From Jan van Deursen’s bullying: lab members speak out:

Not everything in Jan’s lab was bad and I think it’s also important to point out that my relationship with Jan was often professionally respectful. For example, Jan repeatedly asked me to peer review manuscripts that he had received from various journals from all impact levels. The level of trust was high. Jan would give me his log-in and password. Our routine was that I’d submit reviews for manuscripts without him reading either the manuscript or the review that I wrote; it was completely hands-off. Honestly, I quite enjoyed this, although my work was always claimed in Jan’s name.

The scientist in question seems to see little wrong with that. Can you provide an ethical analysis of this behaviour?

  • Some discussion on this can be found here. Although somewhat controversial, people seem to agree that delegating reviews is good, but not giving credit to the subreviewers is unethical. – wimi Sep 4 '20 at 7:33
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    my work was always claimed in Jan’s name: That's because Jan is the reviewer, does the sub-reviewer get mentioned too? – user2768 Sep 4 '20 at 8:18

It isn't inherently wrong to give younger members of a research group reviewing assignments (it's a legitimate and commonly used teaching tool when mentoring younger scientists), but there are two points that are definitely ethically questionable:

  • The review is in his name because the person quoted uploads it in his name. That's deception: The editor expects the review to be from him, in hopes of tapping his experience, but gets nothing of the sort. The younger scientist also doesn't get any credit.

  • There is no teaching element in all of this. Yes, there is trust, but if he never read these reviews, he can't give feedback to the younger scientist on what they could do better.

When letting younger scientists do these reviews, I often do take their (final) review after we talked about it in some detail, and prefix it by saying something along the lines

The following review was prepared by one of my graduate students. That said, we discussed it in detail, and while the words are those of the student, the conclusions are ones we share and that I believe appropriately reflect our views of the paper.

This way, the student gets to learn, and we together provide a review that meets the expectations.

In other words, I find the behavior exploitative and ethically questionable.

  • I assume you actually give the name of the graduate student. – Alexander Woo Sep 4 '20 at 19:50
  • @AlexanderWoo To the editor, but not in the review of course. – Wolfgang Bangerth Sep 4 '20 at 23:26
  • "Legitimate teaching tool" is a good reason why passing on reviews is ethical. "A lot of people do it" is not, I would suggest removing it from this otherwise good answer. – UJM Sep 5 '20 at 12:01
  • @UJM I rephrased. – Wolfgang Bangerth Sep 6 '20 at 21:55

It's Jan's job to teach lab members how to review. For younger lab members, Jan should read reviews before they're submitted and provide feedback. For older members, that might not be necessary. Jan should always give credit to sub-reviewers.

Passwords probably shouldn't be shared, reviewing systems should define procedures for sub-reviewing, but, many don't, so password sharing is perhaps okay. If the reviewing system doesn't allow sub-reviewers to be mentioned, then that's a fault with the system, not Jan. Nonetheless, Jan should go to the effort of ensuring credit is correctly assigned.

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