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I have to review a paper for a journal that is on some work related to a paper I published 2-3 years ago.

The authors do not cite and compare our work although they try to solve the same problem. In particular they use a similar fairly innovative way for the field to treat the input data, as we and another publication did, but they cite neither of these 2 papers.

Is it an issue of conflict of interest if I ask at least for a citation of these two papers that are preexisting (and one of which is mine), and ask also for a performance comparison with at least one of the competing methods?

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    Why not report the paper for not including “latest or relevant material” in the literature survey and lacking relevant analysis? – Solar Mike Jun 26 at 6:41
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    Ahhh nice!!! That is a good response! It is the 1st paper that I review so I am not aware of possible responses I can rightfully give. – ii.iiii Jun 26 at 6:43
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    Thank you for accepting my answer. It is recommended to wait for around 24 hours before accepting one, so that more people have time to answer and see the question, also those living on the different side of the globe. – Tommi Jun 26 at 9:03
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    I think Solar Mike's comment is to simplistic. The editor knows who you are, so they might consider that you just want citations. And the authors might use it to make guesses who you are. And if they have reasonable arguments to refute your demand to cite the paper, the editor might be more inclined if they think you just listed it because it is your paper. So: Ask for it to be cited, but only if you would do so also if it weren't your paper. – user151413 Jun 26 at 19:21
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    @PatrickT The last sentence does not seem to make much sense to me. To the editor, you are not anonymous anyway (but of course, you can stress it in a comment intended solely for the editor), and with regard to the authors, you might not want to disclose your identity (or hints about it). – user151413 Jun 27 at 19:33
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If you are absolutely certain that you know (say) two papers which are clearly relevant for their work, you should state it:

The authors should comment on the work presented in [1, 2] and how their work improves on that or is different.

Add more details if you want to be helpful to the authors; for example, if the work [1, 2] uses a very different methodology than the present paper, you may want to offer a bit more detail to help the authors out. But it is voluntary. Also, whatever you write might end up copy-pasted in the final paper.

If you are not absolutely sure the papers are the most relevant and would improve the paper, you might still write:

The authors may want to comment the related work [1, 2].

maybe with more qualifications or detail. You can certainly make friendly suggestions, but given the power relations in play, you should explicitly mark them as voluntary improvements or such.

Also consider that there might be a lot of related literature that would be as appropriate to discuss as yours and the authors had to cut off their literature review at some point. In such a case, asking them to cite your paper in particular seems suspect. You should adjust the certainty of your recommendations according to how well you know the field.

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  • Although I nice solution, the author should also check with the review publication about their conflict of interest policy. That might require a statement such as "Reviewer X is a co- author of [1]". Such a statement would be fair to the review's reader in any case. – vk5tu Jun 27 at 12:09
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    @vk5tu: It would almost never be appropriate to put a statement about the reviewer’s identity in the review. (It would be appropriate to mention your authorship to the editor, as mentioned in some answers). – RLH Jun 27 at 15:48
  • Ah, the Q said peer review, I'd read that as a published review of a work. In the peer review case, yeah, you'd mention that to the editor, and I think you'd also need to make the addition of the citation a mere suggestion which the author could decline without penalty to publication. If there was no editorial process for such suggestions then you'd be best off declining the peer review. – vk5tu Jun 28 at 3:00
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Well, of course there is some conflict of interest if you recommend citation of your own papers.

If your paper is objectively relevant, that trumps such concerns. Having published a related paper makes you a good reviewer of this paper. But your review would be less useful if you couldn't point out related papers only because you authored these. As long as you keep in mind that this is a slippery slope and are aware of and transparent about your conflict of interest, there shouldn't be an issue.

So, in the comments to the authors, I would explain in more detail than usual, why the paper is relevant. I would also in the comments to the editor point out that and why you recommended one of your own papers to the authors.

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    Actually I got to review the paper for the very reason that my paper is relevant to this one. I know the editor and we were recently discussing my paper to see whether there is room for collaboration, so he knows the approach we proposed with dealing with measurement data (that is the same as this paper proposes). The subsequent analysis of all three papers I am mentioning is different, but they solve the same problem and treat the data in the same "innovative" for the field way – ii.iiii Jun 26 at 7:55
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I review quite a lot of papers. I had such a case only once. In general, I am somewhat sceptical about those batches of "please also cite" in a reviewer's recommendation with one particular name on all of them. Some journals are also actively working against such requests from reviewers.

