I submitted a commentary on a paper authored by the chief editor of a publication¹. After over six months, my commentary was finally placed in the peer-review queue. Before the review of our commentaries were even completed, two commentaries discussing our commentary were published. It should be noted that we still haven’t seem a response/reply to our original commentaries from the original author.

I am questioning the ethics of allowing commentaries of commentaries being published before the original commentary has been put "In Press" and would like to get other peoples perspective on the situation. Bottom line I am asking: Is there any explanation how this could have happened with an ethically operating journal or an ethically acting editor, respectively?

¹ I am being vague on specific details for a reason

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    The apparent system of "commentaries" and "commentaries-on-commentaries", and "commentary on paper", is not universal in the peer-reviewed publication game, either, which makes it harder for me, for one, to gauge whether the reported phenomenon is within normal variation of innocent (if geeky) behavior. Aug 16, 2015 at 19:00
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    While I understand that you do not want to share too many details, the following information would help to better understand your problem and answer your question: 1) How extreme are six months for editorial handling? 2) Did you publish preprints of your commentaries or were they only accessible to editors and reviewers of the journal? 3) Did all publications in question happen on the same journal? 4) How long after submitting your paper were the commentaries published? 5) The commentaries discussing your commentaries are referring to it by name/citation?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Aug 16, 2015 at 20:13
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    What you describe certainly sounds weird, but it's not clear what you are looking for from us. You haven't even really explained how other people could have seen your commentary if it was not published: or had you circulated it earlier in preprint form? Anyway, with the level of detail provided, we know less than you do so I don't think we can help you tell whether the mistake was ethical, procedural or not a mistake at all. Certainly this is worth contacting the editors about. What do they say? Aug 16, 2015 at 21:15
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    @Paul: In that case, if your question is "Sounds weird, right?!?" then I am happy to answer: "Right." Aug 16, 2015 at 21:19
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    @PaulJulian, your comment "From what I can tell there are no preprints" seems very strange to me. In my world, I would be the one who created preprints, and no one else would, ... and (these days) there are no documents that are not typeset and formatted more-or-less. But/and if you send a PDF or .doc document to a journal, they can easily forward electronic copies... And, different question: how many different people seem to have acquired a copy of your submission prior to its appearance? Not just one? This seems very strange. Aug 16, 2015 at 21:35

1 Answer 1


Assuming your "commentary" was not publicly available (e.g., as preprint on your homepage or some server), and assuming that you submitted it to the journal under an assumption of confidentiality (in the first place), a reasonable editor and/or referee would certainly not publish commentary on a thing they had under confidential review... IF "commentary" means something at all conforming to the usual rules-of-the-game with "papers", which I can't quite tell from the sketchy details you've given.

That is, in the world (academic mathematics) in which I operate, if in the course of refereeing papers submitted to traditional journals I learn something interesting/useful, or disagree with various aspects, my main channel of response is (anonymously) back to the authors through the editor, requesting or recommending a revision. It would be highly inappropriate for me to write and make-public, whether on a web site or any other venue, a paper either extending or contradicting or critiquing that paper prior to its official public appearance.

If anything like that has happened, then it does seem well outside the bounds of propriety, yes.

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