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Is this ethical?

Researcher A asks Researcher B, "Where should I submit my paper?"

Researcher B says, "If you submit it to Journal X, I will almost certainly be the reviewer and I think highly of your paper."

All journals in the field have single-blind review policy. That is, the reviewer knows who the author is, but the author does not know who the reviewer is.

If it is unethical, is it only unethical if researcher B actually submits to Journal X and gets researcher A as a reviewer? Or does the ethical problem disappear if researcher B submits to a different journal, or submits to Journal X but gets a different reviewer?

  • 1
    Quite probably, but it depends on the rules of Journal X. Some journals have review with no blinding, so B might be stating public information. – Anonymous Physicist Mar 29 '16 at 21:34
  • Will there be only one reviewer? – Ian Mar 30 '16 at 11:38
6

If we replace the word "reviewer" with "editor", this would typically be seen as normal behaviour. I.e., editors often have pre-submission discussions with authors about the suitability of a manuscript for their journal. In the case of editors, it is a standard part of their role to have discussions with authors about submissions and in some cases encourage authors to submit their work to their journal.

In addition to "editor in chief", many journals have associate editors and the like who act as editors for submissions related to particular topics. They also often have some scope, although typically less than the editor in chief, to encourage submissions.

Finally, the person you mention sounds like they might be a very active reviewer for a journal and quite often get asked to review submissions on a topic related to your paper.

I think the ethical issues relate mostly to whether everyone is acting honestly and in good faith, and that conflicts of interest are not perceived.

Editors are allowed to solicit submissions, and they almost always know the identity of the submitting authors. They are meant to be well-regarded members of the academic community and are trusted to make publication decisions based on academic merits and not based on friendship or other bases.

Reviewers are a little different. Reviewers are meant to review in good faith and base their decision based on academic merits. For journals that expect double blind review, I think that encouraging authors to submit to a journal where they are likely to be a reviewer is problematic. For journals that only have single blind review, the issue is more one of honesty. Specifically, the reviewer should generally inform the editor if they encouraged the authors to submit the paper. That way, the editor can integrate that information into the assessment of that reviewer's review and assess it for bias.

More generally, the implications of the reviewers comments are problematic. A more appropriate comment would be "I think your paper is good and it would be a good fit for journal X." or "I know that the editor of journal X would be interested in your paper." By focusing on the idea that they might be a reviewer, it implies that they might give a more favourable review than a random reviewer, which from some perspectives implies a biased review process.

If you are submitting the paper to that journal, you could remove most ethical issues by acknowledging in your cover letter that your colleague and potential reviewer recommended that you submit the manuscript to this journal. This would allow the editor to consider whether they want to let your colleague be a reviewer, and if so, how their review should be treated.

  • Is it more ethical if Researcher B says only "I think your paper is good and it would be a good fit for journal X" (as you suggest), and does not mention her belief that she is very likely to be the reviewer? I think it relieves Researcher A of any ethical issue. Also, Researcher B is less likely to be accused of doing something unethical because some information is being omitted. However, does it make Researcher B's action more ethical? – FujiNEC Mar 30 '16 at 1:49
  • I guess it depends on what we were comparing things to. In general, if a colleague just mentions that a journal would be a good fit for your paper, then most of the time, this would not imply anything about whether the colleague was going to be a reviewer. And if the colleague says nothing about being a potential reviewer, then this speaks less to a potential desire to provide an unreasonably favourable review out of either an intrinsic desire to help you or out of some potential other benefit that might come from helping you. – Jeromy Anglim Mar 30 '16 at 3:27
  • @FujiNEC If person B knows that the article is a good fit for the journal, he should say so. Next, if the article indeed got to be reviewed by B AND B feels that he's biased towards A, an ethical move on B's side would be to ask the editor to find another reviewer, but that is not A's concern. – svavil Mar 30 '16 at 11:50
-3

From an academic standpoint- it is very dangerous. It is better not to do it, and it may backfire in a big unseen way.

  • 7
    Can you elaborate? In what way is it "dangerous"? What exactly is the "big unseen" way in which it may backfire? (Also see: What are we generally looking for in answers?) – ff524 Mar 29 '16 at 23:57
  • People talk. If "one" is, or gets, professionally involved and someone in a position of authority finds out- it can come back to haunt "one". The authority can alert subordinates. It is a danger that should not be completely dismissed. – Larry Kraft Apr 4 '16 at 21:53
  • @LarryKraft Clarifications should be edited into posts, not left buried in comments. – TRiG Nov 23 '16 at 12:12

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