This scenario is based on “What is Responsible Peer Review?” http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/rcr/rcr_authorship/case/index.html#2, which is based on the “Confidentiality vs. Mentor Responsibilities: A Conflict of Obligations” scenario, http://onlineethics.org/reseth/appe/vol3/conflictobligations.html, which is based on a real incident.
This scenario highlights several issues in the peer review of manuscripts submitted for publication:
• Conflict of interest in the role of the reviewer
• Confidentiality of information in the manuscript
• Role of the adviser in the professional development of a graduate student
Although this scenario is not based on a single actual incident, each of the scenario’s elements occurs frequently in research in science and engineering.
When a research subfield is small, a journal editor may be unable to avoid choosing a reviewer who has a conflict of interest with an author of a manuscript. The conflict of interest may bias the judgment of the reviewer. A conflict may be particularly difficult when the reviewer and the author compete with each other for priority in making discoveries or advances in the subfield. In this case, the reviewer might be tempted to delay publication of the rival author’s manuscript by recommending extensive revisions. A reviewer who has a serious conflict of interest should decline to review the manuscript and should return it promptly to the editor. The reviewer may nominate alternate reviewers.
Busy professors who are asked to review manuscripts often refer the reviewing task to one of their graduate students. The task enables the student to learn about the publication process, and to learn how to evaluate a manuscript, under the supervision of the professor. Before referring the reviewing task, however, the professor should obtain the consent of the journal editor to a change in the reviewer. The editor may have had a specific reason for selecting the professor as the reviewer.
A reviewer may wish to apply the ideas in the unpublished manuscript in his or her own research projects. Although the Society for Neuroscience guidelines, for example, allow a researcher to stop an unproductive line of research based on the manuscript’s findings, in general, a reviewer should not take advantage of the manuscript’s ideas before they are published.
Gunsalus, C. K.; Loui, M. C.; and C. K. Gunsalus, M. C. Loui, and their students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, "Responsible Conduct of Research Role-Plays: Peer Review" (2009). Ethics in Science and Engineering National Clearinghouse. Paper 266.
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