You submit a manuscript to journal A. The paper is rejected, either with a short dismissal ("not good enough for this journal") or with a longer rebuttal from the referees. You wish to resubmit it to a different journal B.
Should you inform the editor at B of the previous rejection?
What is ethically correct? What do people do in the real world?
Possible arguments in favor:
- It is important information regarding the manuscript, you shouldn't withhold it.
- In this way the editor at B can contact the editor at journal A to solicit an opinion from the same referees, who already know the paper and are in a better position to give a report.
- It is not honest to submit and resubmit the same paper at different venues until you are lucky enough to get better-inclined reviewers; mentioning all previous history is needed to expose this practice.
Possible arguments against:
The editor at B will perceive what has happened as an indication that you consider journal B to be lower-tier than A, and possibly get offended (and biased against publication).
If the information gets to the referees, they might be negatively influenced, too.
Ultimately, is it fair that the previous referees are brought into the picture again, or should you start with a clean slate and new reviewers?
It feels silly to write "we got a negative report with no suggestions for changes, so we are sending the exact same manuscript at you with minor modifications".
The arguments against look weaker in my view, because they all imply a bias that "perfect" editors and reviewers should not have.