So, to avoid all those ethical issues and to be absolutely sure it's not my only judgment, I did this:

Mention it to the editor

In quite all review forms there are two fields. Comments to the author (the actual review) and comments to the editor that are not shown to the author. I wrote in the review something along the lines

It is not reasonable to say in line 1234 that the presented method is a "novel breakthrough", because there have been other methods better in performance (but totally different in nature). A reference to such a paper is available from the editor.

In the editor comments I wrote something like:

I would like the authors to compare their approach to the method XYZ [citation]. I find it relevant and of interest. However, as I coauthored this paper, I leave it at your discretion to communicate or not to communicate this citation to the authors.

By the way, my paper was not mentioned in the decision letter, but reviewed paper was rejected, so it did not matter much.

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    I'm not sure this helps. If at all, I feel this actually compromises the review anonymity if the editor decides to give the reference to the author, by implying that the reviewer is the author of the paper given by the editor. That is, unless you do this for all mentions of papers in your review, which feels odd. Anyway, which field is yours in? – justhalf Jun 28 at 4:41
  • That was in data science. Well, if editor feels the same way you do, they can just paste the reference in place of "available from editor". Notice that the direct statement of coauthorship goes to the editor, it is not in the blind review. And yes, a bunch of papers with the same one author on all of them in the khem... "citation recommendation" totally does not break the review anonymity. ;) – Oleg Lobachev Jun 28 at 14:57
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The authors do not cite and compare our work although they try to solve the same problem. In particular they use a similar fairly innovative way for the field to treat the input data, as we and another publication did, but they cite neither of these 2 papers.

In the case of close proximity and (f)actual relevance, I do not see a problem - it is scientifically justified to provide insight and highlight overlap. I am slightly concerned, however, whether just addressing the same research question is enough. In even moderately populated (-ar) fields, it is impossible and even undesirable to cite all relevant literature, and citations along the lines of "X also does Y, period" may be seen as redundant, not supporting the paper narrative or social gestures. In such a case, unless there is an evident methodology or results link, which factually adds something to the narrative, I would think longer about suggesting a self-citation, even if the intention is perfectly benevolent. Bottom line, would it really add something, or is it one of those interchangeable citations that "must" be put in for completeness? In the case of a small area, where listing prior work is helpful to the reader, I would not hesitate.

There is an additional comment to be made about the contribution of the paper. If the contribution claims to be technical ("We found new way A to do B), I do not see a problem. If, however, the paper claims to do B which has not done before, which your paper does with a different methodology, you should definitely mention this in the comments and examine carefully if there is an actual contribution of the work you are reviewing and if it differs enough to warrant publication.

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    The area is fairly small. Max 20 publications that address the same problem and as I see they fail to mention also important ones in the field. From those 20 there are only two (ours and one other) that find a way to overcome time discretisation of the input data as all other approaches do. They use the same treatment of input data to avoid time discretisation, so I guess it would be relevant to suggest some comparison. Actually they do not even compare to more traditional approaches... – ii.iiii Jun 26 at 11:44
  • @Di.iiii What you mention about time discretisation justifies suggesting your own paper. From what you say, you can/ should make further suggestions in key literature. Depending on context, 20 papers on the same issue might be too few or too many, but this does not look relevant to your case. – user117109 Jun 26 at 13:09
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It is arguable, but by reviewing a paper you mainly give a suggestion to the editor whether the paper in its form is publishable, and you point out unclear points, which needs to be cleared before publication. According to my point of view, you have a responsibility towards the editor and not towards the author. You are expected to be objective.

If prior art is detailed in the paper with citation of similar solutions than yours, than it should not be an issue. On the hand if the state of the art is not presented, or they present a solution which was at least partly suggested by others as their own novelty, you should note that in your review.

Two form of a reframing question to help with your moral dilemma:

  • What would you do if you were not the author of those papers?
  • What would you do if you are aware of papers of others solving the same issue?

Also, you can ask for an explanation, which might not necessarily be part of the paper. You do not need to ask for including a citation.

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  • Actually I am the author of only one of the two preexisting papers that use similar methodology, and I will suggest mention of both of them. I think with the discussion here I realised that there is not a conflict of interest since these papers are the most relevant from all the preexisting literature on the topic. – ii.iiii Jun 26 at 21:53
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    That seems the right way to go. Though I would add my personal view here again: I think the reviewer should not suggest, but review, judge and highlight the strength and weaknesses the manuscript. The reviewer does not communicate, but assess and propose an action to the editor. Therefore I would "only" highlight the importance of the two papers, and that the lack of comparison with them could give a false sense to the reader about the current state and recent history of the field of study. – Horror Vacui Jun 27 at 9:35

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