In March 2000 author A submitted a research letter to journal X, on behalf of a national screening programme. He also submitted a commissioned editorial to journal Y, relating to the same subject. At the same time, author A sent copies of both articles to B, a recognised authority on the subject. He made it clear that they were confidential and in press and asked for some information on a test used by B which he could include in the editorial. He also suggested to B that he might wish to respond to the research letter if it were accepted. B did not reply, however, but at the end of March he submitted a paper to journal Z. This paper compared the screening programme run by B, with the suggested screening programmed detailed in the unpublished research letter by author A, and concluded that the former was greatly superior. The editor of journal Z in all innocence sent B’s paper to author A for review. Author A wasn’t too impressed by the paper. He was much less impressed by B taking an opportunity to write a paper specifically involving confidential material that he, A, had shown him. He was also concerned about B knowing he was the reviewer as he had only recently persuaded B to join him in a joint grant proposal and he did not want it prejudiced by bad feeling between the two of them. Perhaps it is not necessary to add that the arguments are all to do with which particular screening programme might be accepted by the NHS. Not only prestige but also possibly income from a patented testing tool may be involved. Should the editor accept A’s view that B’s paper is poor, or should he send it to another reviewer? Does it matter, since the ethical issue means that B’s paper would be unacceptable even if a new reviewer liked it? How should the editor deal with B, in pointing out the ethical issue, bearing in mind the delicacy of the situation?
_ B’s paper should be ruled out unless a satisfactory explanation was received. _ There was a problem of timing, particularly as there was a patent pending. _ Paper B had been submitted as a commentary but was written up more as a paper. A commentary would have been acceptable if paper A had been published. _ It was suggested the editor ascertain what had happened to paper A, and if published, he should find out exactly when, because this will determine the timelines.
The Journal X paper was published in December, the Journal Z paper was rejected on its lack of merit. Author A requested that the matter not be made public as he was collaborating with author B on a research grant proposal. And he thought this might be jeopardised by a disclosure from Journal Z. The request was respected.