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Author Topic: protecting a scoop  (Read 6967 times)
bibliothecula
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« on: April 24, 2012, 5:45:20 PM »

I need some help with phrasing in asking a journal editor to not ask a certain person to serve as a peer reviewer for an article of mine.

I have a big scoop. So far, only the editor at the journal where the article is under consideration and the editor at the press where I will likely eventually publish a book that will include the scoop know about it. JournalEd wants to know if there is anyone I don't want her to send my article to as part of peer review. There is another scholar working on the same topic, and I don't want her to know about the scoop until it's published. How do I politely say to JournalEd, "Please don't sent it to OtherScholar"? Do I need to explain that we're kind of competing? Should I also ask for JournalEd not to send it to OtherScholar's good buddies, also natural fits as reviewers for the article?

I don't know quite how to say it without sounding rude, or brash, or finicky. I know this should be obvious, but I can't find the right words.

Thanks in advance.
Bib
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frogfactory
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« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2012, 6:00:56 PM »

You just need to be matter of fact about it.  Use the term "conflict of interest" rather than "I don't want this person to pull the rug from out of my article".

In my subfield, although possibly not my entire field, it *would* be a bit odd to be working on something you already knew would be scooping someone else, rather than reaching out for a collaboration or changing topics, though.
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bibliothecula
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« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2012, 6:07:44 PM »

Thanks, frogfactory. It's a complicated situation.
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polly_mer
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« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2012, 9:25:38 PM »

Editors in my field usually don't ask for reasons, just the lists of "these would be good reviewers" and "please do not send the manuscript to these people".  The editors usually don't care unless the manuscript directly discusses and contradicts the work of an established person who is on the please-don't-send list.  Other than that, eh, the reason could be you know that a person is very busy and won't be reviewing, you know a person is sick and shouldn't be bothered, or a person slept with your wife and kicked your dog so you have a hit out and likely that person won't be alive to review in a timely manner.
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copper
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« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2012, 10:15:43 PM »

You just need to be matter of fact about it.  Use the term "conflict of interest" rather than "I don't want this person to pull the rug from out of my article".

NOoooo!  Froggy's right about being matter-of-fact, but don't call it a "conflict of interest."  The journal I edit for allows authors to specify reviewers to avoid.  I might still solicit a review from them if the person is particularly well-versed in the material of the manuscript, even if there's a conflict of interest, history of negativity, you slept with his/her wife, whatever -- I'd just keep that in mind as I considered that reviewer's report. 

As a researcher, I understand the desire to keep hot results out of a rival's eyes until publication is assured.  And so as an editor, I would honor that.  But you have to tell me that's what's going on. 

There are many conflicts of interest that don't necessitate privacy, just a closer scrutiny of whether any criticisms really are well-founded.

My suggestion is to list OtherScholar as a reviewer to avoid (if allowed, if not put it in the cover letter), and in the cover letter say something to the effect of "I believe that OtherScholar & her collaborators are competing with us on this specific research question and do not want them to be aware of these results until publication is assured."  You'd have to identify the collaborators (e.g. postdocs & such), and couldn't go overboard with it.  As far as buddies go, I think you have to trust that they have enough integrity to respect the confidentiality of the review process.

It might help if you know the editor personally -- can you request an ed?

--Cu
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larryc
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« Reply #5 on: April 24, 2012, 11:36:17 PM »

This is the sort of matter better dealt with in a phone call.
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #6 on: April 25, 2012, 10:05:08 AM »

If the journal offers you, up front, the option to blackball certain prospective reviewers, without saying why, then list Prof. X and relax.  Many journals do, as noted here.

If not, it is perfectly professional to contact the editor under these circumstances.  If you know anyone at the journal, call, as LarryC suggests.  If you don't, and feel more comfortable e-mailing, that's fine too.  Be apologetic, professional, friendly; explain the situation.  As Copper notes, editors are scholars too (for the most part) and will usually honor such requests.

Long ago, I had a scoop, too--and a nemesis, who, when he could not get me to divulge my source, tried a number of different tactics (contacting my Ph.D. adviser, trying to get to serve as an external reviewer on articles I was submitting) to discover it.  It was a deeply dismaying and unsettling experience.
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seniorscholar
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« Reply #7 on: April 25, 2012, 10:09:08 AM »

If the journal offers you, up front, the option to blackball certain prospective reviewers, without saying why, then list Prof. X and relax.  Many journals do, as noted here.


And as the editor of a journal for which I'm on the board once noted: no reason needed -- mine used to be "NO WAY to the b*** that slept with my husband and then married him" (though certainly intellectual or methodological conflicts are more common.
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bibliothecula
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like Bunnicula, only with books


« Reply #8 on: April 25, 2012, 1:16:27 PM »

Thank you, all--this is very helpful. I'd never been asked to identify "do not want" reviewers before, so it was all new. The editor,whom I do not know personally, was very gracious, and replied, "oh, I'm glad you told me not to use OtherScholar, as hers was the first name we found who might have experience with topic." I offered to send the editor a list of unbiased reviewers who work in roughly the same kind of thing, but have not heard back.
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drscot
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« Reply #9 on: April 25, 2012, 5:35:46 PM »

Can I suggest a strategy to deal with this issue?

