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While writing a paper I discussed its first draft with a certain colleague (he is from a different university, so it is not likely that he will be automatically ruled out as a reviewer as suggested in the Visoft's answer). He made a few helpful suggestions but by and large didn't like the paper: he would like the results to be compared with the ones one could obtain using his favorite method -- but this is a separate piece of hard work, and his favorite method is, to put it mildly, far from being universally recognized by the community of experts in the field.

I would like to acknowledge his helpful suggestions in the paper but at the same time I would like to rule him out as a possible reviewer (some journals give you an opportunity to let them know whom the paper should NOT be sent for review).

QUESTION: How should one word the acknowledgment of this colleague's helpful suggestions in the paper in a way compatible with excluding him as a possible reviewer, so that the editor who will handle the paper does not get confused by the whole situation and honors my request to exclude this person from the list of possible reviewers?

Also, which is the best way to state the reason for excluding this person from the list of reviewers (conflict of interests, or something else)?

Thanks in advance.

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There are at least some editors out there who will categorically exclude everyone acknowledged as a reviewer. I was once (jokingly) suggesting to my coauthors to thank a certain potential reviewer just for this reason. Of course, this is nothing you can count on. –  Wrzlprmft Feb 17 at 17:07
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4 Answers

First of all, I assume that you do not mean "colleague" in the narrow sense of someone at your institution? That would make a (nearly?) universally inappropriate choice of reviewer, right?

Regarding your question: I must admit that I don't have much direct experience with "suggested excluded reviewers". I am almost never asked that question on papers I submit; I think I might have done so once: when I did it, the idea was to help out the editors by pointing to someone that they might have thought had a lot of directly relevant expertise but that I knew would not actually be so interested in reviewing the work in question. The point is that I interpreted this as a (ever so slightly pathetic, I might add: I think this occurred at, by far, the lowest quality journal I have ever submitted to) request from the editors for me to help them out in finding a good person for the job, not excluding potential reviewers for "conflict of interest" reasons.

Because of this I am not totally clear on what constitutes a "conflict of interest" for a reviewer: in doing any referee work one volunteers to give one's professional opinion. I don't have any "academic enemies", but moreover I once recommended for rejection a paper by one of my closest friends: and it was a very good paper; I just thought that it was not good enough for the journal to which it was submitted. (Because I knew the person I also felt that he could get a better publication by working on it a little longer, and in fact that is what happened: about a year later he published a magnificent paper in a higher quality journal.) Oh, back to you: is it clear that your colleague would actually be an inappropriate referee for the paper? Were his opinions about doing the alternate method actually fully professional opinions, or is that just his more personal reaction to the paper, reading it in terms of his own interests? Moreover, does his alternate perspective really lack validity in some sense? If so, then wouldn't a good editor not choose him anyway?

To summarize the above: it is not clear to me that "X already read my paper, and he didn't like it so much" is a sufficient reason to exclude X as a potential referee. You wonder what the language of exclusion should be, and I agree: you'll have to work a little harder to paint this as a conflict of interest: I'm not seeing that.

But okay, now a direct answer: well, they asked you if there's anyone you'd like to exclude, so it's really up to them to evaluate the reasons. If you don't want this person to review your paper I would say so using exactly the reasons you've told us: then it is up to the editors to decide whether to grant your request.

Let me give one other piece of advice which may seem a little shady at first but which I claim is mostly practical:

Consider not acknowledging your colleague in the first version of the paper you submit, knowing that you will put this acknowledgment back in the published version.

Concerning this, let me first say that you cannot do it if his contributions were beyond a certain point: it would then simply be academic dishonesty. But many acknowledgments are subjective largesse: you have not just won an Academy Award, so you don't thank every single person that helped you.

Anyway, the reason why I recommend this if it is possible is to short-circuit the dopey editorial practice -- which I have seen happen several times -- that the editors send a paper to a certain reviewer because she is explicitly acknowledged. What a frustratingly lazy practice this is.

The editors who ask the author's opinion on referees tend (in my direct experience) to be lazy types, who just might choose someone in the acknowledgments...and might do so thinking they are doing you a favor! So the idea of delaying the acknowledgment to forestall a bad editorial choice seems ethically defensible to me. Finally, if the editors are asking for the author's opinion perhaps they will also ask you for especially plausible referees? If so you should think hard and suggest really good choices: i.e., the most qualified people, not necessarily the ones who would like your paper the best.

