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It happened many times that I saw a paper submitted to a conference where I am on the PC, or a journal where I am editing, and such paper had something similar to what I am working on. The situation is worse when I already have something better.

Of course I should declare a conflict of interest and should let others handle the paper. But I always wonder whether I should contact the authors.

  • If I don't contact the authors, they might doubt the independence of my paper from theirs when I publish my paper (since my name is shown in the conference/journal they submitted their paper to). This will be worse if their paper was not published at that point (perhaps it got rejected several times).
  • If I do contact the them, they may feel that I push them to do something they don't want to, such as making their paper public or collaborating with me.

There are more pros and cons, but I will stop here to keep the question short.

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    If the result preempts yours and makes it unpublishable, then you won’t publish anything. If your paper is still publishable, then you can just cite them. I’m not sure what the dilemma is. – Stella Biderman Nov 11 '17 at 13:43
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    @StellaBiderman: The way I understood the question, the paper wouldn't be published yet. You can't cite something you only saw in a confidential situation. If the paper does get accepted, I agree that citing it will be enough, no need to talk to the authors. – nengel Nov 11 '17 at 14:06
  • @StellaBiderman: If I didn't contact the author, the concern is this situation: the publication of their paper got so delayed so I ended up publishing before them. Would they doubt that I scoop their result? See this question as an example: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/88219/… – user82776 Nov 11 '17 at 15:53
  • Whether you should declare conflict of interest seems to depend on the publication venue. I've seen some venues that would consider your scenario a conflict and others that would not. – user2768 Jan 17 '18 at 14:17
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If you have already read the paper, do not contact the authors. Here's why:

  1. You would have to admit to them you read the paper. Since that is a conflict of interest (and you should have recused yourself), you would essentially be outing yourself and the journal for less than ethical reviewing.
  2. You would be providing an incomplete opinion on their results. Your paper hasn't been published yet, so you don't know for a fact that your results/contribution are considered more valuable than theirs. Telling them of your research may sway them to continue or abandon their work unfairly.

Going forward, make sure to recuse yourself from editing before you read the paper. When the editor/assigner emails you about the assignment, make sure to read the abstract thoroughly. If one is not provided, email back and ask for one. If the abstract suggests a line of research that appears close to yours, recuse yourself at that point -- before reading the full submission. If you have any doubts about how close it is, I would recuse myself anyway. Most editors appreciate this.

  • This doesn't answer the question -- the OP seems to have already decided how to deal with reviewing. The question is about whether to contact the authors. – David Ketcheson Feb 6 '18 at 19:47
  • @DavidKetcheson Fair point - I will revise. – SHJ9000 Feb 6 '18 at 20:04

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