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I am submitting a a paper to a top conference and I need to determine the reviewers with conflicts of interests.

There is a big competition in having papers accepted at this conference, among people working in this area. Also, it is very likely that my paper goes to people who are in the same area for judgement. Particularly, some of these people are not very honest and they blindly reject other people's works, in order to publish their own papers. To myself, it has been proven the dishonesty of them.

Is it OK to put these people in my list of reviewers to exclude because of conflicts of interests? There are other researchers who can judge the quality of my paper honestly, because I am not putting everybody on that list. But is it right to do so?

  • @CapeCode e.g. is right, and that's why it is making me confused; conflict of interests means to exclude those who benefit from the outcome of my research, or those who may intentionally accept/reject my research? – orezvani Aug 10 '16 at 6:03
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    If they are actually being dishonest and rejecting the papers for factually incorrect reasons, you should provide evidence of this to the editor. However, I suspect that you really mean they are just biased against you (in your opinion). Unfortunately, there's not a lot you can do about that. – user24098 Aug 10 '16 at 8:53
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    @dan1111 Good point, I actually emailed the PC Chair about "completely invalid" arguments of the reviewers, but there was no reply. – orezvani Aug 11 '16 at 2:14
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    Many of the guidelines that I've seen have a clause along the lines of "anyone else who you feel may not review the work fairly due to your relationship with them", and some even cite "personal animosity" as a valid reason. Many of the answers cite being in competition as not being a valid reason, which is true, but I also see a lot of "assuming good faith", and my read of your question is that you are not comfortable making that assumption. In my view, it is OK to declare a conflict with folks you think (reasonably and in good faith) won't give you a good faith review. – Reid Aug 11 '16 at 20:43
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In my experience, when a conference asks authors to identify reviewers that are conflicted, they want you to identify reviewers who fall into certain categories of people who should not review your work because they have a relationship with you personally that could bias their review. For example: your advisor, your colleagues, your current collaborators, your family members, etc. They are not asking you to list reviewers who you consider to be your competition.

For example, the instructions for POPL 2017 say:

As an author, you should list PC and ERC members (and any others, since others may be asked for outside reviewers) which you believe have a conflict with you. While particular criteria for making this determination may vary, please apply the following guidelines, identifying a potential reviewer Bob as conflicted if

  • Bob was your co-author or collaborator at some point within the last 2 years
  • Bob is an advisor or advisee of yours
  • Bob is a family member
  • Bob has a non-trivial financial stake in your work (e.g., invested in your startup company)

Also please identify institutions with which you are affiliated; all employees or affiliates of these institutions will also be considered conflicted.

If a possible reviewer does not meet the above criteria, please do not identify him/her as conflicted. Doing so could be viewed as an attempt to prevent a qualified, but possibly skeptical reviewer from reviewing your paper. If you nevertheless believe that a reviewer who does not meet the above criteria is conflicted, you may identify the person and send a note to the PC Chair.

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    This means that I need to email the PC Chair and hope they don't get offended by my note. – orezvani Aug 10 '16 at 6:32
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    @emab The PC chair is unlikely to consider "competition" to be a valid reason to conflict a reviewer. – ff524 Aug 10 '16 at 6:34
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    @DavidRicherby It is a programming language theory conference, they love their metasyntactic variables like 'foo', 'bar', and 'baz'. There are also metasyntactic names used for people that are not nonsense syllables but rather 'Alice' and 'Bob', who I think were selected for their convenient initials. Using 'Bob' above was not accidental, it is just shorthand for some arbitrary person. – Ukko Aug 10 '16 at 14:47
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    @DavidRicherby Oh, Bob is definitely conflicted, no doubt about that. – Adam Davis Aug 10 '16 at 16:29
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    @David don't let Eve hear you say that. – Sandy Chapman Aug 11 '16 at 1:06
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The answer is no.

Being in competition with you for acceptance is not a valid reason to exclude reviewers. That competition is implicit and you'd be excluding everyone then. Peer review assumes good faith on both authors and reviewers sides.

In your question you seem to imply that some reviewers are being dishonest, that is an entirely other issue.

