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I found an interesting poster during a workshop, and I had an engaging communication with the authors (even in a banquet). They told me that their work was just submitted to a journal.

Quite surprisingly, next day I received a review invitation from a journal editor, and the paper is exactly that of the poster in the workshop.

I am definitely keen on reviewing the paper, but is this a conflict of interests?

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    Is the review intended to be double-blind? A strict publisher might want to know you're not blinded in this particular case, although it's not terribly uncommon and I wouldn't expect it to be disqualifying in all cases. Mar 4 at 17:14
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    You could email the editor and find out what they think? That would be my advice. While I am sure most answers here will probably be reasonable, and probably correct, only the editor of the journal will be able to tell you if it is definitely appropriate or not. Mar 5 at 3:09
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    After a while in academia, you tend to know and talk to everyone in your subspecialty. People have sent me entire preprints to comment on before they submitted them... only for the journal to send me the submission for review. Once you are an expert in some niche, you are the logical person for both conversations and reviews. And no, I don't see a conflict of interest. (Plus, at some point you already have collaborated with pretty much everyone, at which point the question becomes a little more interesting, but then the editor is presumably aware of your earlier collaborations.) Mar 5 at 7:08
  • Having talked to the author would make you biased, but not be a conflict of interest.
    – philn
    Mar 6 at 18:19
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    My one concerned is how well can you judge if the paper explains the concepts well enough for someone who are comming across them for 1st time.
    – Ian
    Mar 7 at 11:02

3 Answers 3

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Knowing the author whose paper you are reviewing does not imply any conflict. You have no reason to do anything other than what you should do in reviewing the paper, giving advice to the author and to the editor.

It would be different if you had a professional or personal relationship with them that goes beyond such a meeting. Such things could cloud your judgement, arising in a conflict.

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  • But the catch is that if the communication is "engaging enough", doesn't this lead to a personal relationship?
    – null
    Mar 4 at 17:10
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    If it is engaging enough that you've agreed to support it or collaborate, then yes. But if it just left you intrigued and wanting to know more, then no. You still are independent enough to make a judgement about the paper overall and in the details.
    – Buffy
    Mar 4 at 17:14
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    @null remember that many fields are so small that pretty much everyone knows each other, at the level you describe. If you cannot review the work of anyone you have ever met, then you either don't review at all, or you stay home and never attend a single conference.
    – terdon
    Mar 5 at 15:27
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No, I do not think that having a conversation about someone else's science with them creates a conflict of interest.

If you were collaborating with them or seeking to collaborate that might be a conflict. If uncertain, you can let the editor know but unless you have a problem reviewing you can still say you're willing to review the manuscript (e.g. "I haven't worked with these authors in the past or on this manuscript, but we've had conversations about a future collaboration. I'm willing to review the manuscript unless you feel this poses a conflict that should disqualify me.").

If you've offered them advice about the manuscript while it was in preparation you might let the editor know but I don't think it would make it necessary to exclude you from review (especially when editors are so often having trouble finding reviewers).

More generally, if you have any question it's fine to disclose to be on the safe side but not necessary to automatically recuse yourself.

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To add to the other (excellent) answers: I have noticed that junior researchers often overestimate the presence of a conflict of interest. Many specialized research communities are, at the end of the day, quite small; a given paper may have only 5-10 people who are established experts in it. (And this is also a Good Thing; science progresses when people specialize, because we need different people working on different topics so as to not to overcrowd any one particular topic!)

What does this have to do with conflicts of interest? Well, given that there may only be 5-10 experts in some particular specialization, it follows that many of these experts know each other. In fact, they have probably seen each other at conferences, discussed each other's work, and reviewed each other's papers. But that does not mean that their reviews are biased. In fact, if they are truly experts, then they know the important problems in their field, what related work has already been done, and what results would constitute progress.

So the idea is simple: experts should try to review papers on their scientific merits alone (with clear arguments that can be independently vetted by the editor and by the other reviewers). On the other hand, a conflict of interest is usually reserved for clearly problematic cases: such as between advisor/advisee, being a coauthor on a paper, any financial relationship (e.g. being at the same institution, or at the same company), or any close personal relationship (e.g., family, romantic relationship now or in the past, etc.). Beyond these cases, you can still declare a conflict, but only if you think it is impossible for you to be unbiased (i.e. you can't evaluate the work on its own merits independently of its authors). This doesn't seem to be the case here.

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