Is it ethical to "group review" a un-published manuscript sent out for review?

For example, you received a manuscript for review and you shared it with your lab group or group of colleagues, with the permission of the journal but not the permission of the authors. Is this ok?

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    Did the editor gave permission to distribute the paper to your colleagues? But the editor did not get the permission of the author? That sounds very strange because, since the paper is under review, the journal does not have the copyright of the paper to allow free distribution. So, no it's not OK. – PsySp Mar 10 '17 at 12:37
  • Editor gave permission to group review the manuscript, but the authors were never informed. – John Waller Mar 10 '17 at 12:45
  • It is not clear. What does it mean "gave permission"? Did you ask for it and the Editor gave? Or from the beginning editor suggested that it's fine if you do a group review? – PsySp Mar 10 '17 at 12:48
  • Was given manuscript to review as an individual. Asked permission from editor/journal to review as a group. Permission was given by the journal/editor. Authors informed in comments afterwards. – John Waller Mar 10 '17 at 13:15
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    I doubt that in this case it is OK. I do not think that the editor has the "right" to give such permission, even if cases where confidentiality is guaranteed. – PsySp Mar 10 '17 at 13:16

Grey area, leaning towards unethical. Confidentiality is an important value in the peer review process, and the usual understanding of confidentiality is that the paper will be distributed to the minimum number of people required to perform the reviews. Therefore, your case, where a group of people replaces a single person, can be seen as a violation of confidentiality.

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    The answer below, meant for a comment. I deleted it. Here it is: I agree. Unless for unknown reasons this was the case from the review invitation, then the editor does not have the right to give permission for a group review. – PsySp Mar 10 '17 at 13:18
  • IMO this depends a lot on the field. In mathematics, if the article is already posted on a repository like arxiv, I would see a group review as a positive thing. – Nick S Mar 10 '17 at 13:43
  • @NickS Even in this case, the point is: Does the Editor has the right to give permission to a group review? As lighthouse keeper said, it's probably very borderline case unless the authors are informed. – PsySp Mar 10 '17 at 13:47
  • @PsySp Again, this is probably area dependent, but as long as confidentiality is not compromised, the editor doesn't have to let the author know if adding extra reviewers. Keep in mind though that in my area, almost every paper appears on an online repository when submitted, which makes many of the points around "keeping the number of people who review the manuscript minimal" irrelevant. And also, typically the review is much longer than in other areas, most of the times because of technical proofs and many very very subtle points which take a lot of time to think over..... The possibility of – Nick S Mar 10 '17 at 16:21
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    I agree that confidentiality is not so big an issue when the paper is already publicly available, of course. I also agree that group review may have certain benefits, but that's a different discussion, since it applies regardless of possible violations of the author's confidentiality. – lighthouse keeper Mar 10 '17 at 16:39

Still not enough detail for a definitive answer, but here goes:

Confidentiality is fundamental for the review process and especially the authors who submit their papers expect that their manuscript is treated confidential. Hence, all reviewers have to treat the manuscript as such (and usually the editors informs the authors of the general review guidelines). If you as a reviewer asks the editor if other may help you with the review, this is totally OK. The editor may decide what to do, especially he may decide to allow this procedure but all members of the group performing the review have to adhere to the review guidelines, especially treating the whole review process confidential. Also the editor should know all members of the group who is performing the review. If all this is the case, there is nothing wrong with a group review.

Of course, you may not extend the group of reviewer at will.

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  • Good answer. The important things here are (1) Did the authors knew about the change in the review process? NO (only in retrospect). (2) Did the editor knew the whole group that is going to review the paper (so it might seem like a collective review invitation? NOT CLEAR. In any case, I do not think that the editor played well in this case. – PsySp Mar 10 '17 at 14:32
  • It boils down to the definition of "confidentiality". In my answer, I assume a more conservative definition, where authors can expect that their manuscripts are only distributed to a minimal number of people, which is not the case for a group review. Unfortunately, there's no single clear-cut definition of "confidentiality" in this matter, but In doubt, it seems appropriate to apply the most conservative one. – lighthouse keeper Mar 10 '17 at 14:45

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