I am currently doing a (blind) review of a paper for a Journal in the engineering field. The manuscript seems okay so far but relies to a large extent on a unpublished paper, cited as Miller et al. forthcoming. That publication was not submitted along with the manuscript. The author seems to be involved in that publication, but is not co-authoring it. Since no journal or publisher is given, I am assuming that the manuscript is under preparation and to be submitted to a Journal.

Furthermore, there is no summary of the central data and results e. g. in the supporting information. That makes it hard to follow some of the assumptions and conclusions.

  1. How should I proceed?
  2. And does this in principle justify a rejection of the paper?
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    Oh, because you wrote it as "Author, et. al" I understood it as the author of the manuscript under review ("the author.") thanks for clarifying. – ff524 Sep 16 '15 at 4:57
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    @ff524 Yeah you were right. it was misleading. – n1000 Sep 16 '15 at 4:58

Every matter in a paper should be verifiable, including the references. All results should be supported by relevant explanation with sufficient detail.

Instead of rejecting the paper straight away, you may initially tell the author of correspondence (through the editor) to provide the unpublished cited materials. The author is to be obliged to provide you the tangible material from which you may assess the credibility of the facts cited.

Bear in mind that all communication between the author and reviewer must go via the editor of the journal.

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    Actually, you should contact the editor and ask the editor to get the material from the author and make it available to the reviewers. If the author isn't willing to do this, then it's grounds for rejecting the paper in my opinion. – Brian Borchers Sep 16 '15 at 4:42
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    This depends on the related information cited to the missing reference. If you state "X is the best method for the application Y" in your manuscript, you must justify it with relevant reference. Otherwise your manuscript cannot be accepted. – Ébe Isaac Sep 16 '15 at 5:42
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    @ÉbeIsaac please edit your answer to include your comment about only communicating via the editor: at the moment, your answer appears to recommend contacting the author directly. – 410 gone Sep 16 '15 at 6:34
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    @n1000, you say the paper "relies to a large extent on a unpublished paper". Obviously that creates a situation where you cannot evaluate the claims of the paper. In my opinion the only reasonable response is to reject the paper (or to communicate to the editor, as some have suggested, that you are suspending your review until such time as the missing material is provided to you, but that is almost the same thing; the point is you cannot accept the paper without the missing material). – Dan Romik Sep 16 '15 at 7:14
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    @n1000, and as for your question "So you think in principle missing references justify a rejection?" -- that is a more general and somewhat stronger statement. There are situations where missing references may not impede one's ability to evaluate the paper and as such should not be a cause for rejection. However, your situation does not sound like one of them. – Dan Romik Sep 16 '15 at 7:14

If those reference papers are already accepted by some journal, then make comments to provide the summary of those accepted papers.

If those reference papers are just submitted to some journal, then make comments to provide the used results as supplement.

If those reference papers as just cited as forthcoming or next work, then make comments to provide valid / published previous reference.

The overall comment may be like: "I cannot recommend the manuscript to publish at this moment".

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I don't think the paper is ready for publication. Even if you get access to their draft, future readers won't have that benefit.

A few years from now, your favourite paper database will spit a bunch of hits for "Miller et al 2015" (or perhaps 2016, or 2017), but there is no guarantee that the title or the author order will be the same; or that the paper will ever be accepted, for that matter.

I was actually working on the results of an old paper that described an idealised model. They mentioned that it performed well when compared with experimental data, with the details in another forthcoming paper. To the best of my knowledge, that paper was never published, and thus I have no idea how really accurate their model is and under what circumstances without doing a costly analysis myself; rendering the whole paper moot.

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  • Good point and I mostly agree. However, I understand the necessity and time pressure (e.g. for PhD students) to publish individual results from a larger project. So I find it hard to be too strict on this point. – n1000 Sep 16 '15 at 20:40
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    @n1000 the acceptance may be withhold until the other manuscript has been accepted and has a permanent reference, or enough self-standing content is provided as supplementary material. – Davidmh Sep 16 '15 at 21:38

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