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About a year ago I received a request to review a paper from author X in journal A. The paper uses a hype tool T to solve a common problem, which is good, but due to some shortcomings in the implementation I recommended to revise the manuscript. The editor followed my recommendation.

About a month ago I was contacted by an editor in journal B asking me to review a manuscript from unrelated authors Y. They use the same hype tool T to solve the same problem. I accepted to review it, and mentioned that I had reviewed a similar paper for a different journal (without naming it). It is now due in a couple of days.

Now to my surprise I just received a request to review a revised manuscript of author X from journal A (I thought X had given up on it since more than a year passed). I would like to accept but won't be able to deliver the review before 3-4 weeks.

This is a "winner gets it all" kind of situation. The paper that gets published first wins, and I think would be ground to drop and reject the second paper as not really novel any longer. (No plagiarism here, and nothing unethical done by the authors; just an obvious answer to an old question with hype tool T. I had myself thought of it before hearing from A, and discarded it only due to lack of time.) How should I deal with that?

Should I disclose to the respective editors that I am reviewing similar papers? I suspect that would be a breach of the confidentiality. Should I have refrained to mention to editor of journal B that I had reviewed a similar paper in the past?

Would it be a conflict of interest to review the revised manuscript from X? Should I decline the review?

Also, should I inform the editor of the other journal once the first paper gets published? If so, how can I politely ask to be informed when the manuscript gets published without giving away that there is a similar manuscript out there?

  • I don't think you are obliged to take any action. Just review them as if they were unrelated. I think it's best if you don't get yourself involved in the rest. – somerandomdude Apr 3 '16 at 8:16
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    This is a "winner gets it all" kind of situation. The paper that gets published first wins --- [citation needed] – JeffE Apr 3 '16 at 13:08
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    I guess I must be an outsider: what is a "hype tool"? Facetiously, I might guess/pretend that it's a marketing or advertising or political gadget. What does "hype" really mean here? I am asking sincerely... – paul garrett Apr 3 '16 at 23:27
  • @paulgarrett tool T has received a lot of attention from the field (from twitter to conference talks etc) and everyone is talking about it. We're talking about a software tool that makes it much easier to solve a whole array of problems, so everyone wants to do something with it. – Calimo Apr 4 '16 at 7:40
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Simultaneous or independent discoveries happen often. If the paper A has a first submission date published, that should ensure paper A being fairly treated.

Apart from that, I do agree with the other responses that actually discussing the situation with the editors (without disclosing mutually the authors) may be a good idea here.

My purely personal view (others may disagree) would be that independent results which overlap temporally due to an unlucky accident both deserve publication. It was pure coincidence that in your case they ended up going via a single-person bottleneck.

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This exact situation is difficult to assess without detailed knowledge but the editors of the journals should be aware of the situation. Since each case is unique and we do not know the details it will be up to the editors to judge or take the matter further.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has one case on simultaneous publications that can be of interst to read.

So the advice is: yes contact the editors and provide the information you can. They will then have to take action, compare manuscripts or whatever the deem necessary. Similar works have been published simultaneously before so it is not certain there is a violation lurking somewhere but it is unusual.

  • Interesting case study, although in that one "The authors of these two papers overlap significantly and the two co-corresponding authors are the same" – ff524 Apr 3 '16 at 8:33
  • Yes it is as close as I could get with cope's cases but it serves as an example of their actions. – Peter Jansson Apr 3 '16 at 8:35
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    Interesting. But in this case the authors don't overlap at all, and more importantly I have no doubt they came to the result completely separately: as I said it is a somewhat obvious development following the release of hype tool T. Incidentally the editors are probably well aware of that fact and expecting similar things to be published elsewhere. – Calimo Apr 3 '16 at 12:57
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There are many cases of simultaneous discovery.

I don't think you need to interfere, unless there is reason to believe the second papers authors were referees on.the first, author overlap, dual submission or other plagiarism/unethical behavior. As far as I can tell, you have no reason to believe so?

See: there is a good chance the first (or both) will be in print before one could have read the other. Then both have studied this "first" (does not sound like major breakthrough anyway).

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