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A journal publishes a special issue on a controversial area of research studied by a rather limited community of researchers. Would it be acceptable for the editor of the journal to use the authors of the papers comprising the special issue as the pool of reviewers, so that each paper is (anonymously) reviewed by two of the authors of the other papers ? Would this constitute a conflict of interest, given that all of the authors will be receptive to other papers supporting this line of research?

Edit: The editor also works on this topic, and it is an area with some controversy. Should the editor include scientists who have published papers critical of this topic in the pool of reviewers, even if he personally doesn't agree with the criticism?

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In general I would say it would be very poor judgement to use only authors from the special issue as reviewers. But, if the theme is such that they would constitute the best choice for reviewers it might be difficult to avoid. The best way, in my opinion, to try to circumvent the problem is to use one reviewer from the group and one external. this way it is possible for an editor to identify issues.

One problem with the scenario you paint is that it seems you suggest the editor is more trustworthy than the authors, or conversely that authors would be worse than the editor. Although I am sure some special issues may suffer from problems such as those you describe, most scientists, editors and journals want high quality work, not sloppy work and so the process is to some extent self-correcting.

In terms of publishing, the term conflict of interest is usually not considered other than in situations where, for example, an author has received help from a person who later is requested to be a reviewer or where the author feels that a certain person will not provide a fair assessment of the work. Usually such conflicts will be flagged by the people involved since the editor is in no way positioned to know about all such potential problems. It is thus not difficult to trick the system but uncritical reviews are usually quite easy to see through.

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  • +1 the "one from the group and one external" seems a sensible suggestion. Jan 17 '14 at 19:23

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