A known expert in a certain content area was asked to review a manuscript. He asked if one of his trainees (not a content expert) could review the manuscript instead, with some oversight and as a training exercise. He stated that he would provide the trainee with a full explanation of confidentiality. The section editor replied that it was the particular expertise of the invited reviewer that was being sought. The invited reviewer agreed to review the manuscript. Subsequently, the reviewer contacted the section editor, stating that his trainee had reviewed the manuscript and felt the manuscript should be rejected; the reviewer also read it and concurred, suggesting that the editor reject the manuscript as poor science (my words), but did not include a detailed review. The section editor pushed him to return a detailed review, which he has now done.
My question is: is giving this manuscript (not blinded, ie, author names and affiliations are evident) to the trainee a breach of confidentiality on the part of the reviewer? If so, what steps do you recommend taking?
The Forum suggested that this type of behaviour probably occurs quite frequently. As the editor did not specifically state that the reviewer should not share the manuscript with the trainee, the Forum believed it was not strictly a breach of confidentiality. If the manuscript is unblinded and the editor is happy for the reviewer to see the author names and affiliations, then it is probably acceptable for the trainee reviewer to see this information, but the journal should be informed. The journal may need to ensure that the trainee does not have a conflict of interest and has the expertise to review the manuscript.
The Forum questioned how trainees can gain experience in reviewing manuscripts. A suggestion was to circulate good reviews to trainee reviewers, but with the consent of the reviewer and probably also the author.
The editor shared the Forum’s advice with the section editors, that they need to be very clear in the invitation to review if they do not wish a trainee to review the manuscript.