Added: After airing out my advice to unacknowledge your former collaborator X, I am having trouble standing by it. Based on what you say there is a good chance that X actually would be the referee, and if he can then see that your paper has been modified according to his advice but that you have not mentioned him, then it is possible that he might be personally hurt by it and that this might come out in the referee report. I think the "unacknowledgment" suggested above is only feasible if the version of the paper you're submitting does not bear any mark of X's helpful suggestions. As I said, whether X is an appropriate referee for your paper really is up to the editors to decide. You can help them out by giving them all the appropriate information. Doing much more than that could be ethically problematic...

Added: Upon further reflection I can only clearly remember the practice of being asked to referee a paper in which I was acknowledged happening once. I'm sorry for the inaccuracy. However that one time was from a leading journal, and I made sure to ask whether the editor was aware that I had been acknowledged in the paper, and he was.

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Thanks a lot. The colleague is not from the same institution (I've edited the post to reflect that), and we have coauthored a paper some years ago, so if this changes anything in your advice, please let me know. I especially appreciate the remark on sending the paper for review to those acknowledged in the paper: it appears that this practice is more common than I believed. –  just-learning Feb 17 at 15:11
    
Just to clarify: I haven't submitted the paper yet, but quite a few journals in their online submission forms ask you for the suggested reviewers and for the people to whom the paper should not be sent for review, although of course there always is a disclaimer that the editors are under no obligation to follow these suggestions. –  just-learning Feb 17 at 15:22
    
Re edit of the answer: Please don't worry too much, his advice wasn't all that specific: the main outcome of it was that I had to rewrite the introduction to make certain things clearer and avoid some misunderstandings. –  just-learning Feb 17 at 15:43
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learning, welcome to Academia StackExchange.

In my opinion you should add the name of your colleague to the acknowledgment section of your paper because he gave constructive hints:

"The authors would like to thank Mr. xxx for the helpful suggestions regarding chapter X, " etc.

Most of the editors rule out automatically reviewers based on their affiliations or proximity with the authors (previous work together, previous shared affiliations, etc). So there are very small chances that a colleague of yours be your reviewer. I only heard of this situation once, on some conference.

If the journal asks you for a list of possible/avoidable reviewers you can list him/her here. However, the list is just a suggestion and the editor might choose another reviewers. Best reason for reviewer rejection is, in your situation, to explain that you worked together.

On a side note, you might mention other methods and rule them out based on some (semi)objective criteria (rarely used, without available implementation, debatable, etc). Anyway, be prepared to accept the reviewer's comments even if they require implementing some rare and weird techniques.

Hope it helps!

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Thanks for the warm welcome. By using the word "colleague" I did NOT mean we are at the same university, so unfortunately your argument doesn't apply. I have edited the question to clarify this point. –  just-learning Feb 17 at 14:41
    
How about sharing the same country? Or doing previous work together? Or somebody from your collective publishing together with someone from his research group? Is he/she a well known contributor to the field? –  visoft Feb 17 at 14:46
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He is fairly well known in the narrow subfield my paper belongs to, and we have a joint paper written some years ago. –  just-learning Feb 17 at 14:49
    
I think he will not be considered for reviewing your paper. –  visoft Feb 17 at 14:55
    
Let's hope you are right :) –  just-learning Feb 17 at 15:06
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As has been suggested by others it is easy to exclude people from being reviewers. You usually provide a cover letter for your submission and you can point out that certain persons have been involved with the work but are not authors. You can thank the person any way you want in the acknowledgement. A person who is involved in work and who is asked to review a paper should also decline with the obvious excuse that they have a conflict of interest. Thus everyone in the process has some obligation to keep reviews on track and objective. It is furthermore possible and even requested at the time of submission to list persons who may have conflict of interest or who are "non-preferred reviewers" due, for example, to personal conflicts etc.

So to answer the main question. you can phrase the acknowledgement anyway you want, it is not the place to list people who may have a conflict of interest, you should do this in the cover letter or, if the submission system provides it, when non-preferred reviewers should be listed. The cover letter, is however, the best place since you can describe the problem to the editor.

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It is a normal procedure. When sending a manuscript together with the letter to the editor, it is normally possible to list several researchers or laboratories as competitors, not appropriate for the reviewing of this publication. This is especially appropriate if topics overlap and a lot depends on who will publish first.

The editor will simply pick some other competent reviewers.

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