1) Send a vague email (which does not reveal too much)  to "nemesis", asking if they would offer their comments on an article about idea X.

1a) They say yes.

1b) Send the article to editor of target journal, with a cover letter mentioning that "nemesis" had kindly agreed to comment on the article and so would not be an appropriate "blind" reviewer. You don't need to actually send the article to "nemesis" for this to be true...

OR

2) Send a vague email to "nemesis", asking if they would offer their comments on an article about idea X.

2a) They say no.

2b) Send the article to editor of target journal, with a cover letter mentioning that "nemesis" has already indicated, in discussions about your research, that they would not be willing to engage with this paper.

All of the above is just one person's opinion - so please pass by if it is not useful!
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #10 on: April 25, 2012, 6:09:57 PM »

Dr. Scot, I hate to disagree vehemently--violently?--especially since you're new here.  But I think any communication with Prof. Nemesis can only be a bad idea, on so many levels.  It is unnecessary, under the circumstances, and there are so many ways this could go badly, badly wrong.
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seniorscholar
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« Reply #11 on: April 25, 2012, 6:58:22 PM »

Dr. Scot, I hate to disagree vehemently--violently?--especially since you're new here.  But I think any communication with Prof. Nemesis can only be a bad idea, on so many levels.  It is unnecessary, under the circumstances, and there are so many ways this could go badly, badly wrong.

Among the most obvious being that it's not OK to communicate beforehand with a person who may be a blind reviewer of your manuscript.
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hungry_ghost
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« Reply #12 on: April 25, 2012, 10:16:38 PM »

I want to chime in and disagree with Dr. Scot, and to give a personal anecdote about how this sort of strategy might backfire. A while back, I contacted scholar who has worked on a similar area and asked if he would read a paper I was planning to submit for publication. Someone else had introduced us and spoken highly of him, and I felt his comments would have helped me improve my working draft. He agreed to comment on my paper and I sent it to him, but he never got back to me. I needed to go ahead and submit the paper. I wrote an entirely honest cover letter to the editor, in which I identified the people who had commented on my paper and whose comments I had already incorporated, and also identified the person who had seen my paper but had not gotten back to me with comments. The editor knew this scholar and sent my paper to him anyhow, even though the editor was aware that he had already seen my paper and knew exactly who had written it. (And he utterly shredded it in his review, which was written in pretty abusive language, but that's a different story...)

So, I have three objections to your strategy:
First, it is deceptive and unethical.
Second, it could easily fail. See my anecdote above, in which I genuinely sought comments and input. You're suggesting that someone should simply pretend to seek input.
Third, it is entirely unnecessary to do such elaborate deception, since in this case, the author has the option to request that the editor not send the paper to this particular reviewer.

That said, I'm not so sure about this:
Among the most obvious being that it's not OK to communicate beforehand with a person who may be a blind reviewer of your manuscript.
I like to get comments on my papers before I submit them. I do this to improve my papers, not to eliminate potentially hostile reviewers, but just about anyone I send my paper to is potentially a blind reviewer. I think it is fine to send papers to anyone you want, and to say anything you want to anyone about any project you're working on. What is utterly wrong is deliberately deceiving an editor about the nature of those communications, or the reasons for them.

Lying is bad and deceiving people is wrong, and Dr. Scot, even if what you're suggesting isn't an outright lie, the intent of your strategy is to deceive, and that is simply not right.

1b) Send the article to editor of target journal, with a cover letter mentioning that "nemesis" had kindly agreed to comment on the article and so would not be an appropriate "blind" reviewer. You don't need to actually send the article to "nemesis" for this to be true...

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shrek
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« Reply #13 on: April 25, 2012, 10:36:37 PM »

For a manuscript I recently submitted to a journal in my field, I asked the editor not to assign it to a certain AE. I noted that we were working on competing projects. And that to avoid potential conflicts or appearance of conflicts of interest I was requesting that it be assigned to someone else for coordination of the reivew. It was assigned to someone else. I would have withdrawn the ms. if it had been assigned to the person I didn't want.
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tinyzombie
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« Reply #14 on: April 25, 2012, 10:39:19 PM »

Dr. Scot, I hate to disagree vehemently--violently?--especially since you're new here.  But I think any communication with Prof. Nemesis can only be a bad idea, on so many levels.  It is unnecessary, under the circumstances, and there are so many ways this could go badly, badly wrong.

Among the most obvious being that it's not OK to communicate beforehand with a person who may be a blind reviewer of your manuscript.

Yeah, SS's take was what I thought right away.

I hope DrScot doesn't take his/her own advice.
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