What is the implication of the peer-reviewed journal to state "you cannot recommend the reviewers"? (one can inform the "oppose reviewers" only).

What good does the journal get out of such a practice? Just curious.


The option by many publishers / journals to allow authors to suggest reviewers grew, in large part, from the difficulties faced by editors in finding suitable reviewers. The online systems introduced ~10-15 years ago facilitated the ability to easily collect this information. Editors then, could potentially use the info to e.g. calibrate their own ideas on good reviewers, as well as their knowledge of people in the field.

When used ethically and properly - by authors in suggesting reviewers, and by editors making checks to ensure no conflicts-of-interest - it can be a useful tool. For example, when suggesting reviewers for my own papers, I would suggest people I didn't know personally but who were important in the field - I saw this as a way to at least (potentially) get them to read and comment on my work. As an editor, I only ever used suggestions when I had exhausted my own stock of potential reviewers (>10 refusals brings on a sinking feeling); I used them rarely as it took a lot of work to try to judge the COIs (mainly via literature and the omnipotence of Google).

The clear issues that have to be hurdled, as ever, come down to the individuals concerned. Perhaps the journal in question encountered problems over the years and rejected it as an option.

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I completely agree with ff524’s answer about avoiding fake peer review, but there’s more to it than that.

Asking an editor not to use a certain reviewer is reasonable, because there may be a conflict of interest or rivalry that the editor is not aware of but that could compromise the peer-review process. However, what’s the purpose of suggesting reviewers? That seems really biased, since presumably most authors aren’t going to suggest anyone they don’t think will like the paper.

As an editor, I’m not interested in getting reports from reviewers chosen by the authors to have a positive opinion. Instead, I’d prefer to use my own choices, and given that I’m not going to make any effort to follow the authors’ suggestions, I’d rather not see them at all.

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    Additionally, even if the editor chooses their own reviewers, if they do happen to use the suggested reviewers, it could lead to accusations that the editor was biased in favour of the author, and if they don't, it's the other way round. Best for the editor to never learn who your preferred reviewers are. – Max Nov 2 '15 at 20:31
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    @phys_chem_prof It's unfortunate, but I don't think it's unrealistic. Even a good faith attempt to avoid bias is tricky and subject to all sorts of rationalization (it's easy not to list anyone who might react unfavorably while convincing yourself that you are just selecting the people who are best able to evaluate the submission). I hope relatively few people would deliberately try to game the system, but such people exist, and all authors have a conflict of interest that could influence their suggestions in ways they might not appreciate or be able to control. – Anonymous Mathematician Nov 4 '15 at 14:28
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    @phys_chem_prof Yes, that's a reasonable point. Suggestions for reviewers are more appropriate for identifying experts who can judge the correctness of papers, rather than assess the importance, so it depends on what the editor is looking for. It would still be worth taking steps to combat fake reviews (e.g., not assuming private e-mail addresses supplied by the author for the suggested reviewers are necessarily real), but hopefully that's an unusual scenario. – Anonymous Mathematician Nov 4 '15 at 14:55
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    @phys_chem_prof I doubt any well-known scientists use fake reviewers, and I agree that this is probably more of a problem in low-impact journals. However, it has happened at a math journal (JMAA) which, while not an absolutely top journal, is strong and widely respected. The editor used an internal database, but it had already been corrupted. – Anonymous Mathematician Nov 4 '15 at 19:06
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    Specifically, someone created an Elsevier Editorial System account for a well-known expert in this area (anyone could sign up for an account as an author, and this particular expert had never used the system) and listed a private e-mail address. Then the editor observed that the desired referee had an account and used the e-mail address listed in the account. This is an obvious security hole in hindsight, but it's the sort of thing editors typically won't think about without some publicity for this issue. – Anonymous Mathematician Nov 4 '15 at 19:06

One possibility is to avoid fake peer review:

The practice can occur when researchers submitting a paper for publication suggest reviewers, but supply contact details for them that actually route requests for review back to the researchers themselves.

See Publishing: The peer-review scam and the faked emails tag on Retraction Watch for more examples.

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It is relatively common in some fields to not have the capability to suggest reviewers, or even to exclude some potential reviewers. There are a number of reasons that might exist for something like this:

  • Both lists are inherently biased. While there's definitely some reasons to support being able to say "I don't think $Person would be able to impartially judge my article" and exclude them, no one is going to pick people for their list of recommended reviewers who aren't at least marginally friendly to the line of research you're doing. At best, it's "Whose friendly in the field?" and at worst, as @ff524 notes, it's "Who do I have a standing agreement with?" Neither one is particularly desirable, and drawing from those lists means a paper isn't getting a fully-critical peer review.
  • It's unfair. Having a stronger "social network" of researchers who you can recommend for papers advantages more senior, established researchers and (I suspect) researchers with certain geographic and demographic characteristics.
  • It leaves the editor in an awkward spot. What if you suggest a professor, but they're notorious in the journal for taking ages to write their reviews? What weight is given to suggested reviewers, and is it fair if you discard someone's list? Or if they think they won't give a review that's keeping with the journal's target - for example, if you suggest a panel of applied mathematicians and no clinicians for a paper going to a clinical journal.
  • It's a threat to blind peer-review. It's much more likely someone will recognize an anonymous paper as "yours" if they're familiar enough with your work for you to be comfortable recommending them as a reviewer.

A better question, in my mind, is "What does an editor gain by allowing you to recommend reviewers?" The best I can come up with is they save themselves a little bit of time.

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I am belatedly answering this question because I was planning to ask, essentially, the opposite: is there actually enough of a benefit to allowing suggested reviewers that it actually should have any role in the review process at all?

Someone pointed out the issue of fake reviewers, where someone provides contact info for someone who isn't actually the person doing the review. I've also come across collusion in which a reviewer provides a review supplied by the author.

As a member of a governing body overseeing many peer-reviewed publications, I am pushing for a uniform policy banning suggested reviewers, rather than the current approach of letting them be supplied and relying on the judgment of editors as to how to use them.

So to answer the original question, prohibiting suggested reviewers avoids either type of inappropriate influence on the review process. But I haven't seen much here in defense of the practice, other than some assuming that by default nothing nefarious is going on. I agree that most suggestions are undoubtedly completely legit. But given some clearly aren't, why even go down that path? I invite additional comments -- I expect there to be some debate on this in a couple of months, instigated by my inquiry.

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