ZbMATH sent an article for post-publication review. As of a little more than a month ago, I worked at the same department in the same university as one of the authors. We have not cooperated on a paper, but have otherwise interacted.

Should I decline to review the paper due to this conflict of interest (as I would do with a peer review for e.g. a journal article), or do zbMATH reviews have more lax standards for conflicts of interest? The reviews are post-publication, and for a review database and not a journal, and furthermore they are not anonymous, so they are quite different from journal peer reviews.

The review guidelines of zbMATH did not mention conflicts of interest.

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    Can you elaborate about the purpose and impact of the requested review? Is this like a book review? – Stella Biderman Oct 24 '17 at 19:42
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    Zentralblatt used to publish reviews written by the author of the paper. I don't know whether that's still the case. – Andreas Blass Oct 25 '17 at 2:41

ZbMath is like Math Reviews in concept. It publishes summaries of already published articles, to help those perusing the literature to find articles of interest. These summaries are, generally speaking, not evaluative, rather informative (in some cases the published reviews are simply quotations from the article's abstract) and they are signed. Since there is no evaluation, there is not much likelihood of conflict of interest. A reviewer could downplay an important paper by writing a short succinct review, or exaggerate the importance of a minor paper by writing a long review, and one perhaps occasionally encounters things like this, but neither really does much damage, except perhaps to deflate or inflate an ego.

  • I don't know about ZbMath, but some reviews on Math Reviews are, let's say, very "evaluative"... – Federico Poloni Oct 25 '17 at 12:06
  • (A few examples: www2.math.ou.edu/~kmartin/mr2006.html) – Federico Poloni Oct 25 '17 at 13:04
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    @FedericoPoloni: These examples are relatively rare, and I think at least the negative ones would not have been published were their evaluations not essentially correct. Said another way, they fit in the scheme of providing a guide to the literature. Pointing out demonstrable plagiarism is a service. The cited examples do not seem to me evidence of conflicts of interest. – Dan Fox Oct 25 '17 at 13:37
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    Well, Mathematical Reviews review are sometimes quite inaccurate and and can negatively impact the way a paper is viewed (e.g., by making it sound like the main results are already known when they aren't). However, I agree this is quite rare and is more likely to happen when the reviewer inadvertently misunderstands the paper/literature, rather than by malicious design. And authors can contact the AMS if a review of their paper is really inaccurate. (As I recall, there was such a dispute for at least 1 example on my list that @FedericoPoloni linked to.) – Kimball Oct 26 '17 at 12:09

I posed the question to the editorial staff at zbMATH and got the following response:

We think that being employed at the same institution as one of the authors is not per se an instance of conflict of interest for a reviewer. However, if you personally feel uncomfortable with reviewing the particular paper assigned to you, just let us know, and we'll ask another reviewer.

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