An article reviewing approaches to modelling the impact of widescale therapy for a particular condition was submitted to the journal. The editors mistakenly sent the article to an individual (reviewer A) whom the authors had requested be excluded as a reviewer (the article was critical of some of the reviewer's previous work). Upon realizing this mistake, the editorial board decided that they would disregard that particular review when it was received, even though the reviewer had already agreed to referee the article. No comments were received from reviewer A for over 3 months, and it was assumed that none would be forthcoming. In the meantime, additional reviews were received from other referees. Based on these, the authors submitted a revised version of the manuscript, which was subsequently accepted for publication. The manuscript is currently in preparation for publication.
Following the manuscript's acceptance, reviewer A contacted the editors citing major concerns about the article. In particular, reviewer A was opposed to the authors introducing in a review article a new mathematical model that had not been previously peer-reviewed, and suggested that the authors presented issues that had previously been addressed by others as if it were their own work. If the article had not yet been published, reviewer A requested that publication be delayed until their concerns had been addressed.
The editors wrote back to reviewer A saying that the article had already been accepted for publication and that it would be unfair to the authors to delay publication, as it had already been through peer review. In addition, they explained why they disagreed with reviewer A's concerns. However, reviewer A would have the option of writing a letter based on the published version, to which the authors could then respond. Reviewer A has re-iterated their concerns and expressed an intention to write such a letter.
- How should the editorial board handle instances in which an article is sent to a reviewer by mistake?
What are our responsibilities to authors and reviewers in such cases, particularly if the reviewer has some concerns that could be legitimate?
The issue of asking for authors who they would like to exclude was discussed. It was questioned if it was generally allowed for authors to suggest excluding reviewers. Also there was a potential problem in that the option to excludereviewers was shown last on the electronic submissions system, so it was possible to mistake them as possible reviewers. A recent study suggested that author suggested reviewers on average makemore favourable comments. Another study found there was no difference in quality, but author suggested reviewers were more likely to support publication of a paper. It was also pointed out that in some journals, authors were asked not only which reviewers they wanted to exclude, but why, and this sometimes provided important information.
It was also pointed out that the exclusions were only suggestions, the editor could use these people as reviewers if they liked.
The journal should have told the reviewer that the paper was sent in error (which it was). Nonetheless if there are legitimate concerns with the paper, the editor should seek further advice, and put the concerns to another reviewer or the other original reviewers. It was also thought the editor had a duty to pursue any concerns.
Also the editor should change the form on the journals electronic submissions system so that excluded reviewers are flagged and shown first.
We published the article as originally intended. The reviewer expressed their intention to write a letter to the editors in response, but so far we haven’t received anything.