Reviewer bias or competitive harmful acts by reviewers
Editors should avoid selecting external peer reviewers with obvious potential conflicts of interest, for example, those who work in the same department or institution as any of the authors. Authors often provide editors with the names of persons they feel should not be asked to review a manuscript because of potential conflicts of interest, usually professional. Where possible, authors should be asked to explain or justify their concerns - this information is important to editors in deciding whether to honour such requests.
Reviewers must disclose to editors any conflicts of interest that could bias their opinions of the manuscript, and they should disqualify themselves from reviewing specific manuscripts if they believe it to be appropriate. As in the case of authors, silence on the part of reviewers concerning potential conflicts may mean either that a conflict they have failed to disclose exists, or that conflicts do not exist. Reviewers must therefore also be asked to state explicitly whether conflicts do or do not exist. Reviewers must not use knowledge of the work, before its publication, to further their own interests.
Editors who make final decisions about manuscripts must have no personal, professional, or financial involvement in any of the issues they might judge. Other members of the editorial staff, if they participate in editorial decisions, must provide editors with a current description of their financial interests (as they might relate to editorial judgments) and disqualify themselves from any decisions where they have a conflict of interest. Editorial staff must not use the information gained through working with manuscripts for private gain. Editors should publish regular disclosure statements about potential conflicts of interests related to the commitments of journal staff.
Note the procedures below are similar to those for research misappropriation by one author of another author’s work. The complainant must be made aware that the matter cannot be investigated unless the journal editor informs the reviewer (due process obligation to reviewer, similar to that owed to authors) and possibly the institution or company at which the reviewer is employed.
In the communication to the reviewer (see Form letter F), the editor should indicate that the matter may be referred to the reviewer’s institution or company if the reviewer does not or is unable to provide a reasonable explanation (accepted as reasonable by the editor).
Frequently asked questions
Then the editor will work with their publishing contact to effect such retraction or removal, and ensure that the actual researcher receives appropriate credit (this could take many forms depending on the circumstances).
The editor will most likely remove the reviewer from the journal database (a form of asking for the reviewer’s resignation) and may consider in extreme cases whether any form of public statement to that effect would be appropriate (with legal review for defamation and reviewer confidentiality issues).
Then the editor will have to consider whether the reviewer’s explanation is reasonable. Normally the editor would also inform the complainant of the reviewer’s explanation and seek comment (see Form letter G).
Then the editor should inform the reviewer and complainant that the journal will be bound by such determination of the institution.
Then this should be reviewed with the complainant (perhaps the complainant is better placed to make the complaint directly with the institution).
Then the editor will be expected to make a determination, in his or her reasonable judgment, as to the underlying facts, and to make a recommendation to Elsevier (and possibly the society for a society journal). It may be advisable for the editor in this fact-finding process to request the views and comments of third parties who may be expected to have knowledge of the facts alleged by the complainant.
These are available for a second opinion (*) . This is often the time for the editor to discuss the case with his/her publishing contact within Elsevier and agree what action, if any, needs to be taken.