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A few weeks ago, we (2 authors) published a hypothesis paper in the medical sciences.

Some days after the manuscript was published online, a researcher wrote me and asked for the full text. I did not know said researcher at that stage. We exchanged some emails back and forth about the content of the paper. I encouraged said researcher to publish his own ideas on that topic in a comparable hypothesis paper. Subsequently he wrote a draft and submitted it to the same journal. He informed me about that step and sent me the manuscript to have a look (after submission). Now the same journal where we published invited me to review the manuscript of the aforementioned researcher. We work in foreign countries and never published together before.

However, we had contact prior to his submission and he sent me some of his ideas.

Should I decline the review invitation in this case? I would love to review this piece because it is my main research topic. On the other hand, I feel it may be inappropriate that he sent me the piece after submitting it to a journal.

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    Did you ask the editor? It is part of their role. Apr 2, 2023 at 15:17
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    @ Marc Glisse - based on the comments, I accepted the review invitation and intend to explain the background in my comments to the editor in ScholarOne.
    – Dr.M
    Apr 2, 2023 at 18:27
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    This is a great question, but i recommend to rename the title to something like: "Can i accept a review after prior email contact with the author. " That makes it a little better search and findable, and it covers the question better than the current very general title.
    – Hjan
    Apr 2, 2023 at 19:47
  • @ Hijan. Thank you! I changed it.
    – Dr.M
    Apr 3, 2023 at 4:39

3 Answers 3

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Yes, accepting the review invitation is fine. Having discussed an idea with a researcher before they wrote it up in a paper, and having received that paper in private communication, does not constitute a conflict of interest.

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  • Dear lighthouse keeper, thank you for your opinion and quick reply. Should I inform the editor about this ?
    – Dr.M
    Apr 1, 2023 at 19:51
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    @Dr.M It's absolutely not necessary, but if you want to feel safe about it, you can inform them. Apr 1, 2023 at 22:13
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It is not terribly unusual to be a referee of a paper (co-)authored by someone you know somehow. The scientific community is small in some fields, and discussing ideas is common enough. That alone is no problem by itself. However, I would return the question to you: Do you think you will be able to judge the manuscript based on its scientific merit alone? If so, go ahead. If you think that there is a chance that you would give the manuscript a preferential treatment, for example due to a personal connection with the authors, it would be advisable to take that into account, and maybe decline to review the manuscript.

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Some days after the manuscript was published online, a researcher wrote me and asked for the full text.

That is normal

I did not know said researcher at that stage. We exchanged some emails back and forth about the content of the paper. I encouraged said researcher to publish his own ideas on that topic in a comparable hypothesis paper

Subsequently he wrote a draft and submitted it to the same journal. He informed me about that step and sent me the manuscript to have a look (after submission)

However, we had contact prior to his submission and he sent me some of his ideas.

Your contacts appear to be more than mere contacts. It tilts towards engagement.

Ethics kicks in here. Irrespective of you not being a co-author, there're contacts between you; sufficiently so. This call for you to reflect deeply and honestly.

Before you hit the decline (or accept).

  • be transparent by contacting the editor about the degree of contacts and engagement between you and the author
  • indicate willingness to remain unbiased if requested to go ahead and review the manuscript
  • consider how small or broad the field (or subfield) is
  • you may then accept to review or not

PS: in some subfield, there are only a handful of researchers!

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    Engagement in the form of discussion does not lead to a conflict of interest. Researchers regularly discuss their work with other experts in the setting of conferences and meetings. If that would generally lead to a conference of interest, it would be impossible to find expert reviewers for most papers. Apr 3, 2023 at 9:14

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