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My team submitted an article to an MDPI journal 7 weeks ago. The manuscript quickly went into peer review. After a few weeks, MDPI contacted us and asked us to provide a list of potential reviewers. They had troubles to recruit reviewers at this stage. We provided them a list with known experts in the field. A week later, another researcher uploaded our manuscript to ResearchGate. Notably, it was our manuscript with the typical MDPI template. She uploaded the manuscript but attached it to one of her own articles, so that the attached document did not match the title/abstract. We saw it because RG informed us that our work had been cited by others...

We were very surprised and contacted both the uploader and MDPI. After one week, the uploader replied and apologized for falsely uploading it. She admitted that she was a reviewer of our manuscript and removed it. MDPI never gave a concrete reply and just said that they would look into this matter.

Two days ago we saw the reviewers' reports. They were both very positive. Today, the manuscript had been rejected for an odd reason (claiming the statistical method is not correct, although the method requested by the reviewer is included in the manuscript). We feel that we are part of a larger intelectual theft. It is the first manuscript dealing with this particular topic - although it is a negative result piece.

EDIT: What would you do in such a situation?

EDIT: We had no pre-print uploaded.

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    More to the point: what do you want MDPI to say? Since you already know the identity of the reviewer, what can they say that you can't already find out from Google?
    – Allure
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 8:15
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    @Prof.SantaClaus I agree that MDPI is a questionable publisher, but in this case the reviewer admitted uploading it; why do you think there is more behind it? Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 9:35
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    What does "attached it to one of her own articles" mean exactly? Did the reviewer just upload the wrong PDF, or did she edit the PDF / manuscript to remove your name and add hers? In the first case this seems like an innocent error, without 'intellectual theft' or any intentional wrongdoings. Yes, she (inadvertently) broke anonymity and confidentiality, but she did not make any attempt at passing your work for hers. Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 9:39
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    I find it really weird that a manuscript for review somehow got 'attached' to another document. It really makes no sense at all...
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 17:08
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    It sounds like your reviewer just made a mistake; they intended to upload their own document, but when they went to select it through the file explorer interface, they accidentally clicked on yours. Is there any reason to believe this wasn't just an honest mistake?
    – cag51
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 20:12

3 Answers 3

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What would you do in such a situation?

Nothing. It seems like a simple mistake. Your reviewer did something they shouldn't have done, and when it was pointed out to them, they immediately acknowledged it was a mistake and corrected it. This kind of error happens to everyone and there's nothing else to do.

The other details in your question (like which publisher it is, what the ultimate result of your paper's peer review process was, etc) all look extraneous to me. You might not approve of MDPI, but it's not like they can do anything in this situation (what can they do anyway, blacklist the reviewer for being human?). Some reviewers approved of your paper and some disapproved, and the result was reject; this is not uncommon at all for highly competitive journals so it's also not surprising.

If the negative review is flat out wrong (requested method is already in the paper), you could file an appeal with what should be a decent chance of success. If you are concerned about being plagiarized, you could establish precedence by putting out a preprint. Aside from that it doesn't look like there's much to do.

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It is unlikely that you will get any more information from MDPI than what you already know (the identity of the offending reviewer).

Expecting MDPI to treat this matter seriously and transparently seems too optimistic. They will likely brush you off if you persist on asking them about it.

I would suggest you draw your own conclusions on whether to submit anything to MDPI or support them in any other way.

Let me suggest an alternative. You seem to have the name of the offending reviewer and their written admission of academic dishonesty. Assuming that the reviewer is an academic, I would suggest that you simply let her employer know. A simple email stating the facts of the case to her direct supervisor (department head or dean) would probably result in this matter being dealt with in a more appropriate manner.

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    Great answer. One some point: A simple email stating the facts of the case to her direct supervisor (department head or dean) Many universities have academic integrity or similar ethics departments. I would suggest contacting there in addition to their supervisor. Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 21:23
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    Calling this “academic dishonesty” seems a bit harsh, no? This is certainly something that should not have happened, but it was a simple mistake that could have happened to anyone and was quickly corrected.
    – cag51
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 21:54
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    I downvoted for two reasons: (i) While I generally agree with your objections against MDPI, I see no reason to blame them for a mistake made the reviewer; I also don't see what they could actually do about it. (ii) Calling something which has most likely been a simple mistake "academic dishonesty" is a strong exaggeration; and actually writing a complaint over this to the reviewer's employer is completely over the top. Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 0:30
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    I seriously don’t see how someone could upload someone else’s work as part of their own paper. Unless I’m completely misunderstanding the situation is that not what OP is describing?
    – Spark
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 17:20
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    @Spark My interpretation of the OP is that the reviewer was updating a listing of their own paper on ResearchGate, which had the right metadata (at least title and abstract, possibly publication details), and then went to upload a full-text version or supplemental file but somehow/carelessly selected the wrong PDF file to upload.
    – Anyon
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 19:27
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In some of the answer/comments, there are already some judgement about the publisher.

I always recommend people to take a deep breath and have a read on "how" the current reputable publishers started their business and think twice before putting the stigma. There is enough material to describe every publisher as "dodgy" or "questionable".

Coming back to your question, I consider the upload of your document on Research Gate an honest (and very clumsy) mistake, not part of a evil plan to steal your idea.

However, I understand you are afraid someone (someone in contact with the editor, to be more precise) is blocking the publication of your (positively) reviewed article, to copy and publish the same thing before you. Unfortunately, I am pessimistic and old enough to know that this thing already happened in the past and will happen again in the future (speaking in general terms, I am not sure it will happen to you, but I understand your concerns).

You have some chance of defending yourself by putting out now a pre-print (maybe an older version of your paper, or even a version missing some details), to provide a proof that you are working now on the topic. If in the future you have to accuse someone of plagiarizing your research, you have some additional fact to prove you were already working on that specific topic.

Other than that, you have not much in hand, you may end up in a litigation "your words against plagiarizing researcher words" and it will be time consuming and stressful, so keep safe all the possible communications (upload confirmations to MDPI servers, correspondence with the editor) to build a timeline of your research progress and where it was possibly "leaked".

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  • "However, I understand you are afraid someone (someone in contact with the editor, to be more precise) is blocking the publication of your (positively) reviewed article, to copy and publish the same thing before you. Unfortunately, I am pessimistic and old enough to know that this thing already happened in the past and will happen again in the future (speaking in general terms, I am not sure it will happen to you, but I understand your concerns)." --->>> This is my major concern and I appreciate your advise!
    – Dr.M
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 9:04
  • @Dr.M I don't say it is likely, or common, but it may happen and even if it happens in 1 instance over 10'000'000 submitted papers, you do not want to be that 1 instance.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 10:06

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