For some reason, I was always under the impression that people that are included in the acknowledgement section of paper are not contacted to review your paper because they would be predisposed to give a favourable review. However, after reading the discussion in this question it seems like it is standard to send papers out for review to people in the acknowledgements section if there is not another conflict in place (like being from the same institution, for example). Which is it?

Do editors send a paper out for review to people in the acknowledgements section? Can I suggest a person I acknowledge for helpful comments as a potential reviewer (assuming there aren't other conflicts of interest)? If the field matters then I am interested primarily in mathematics, theoretical computer science, and biology.

3 Answers 3


The acknowledgement is there to thank people for their help in the work. It is not a place to provide information to the editor on who may have conflicts of interest. You list such persons in a cover letter with an explanation for why there is a conflict. This will make the situation clear to the editor. Persons in the same department will pretty much be excluded by default but if an obvious connection is not present it should be pointed out in a letter. It seems a little odd to thank someone without there being any connection to the work so I would not recommend trying to suggest such a person as potential reviewer. At the same time a person who ha a conflict of interest should decline to review with the excuse that there exists such a conflict. I would say such behaviour is good etiquette and good ethics.

I know there have been instances where a person received a strong reject review on a crap paper by a high-ranking scientist and then used the name in the acknowledgement thanking for input on an earlier version of the manuscript. The manuscript was almost the same but the signal was the high-ranked scientist approved it and so reviewers were unwilling to reject it. Hence the acknowledgement is not a place where a seasoned editor would look for valuable information.


For some reason, I was always under the impression that people that are included in the acknowledgement section of paper are not contacted to review your paper because they would be predisposed to give a favourable review.

This is certainly true in my field (software engineering). I was also reasonably confused by the underlying assumption of the question you linked. It certainly does not seem to make sense to me to ask people that are clearly closely related to the authors for fair peer review.

What does happen a lot in practice is that authors mentioned in the bibliography of a manuscript get asked to review a paper, especially if the editor is not from the same field and does not know any experts in the field by heart.

Apparently, this is particularly common for grant proposal evaluations (at least in Austria), as the people assigning reviewers there are usually not scientists themselves. Hence, they rarely have deep insight into who the big players in a field of study are, and instead select persons that are not obviously related to the proposal authors and have published a healthy amount of related papers cited in the bibliography of the proposal.

  • +1 for a good answer. I have to admit that in my mind I was confusing one of the two instances of this that I spoke of with what you talk about in your answer: really more than once I have been chosen, poorly, as a referee based on my having a paper (of very limited relevance) in the bibliography. This practice is the next step on the chain: it's not ethically problematic or inappropriate in any way...it's just evidence that the editor did a rather superficial job. My speculations as to why both practices exist are the same as yours. Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 4:24

I think you're talking about my comments.

Unfortunately I am speaking from direct experience. I did have the occasion to think more carefully about this since seeing your question, and at the moment I can remember exactly once when this occurred. (I have refereed probably about 40 papers over the years, and I can't tell you that I went back over all of them...) So once is only once. But this one case is awfully distressing: it was at a very famous journal, with a very famous editor, and the acknowledgment in question was very far from random or frivolous: the paper was, in fact, a continuation/improvement of a recently accepted joint paper between the author and me! So in my mind this somehow "counts twice". But do other mathematicians know for sure that this happens? I would be very interested to know.

Let me also add that it almost never happens that I get asked for a list of recommended or excluded referees: I think once or twice out of about 30 submissions.

It it tempting to speculate more broadly about why this practice -- which I think everyone here agrees is not kosher if authors do not clarify/disclose information about potential referees -- may in fact exist. But actually I have some academic work of my own to do tonight (and not so much "tonight" left). So maybe later...

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