Friday, December 18, 2015

A few thoughts on reviewers´ conflict of interest

Over the past decade, it has become customary for most peer-review journals (including APS journals) to ask potential reviewers to declare potential conflict of interests. Circumstances that may be perceived as conflict of interest typically include e.g. a close personal or professional relationship between the reviewer and any of the authors, or mutual involvement in a contentious dispute on the topic of the manuscript. However, on a much broader scale, we all (as reviewers and editors) have conflicts of interest, which relate to an ever more precious and scarcer resource: time. When reviewing manuscripts, we extract time from our busy schedules for a task that – by its anonymous nature – constitutes primarily a quiet service to our community by which we pay back what we ourselves receive when our own manuscripts are reviewed by expert reviewers providing – hopefully – meaningful and constructive advice and guidance. Such good citizenship typically yields little-to-no immediate merit for the reviewers themselves. Some reviewers, however, tend to strive for some indirect revenue, by suggesting to authors to reference specific papers which – of course by pure coincidence - happen to be their own. In some instances, this will be entirely justified, as the authors may have missed to take an important piece of literature into consideration which just happens to be authored by the reviewer. In other instances, however, such recommendations will be less motivated by our surge for scientific accuracy but rather by our vanity. Such hijacking of what is essentially a pro bono service for self-promotion constitutes a significant and unacceptable conflict of interest. No-one should be coerced to cite "paper xyz“, unless it serves the purpose to improve the scientific valor and accuracy of a manuscript. Authors submitting manuscripts to AJP-Lung should know that the editorial board and our reviewers work hard to ensure constructive and unbiased reviews of all manuscripts in a fair and timely manner that are based on scientific merit alone. In 2014, the average time to first decision for submitted manuscripts was 22.3 days.
Wolfgang Kuebler, Associate Editor

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