A manuscript was submitted to my journal. The author, on his own accord, submitted the manuscript for review to several reviewers under the guise that this was sent by me. The author sent the following explanation:
“In some of our previous encounters, you have indicated that finding sufficient cooperative reviewers has been a problem for you. In order to provide you with some help in this area, I have invented an ad hoc entity, ‘Nominated Reviewer Referral Service’, under which aegis ‘blind’ emails were sent to an assortment of academics and journalists, advising them that they had been ‘nominated’ to provide a brief review and evaluation of the paper, which I attached. I did not identify myself as the author or give any kind of a ‘sales pitch’, nor did I try to give the impression that you had anything to do with the sending of these emails, or were even aware of them. If any of these people choose to respond, it will be directly to you, and I will never see the responses unless you at some point forward them to me.”
I did hear from several people with the assumption that I had invited them to review the manuscript. I understand that I could ignore these reviews. However, I wonder what I can do with a manuscript that has been submitted under these circumstances. What is the best ethical course of action?
The Forum questioned the motive of the author. Did he genuinely believe he was being helpful? Regardless of the answer, the author is being misleading in that recipients would assume that the email came from the editor, whether or not he is doing it intentionally (and whether or not the message mentions the journal name or some other fictional organization). The Forum agreed this is unacceptable behaviour on the part of the author. The editor should write a firm letter to the author telling him his behaviour is unacceptable. The review process should be honest and transparent. On a practical level, the author could also do damage to the editor’s relationship with the reviewers. The author’s behaviour undermines the system and the editor should also point this out to the author in his letter. Other advice was to contact the author’s institution and inform them of the situation. If the editor feels that the trust between the editor and author has been lost he should consider not publishing the paper.
The journal proceeded to let people know that they were contacted not through the editor. However, due to the fact that the editor had selected those who had been contacted (to accept their review), the reviews were considered. The paper was indeed accepted. The author was admonished for his inappropriate behaviour.