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You should read the guidelines carefully. Not every field/journal/conference will see things the same way. In particular it may depend heavily on whether you are asked for a reason for exclusion. Note that previous co-authors are easily spotted in bibliometric systems (including the journal's in-house system if you habitually publish there); competitors are harder to find.

According to AIP's ethics guidelines.

Privileged information or ideas obtained through peer review must be kept confidential and not used for competitive gain. Reviewers must disclose conflicts of interest resulting from direct competitive, collaborative, or other relationships with any of the authors, and avoid cases in which such conflicts preclude an objective evaluation.

Thus the onus is on the reviewers. However (from memory, if I'm wrong I'm thinking of another publisher) when you're asked for reviewers to avoid, you're also asked to provide a reason. By stating that you are competing with another group you can help the editor make a judgement call bearing in mind that in the editors' responsibilities section:

Situations that may lead to real or perceived conflicts of interest should be avoided.

The editor may think "perfect, someone who can review this really critically" and choose to ignore your suggestion (that's all it usually is) but then they have to be able to stand by this decision. It could affect how they choose the other reviewer(s). But you need to be specific and polite -- not "Prof X has it in for me" but "Prof X's group are working on very similar material and we feel it would be a conflict of interest if they were to see this work ahead of publication".

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    +1 For having the ba%%s to address the fact that, while it is nice to think that peer-review is always on the up-and-up, reality says otherwise, and we should not always have blind faith (nor should we always be expected to have concrete proof that someone is acting in a malicious manner; sometimes you gotta go with your gut that someone is going to try to get the upper hand anyway they can). – Mad Jack Aug 10 '16 at 17:25
  • @MadJack thank you, though I'm mainly quoting, and put a little context on it. – Chris H Aug 10 '16 at 18:02
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Assuming good faith,

your competitors are the best peer reviewers

and you are one of the most appropriate reviewers for your competitors. You want a reviewer that is an expert on your field. Not some student of a different subdomain that gives you a "reject, I don't like Figure 5 and your result on data 3 could be better" kind of review.

Don't forget there (usually) is some senior pc/editor handling the reviews and doing the final decision. If a competitor is just giving a review "our method X is better, reject" then the handling PC may ignore his review.

It may help to treat competitors fair. Discuss their work, compare to their method. Show when and why your approach is better. Your competitors will like their work being read, understood, cited and improved. You can establish healthy competitions on the research direction along with respect for one another's work. Treat them as peers, not as enemies.

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    As you noted, this is the case when you assume that your competitor is fair enough to accept the competition. It is an interesting point, because the reviews that I got were like this: "You haven't compared your results with X" where X is the reviewers' work and I HAVE actually done the comparison in both experiments and related works. The same reviewer made many invalid criticizes. – orezvani Aug 11 '16 at 8:39
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    If you get an outright incorrect review - always point this out to the editor. That reviewer should be blacklisted. Talk to the relevant people, solve conflicts. – Anony-Mousse Aug 11 '16 at 10:43
  • But let me also point out that I have seen very bad discussion of related work, that I would also not accept. Often along the lines of "We cannot compare with X because they use green apples not yellow apples." - which an experienced reviewer will read as "we don't want to compare to X, but are afraid we will get rejected if this is not in our references list". In particular students tend to shed away from having to actually reproduce the work of others to compare to. – Anony-Mousse Aug 11 '16 at 10:46
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    I actually did email the PC chair, but they did not bother a reply. I had compared both theoretical and experimental results with their method. The same person published 4-5 papers in that conference (which is strange, how could a researcher get this many papers in one round of such prestigious conference? ans: by kicking others out). I have total confidence in the work that was rejected there, as I immediately submitted it to another prestigious conference, which was double blind, and it got strong accept (all reviewers accepted it). – orezvani Aug 11 '16 at 11:01
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    There is no real reason though to assume good faith, is there? – Dilworth Aug 13 '16 at 0:07
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While I mainly agree with Chris H's answer, it seems that most people here are saying you shouldn't and it would be unethical, so I thought I should add that I have seem guidelines for reviewers that, in their section on declaring conflict of interest, it specifies people in direct competition as well as friends and family etc.

There would hopefully be enough people in your field working on related things that you can exclude a couple who are working on directly contradictory theories without running out of reviewers.

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