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I sent a paper to a good journal with other coauthors. Some days ago, one of my coauthors was sent an invitation to review this paper. Is this logical? I mean, has anybody of you ever received an invitation to review your own paper?

Some months ago, the same occurred with another paper in another good journal. I declined the invitation explaining that I was an author and I suggested other reviewers.

But, as I got a similar invitation now, I ask whether this is a usual practice...

  • 14
    Seems very weird. Also, seems foolish for anyone to try. It is hard enough to properly edit your own work. – Buffy Mar 20 at 14:42
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    This sounds like a major failing on the part of the journal. – Tobias Kildetoft Mar 20 at 14:53
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    I suppose this could happen if the journal were using triple-blind review, where the editor does not see the names of the authors. – Nate Eldredge Mar 20 at 15:51
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    I'm going to speculate on a possible cause. Maybe they are using some automated system that does a poor job of disambiguating similar names. – Buffy Mar 20 at 16:32
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    I would accept the invitation, and immediately submitted the review with only one sentence: "as an author of the reviewed paper, I of course recommend it for publication". Let the editors figure out what the heck just happened :D – corey979 Mar 22 at 9:53
66

It's absolutely not usual practice and a clear case of the editor in charge being asleep at the wheel. This should not be happening: An editor's job is to find impartial reviewers and asking an author (or even someone close to the author) is definitely failing at this job.

Just the same, it is unethical for you to accept such invitations. Politely point out that you are an author of the paper and that, therefore, it would clearly be a conflict of interest for you to review the paper.

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    +1 I heard of this happening once, and it contributed to the editor in question being dismissed. – Allure Mar 21 at 2:27
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    I do not see why it would be unethical for one to review one's own paper. Just write a short note explaining that you highly recommend it for publication as is and that if you did not feel that way you would not have submitted it for publication. The editor is not bound to follow your recommendation and can solicit more reviewers if appropriate. – emory Mar 21 at 19:20
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    @emory : Are you joking? – MPW Mar 21 at 20:57
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    @MPW no. if you write an honest and candid review which includes your relation to the paper in question, then what is unethical about it? – emory Mar 21 at 21:10
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    @emory: The whole point of peer review is that your peers review your work. You do get that, right? – Ink blot Mar 22 at 13:16
28

I've had this happen before to a coauthor (they were neither the first nor last author in a list of ~6), who contacted the editor replying that obviously they couldn't review the paper.

We had a little chuckle over it and moved on. Probably the editor was a bit embarrassed by their error, otherwise no harm done. I presume they used a list of previous reviewers the journal had contacted on the topic of our paper and missed that they were actually an author on the submitted work, or maybe they made a cognitive switch and started typing a name they just read was an author instead of the reviewer they intended to type.

I think the other answers are being a bit harsh towards the editor: they clearly made a mistake, but no reasonable author would ever review their own paper and this shouldn't cause any real problem. No, this is not a usual practice, but it happens at low frequency when people are busy. It's good you are producing enough work to have it happen to you or your colleagues twice.

As mentioned in comments, if your subfield practices triple-blind review where the editor is blinded to the identity of the authors then it is even more likely such errors could occur (and be less the fault of the editor) if imprecise software is used to exclude possible reviewers.

  • Who uses triple-blind review? – jakebeal Mar 21 at 14:16
  • @jakebeal It's not common in my field, but just from Academia.SE I've seen it mentioned as common for journals in philosophy, occasionally math. In medicine at least the BMJ mentions it but it's not clear to me which of their journals actually practices it. – Bryan Krause Mar 21 at 14:35
19

Obviously, one should never, ever receive an invitation to review one's own paper, since that would make a mockery of peer review. Indeed, reviewing one's own paper is a good reason for retraction.

On a paper with a vast number of middle authors (e.g., one of those 1000+ author papers), I can certainly imagine this happening by mistake. In a typical mathematics paper, however, the number of authors is never more than a handful, and so it would be difficult to make such a mistake without either a) a spectacular degree of inattention, or b) a terrible review system interface.

With a sufficiently lazy or inept editor or with sufficiently terrible software, however, any degree of mistake is possible.

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    It's possible there could be two "Prof. John Smiths" both working in the same field, but it would still be more than careless to invite the "wrong" one to review his own paper! – alephzero Mar 20 at 18:15
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    @alephzero : I'm guessing one could check email and affiliation before sending review request. In other words, homonyms are not an excuse for this mistake. – Mefitico Mar 21 at 13:49
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    I've seen a case of two people with the same first and last name in the same field in the same group... – gerrit Mar 21 at 15:17
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You should state a conflict of interest to the editor.
I am sure they will realize that it is unrealistic to expect you to be neutral while reviewing the paper.

Seriously: They did not pay enough attention. Such things happen sometimes, but you cannot take advantage from it without facing consequences sooner or later.

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