Disagreement between a reviewer and an author

Case number:
97-03

Case text (Anonymised)

We sent a paper to a reviewer, who suggested that we should reject the paper, principally because he thought it “virtually identical to a paper in press by the same authors”. We rejected the paper with these comments. The author came back to us saying that he did not believe that he had had a fair review of his paper because, he thought, the reviewer had a conflict of interest. He wrote: “The individual involved is situated in a rival institute with my department and is presently undergoing negotiation to merge his and my department. This puts us in direct conflict with each other both academically and with regard to administrative details. Therefore I do not believe we have received a non-biased review of our paper.” He also wrote: “comments on our paper, most of which were unfavourable, have been cited by this individual to other senior academics and editors of other journals.” The author did not make any response to the accusation of duplicate publication. I wrote back to this author saying that if he has correctly identified the reviewer (which seems likely), then I am disturbed that the reviewer did not declare a conflict of interest. I also asked him to respond to the point of possible redundant publication. I haven’t heard from the author. What should I do now?

Advice: 

The reviewer should be told of the author’s allegations. At a minimum, the reviewer should have revealed his conflict of interest and probably not have reviewed the paper. There is fault on both sides: conflict of interest and redundancy. The reviewer may simply have an interest rather than a conflict of interest. We can not go back to reviewer without the author’s permission. If the author gives it , then the editor is obliged to inform the reviewer of the allegations. Shoddy behaviour on both sides, does the editor have a responsibility or should he walk away? Conclusion It is the duty of the editor to outreach to all parties possibly at fault. Affirmative action should be taken and the obligations of both parties should be defined. (1) Follow up the accusation of redundant publication with the author. (2) If publication is redundant, the author should be reprimanded. A literature search will provide evidence of previous redundancy by the author. If he has done this before then his institution should be informed. (3) If the author gives permission, then the reviewer should be questioned about conflict of interest; without the author’s permission, this would have to be left alone. Further action The editor should write a third time to the author (the earlier letters not having been acknowledged) telling him that he can not let the matter rest. If there is still no reply then the editor should contact the reviewer requesting clarification of the evidence of redundancy.

Follow up: 

Neither the author not the reviewer have responded, and the case remains unresolved.

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