As I perused through the case summaries on the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) website, I tried putting myself in the peer reviewer’s shoes. Although in some instances, the evidence for research misconduct was blatantly obvious, most violations would have been difficult to detect. How do you catch these errors as a reviewer? Fortunately, ORI provides several great resources that serve as guidelines for reviewers.
If you go to the ORI website and click “RCR Resources,” then “Peer Review,” the ORI lists four useful resources for peer reviewers that can facilitate detection of misconduct. The third resource in that list (“Ethics of Peer Review: A Guide for Manuscript Reviewers” by the Yale University) seemed particularly helpful. While this document has a wealth of information on peer reviewing, I’m going to share just a few of the described peer reviewer responsibilities/considerations that are good reminders for all of us.
Is the work you are asked to review too close to your own?
If you are asked to review a manuscript in which the research overlaps your current study or a study you are planning to perform, there is a definite conflict of interest. By reviewing that manuscript, you’re putting yourself in a lose-lose situation. If you give the manuscript a solid, ethical review, “you’re shooting yourself in the foot.” Assuming the manuscript is published, you could hinder your chances of publishing your own study. Obviously, if you choose to review the manuscript in the alternative manner to get an edge on your competition, prepare to receive the consequences. Remember, you’re better off just letting someone else review it.
Do you have the time to review the article within the time frame requested by the editor?
Agreeing to review a manuscript within the editor’s deadline and submitting it late is unethical (or at least frowned upon). However, doing a slapdash review is also unethical. Deciding whether or not to review a manuscript takes a little bit of forward thinking and realizing that you are not super-man/woman. In the case that you are too busy, by declining the review, you are doing yourself and the author a favor.