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I am a newly appointed editor to a top journal. I have received my first manuscript assignment. I see in the journal system that the authors have provided preferences for reviewers for their paper.

I was wondering what is the norm like with respect to this. Do editors normally go by author's preference or do they ignore it? What factors should I take into account before considering author preference of reviewers?

On one hand this makes my task of searching appropriate reviewers easy but I suspect this might also give an unfair edge to the authors if the reviewers have some/any kind of bias.

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    As an editor you have a decision to make: is paper good or not. You may enlist help of whomever you want to that end. If you can get the kind of help you need from the people in the "suggested" list, by all means use them. – Boris Bukh Jun 11 '15 at 15:50
  • @BorisBukh Right, but since this is my first time, I wouldn't know ahead of time how helpful the author's preferred reviewers would be. – mkc Jun 11 '15 at 16:06
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The way the preferred reviewers are used varies. Some go by these suggestions whole-heartedly while others do not. I lean towards the latter since my experience with some preferred names is less than favourable.

In my experience names listed can be good. I usually double check to see if persons seem affiliated in some way and if they do I avoid appointing them. As a rule, however, I try to find persons independently and based on my own experience. I tend to use the preferred names as back-ups unless my preference and the authors coincide.

The reason for my slight aversion towards the preferred is that some authors tend to list friends and other persons who are obviously close to the authors. I have seen many low quality reviews come out from such reviewers an clearly at a rate very different from independently chosen reviewers. Judging what is too close is not easy and sometimes it may be justified if, for example, the topic is such that local knowledge comes into play. For the reason of uncertainty I therefore try to at least mix them up so that one is chosen by me independently and the other is selected from the authors suggestions.

So, try to assess the quality of the preferred reviewers and at least try to find some to complement a preferred reviewer will be my advice.

It is also common that authors list non-preferred reviewers. I always stay clear of such reviewers since I do not know what lies beneath the sentiment.

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    I understand where you're coming from and I also would be leery of accepting the author's suggestions. However, as an author, I have often racked my brains to find suitable reviewers whom I don't know and who would be impartial. It's often a bit of a pita to do so. If the journal is just going to ignore my suggestions, wouldn't it be simpler all around if we were not asked to go to the trouble of suggesting them? – terdon Jun 11 '15 at 23:15
  • @terdon There's no problem with suggesting reviewers you know. Just make sure there's no conflict of interest such as joint projects, publications, or affiliations. – silvado Jun 12 '15 at 7:22
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    @silvado I don't mean "know" as in I see them in a conference every couple of years and say hi. I mean that I try to avoid friends and colleagues. People who might view the article favorably because it is mine. I have often worked in tiny fields where that is virtually impossible since we all know each other. My ethics make me avoid suggesting anyone who might be predisposed to give me special treatment. My point is that if the journals, understandably, avoid using my suggestions, it would make my life easier if they'd also stop asking for them. – terdon Jun 12 '15 at 9:54
  • So it seems the way to avoid reviewers in many cases is to list them? – If you do not know- just GIS Jan 2 '16 at 0:21
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I assume you're one new member of an established editorial board, with an Editor in Chief and other members of the board fully involved. Why not ask them what the convention is for this particular journal?

  • Yes, as a new editor you should really talk with the editor in chief and other editors. If you have any uncertainty regarding duties or procedures, it's always better to ask than to find out afterwards that they think you handled something poorly. – Anonymous Mathematician Jun 11 '15 at 22:26
  • Indeed. They assigned you because they value your knowledge in the area. But they will understand that as a junior colleague, you may lack experience, and will understand that you may need some mentoring. – Wolfgang Bangerth Jun 11 '15 at 23:11
  • @AnonymousMathematician I think since the journal allows authors to list their preferred reviewers, it should be within the rules to select one. I am wondering about whether this is the case in reality? I will certainly contact the editor-in-chief but thought I would get much broader views on the topic here. – mkc Jun 12 '15 at 1:29
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    @Ketan: There's certainly no harm in asking here too. It's worth keeping in mind that journal web sites can offer weird options. For example, some publishers use editorial management software that may offer authors options that just don't make sense for their field/journal. – Anonymous Mathematician Jun 12 '15 at 4:15
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    @Ketan: And for the benefit of the rest of the academia.SE community, can you please post any helpful advice you get from your editor-in-chief as an answer to this question! – Reinstate Monica Apr 26 '18 at 23:54
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Be extra careful when following authors' suggestions for suitable peer reviewers. There has been a recent case of authors suggesting fabricated contacts as "reviewers", as described on http://publicationethics.org/news/cope-statement-inappropriate-manipulation-peer-review-processes. That case led some publishers to stop asking for reviewer suggestions explicitly within their submission processes.

Measures of caution that I find useful include:

  • Only choose an author-suggested reviewer if you can verify independently that this person is suited as reviewer, ideally from your own prior knowledge.
  • Don't use the contact address provided by the authors, but use a contact address that you can obtain independently, for example from the reviewer's university web page.
  • Verify very carefully that there's no conflict of interests for that reviewer, for example joint publications, same affiliations also in the recent past, or similar.
  • Don't make a decision if you only have reviews from author-suggested reviewers, but have at least one independently chosen reviewer.

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