6

Suppose that Alice has a PhD but then left academia more than a decade ago. Alice has written a short paper on a topic unrelated to her thesis. Suppose moreover that :

  • the paper has been submitted a few months ago to a respectable journal, and is currently under review as per the submission system

  • the paper has not been put on the arXiv (both for fear of publicly claiming something that turns out incorrect and having to retract it, and of being scooped by someone with access to a fast-track journal)

Now Alice fears the review process may take a few more months at least, and really wants to know very soon whether or not the paper is indeed correct (it does feel so, but maybe something has been overlooked).

The question is then : how to indentify an academic that would be

  • of impecable ethical standards (no risk whatsoever of scooping the paper)

  • willing to have a cursory look within a few days (not a proper review, but maybe half an hour to think about it) and say whether or not it may well work

Or would you just submit to the arXiv, and accept to look like a fool if you have to retract it the next day ?

  • 6
    What result is Alice hoping for here? Probably the best she can hope for is that someone writes back and replies: "I had a brief look; I don't see anything obviously wrong with it, and the approach looks plausible to me." Would she be satisfied with such a response? – academic Oct 22 at 21:34
  • Yes, precisely. Anything that helps lower the wait for the referee's report. – Archie Oct 23 at 4:41
  • Unfortunately there is probably no way to lower the wait. If Alice's approach is plausible and well-written, then an expert might say so -- but would not check every detail, nor vouch for the correctness of the proof. Conversely, if the paper is poorly written, then experts are unfortunately not likely to read the paper or reply. – academic Oct 24 at 15:40
23

First of all:

no risk whatsoever of scooping the paper

It's never possible to achieve "no risk whatsoever" when dealing with human beings. The best way to trust a person is to know them for a long time, but even that is no guarantee.

However, I don't think scooping is a serious concern in this scenario. Alice has already submitted the paper, which is about the best possible way to establish priority. Moreover, if the person were to go on to publish the results, even if they claimed to have discovered them independently, Alice would be able to show that in fact she had sent her preprint to that person, so they were well aware of her work. Similar logic applies to the possibility of posting to arXiv - I don't think fear of scooping is a good reason to avoid that.

In general, looking over a paper informally is something that one does as a favor. I wouldn't hold out hope that a stranger would agree to do it for someone they don't know. I think about all Alice could do is to look for people who would be well qualified (e.g. who have done related work in the field, and possibly whom she cites), send them the preprint with a polite request, and be prepared for lots of polite refusals.

But I also think this is a particularly poor time in the paper's lifecycle to make such a request. Alice would be asking them to duplicate work that is already being done more thoroughly by the referee, for no better reason than to satisfy Alice's impatience. It would have made more sense to ask before submitting the paper. At this point, I think Alice should be patient and wait for the referee report on her paper. If it gets rejected, she should make her best efforts to improve the paper, and then consider trying to have someone informally review it before resubmitting.

  • Thank you for this realistic answer. – Archie Oct 23 at 4:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.