagged to return their review (what? I’m not necessarily describing myself…). But in this case, the author suggested a reviewer, who then returned a review almost immediately.
Conflict of interest. Sometimes it’s obvious that there’s a conflict of interest. You know you shouldn’t review papers by your colleagues, your current students, your spouse. But there are less clear lines. What about a paper by someone you were friends with in graduate school 17 years ago, for instance? A former student who has been working independently from you for decades? By the time you reach a certain point in your career, you know the majority of people working in a similar area, so you can’t excuse yourself every time you know the author. When in doubt, you can always get the editor’s advice on whether you should excuse yourself or not.
Confidentiality of authors. Much of the time, our reviews are double blinded, so we don’t know the author and the author doesn’t know us. Again, the field is relatively small, so sometimes even with double blinded review, we recognize the author by his sample or methods. If you don’t know who the author is, it wouldn’t be ethical to purposefully try to figure out who it is.
Confidentiality of reviewers. A paper that we read for class said that it was unethical for the reviewer to directly contact the author. I have never done so, nor have I ever felt the urge to do so. However, I do remember many years ago that a colleague said that she was given the same paper to review three times by three different journals. She said that each time the author failed to adequately direct her prior comments. So, she finally contacted the author, a junior scholar, to help her revise the paper and then eventually the author was able to publish it.
Reviewers requesting self-citation. Occasionally, an editor or reviewer will ask an author to cite him. I was recently at a professional development brown bag where a colleague said that he thought this practice was unethical, because the reviewer or editor has power in this situation. I tend to agree with this colleague. If an author has cited appropriate literature in an area, it’s best not to ask that he also cite you, even if you are slightly offended that your very important work wasn’t cited. The only exception I can think of is when an author says that there is no work in a particular area, and you have work in that area. In this case, I think it’s appropriate to direct the author to your work, and any other relevant work in this area.
Signing reviews. Soon after grad school, one of my grad school friends started signing all of his reviews. His logic was that he didn’t want to send anything that he wouldn’t say personally to someone. It was a great, laudable practice, but eventually he stopped because he felt that senior people were at times holding it against him.
We had a whole other class on manuscript reviewing more generally, so I’ll have more to say then. Until then, if you haven’t already seen it, a bit of peer review humor to help you survive this never-ending winter.
The post "Ethical issues in peer review first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz's blog on March 3, 2015."