Over the past few years, I’ve become aware of some interesting ethical dilemmas for editors and referees. I present five such dilemmas below: D1-D5. Some of these are ethical dilemmas that I’ve had to deal with as a moral agent. Others are ethical dilemmas that I, being the relevant moral patient, wish others had been more conscious of. And one of these is just a hypothetical case, at least, as far as I know. I’ve changed the names to protect both the innocent and the guilty.
I would be interested in hearing what others think would be the appropriate action to take in these cases. Also, if others have encountered other related dilemmas not mentioned here, please feel free to share them in the comments.
D1: Aaron visits Weatherson’s Papers Blog on a regular basis, trolling for interesting papers. As it happens, he has just been asked to referee one of the papers he found and read from Weatherson’s Papers Blog. The journal purports to practice blind-review and the paper has been prepared accordingly. Should Aaron recuse himself, inform the editor, or what? Supoose that Aaron has already corresponded with the author about the paper. Does this change things?
D2: Two months ago, Ben refereed a paper entitled “ABC” for Journal Alpha. Yesterday, he was asked by Journal Beta to referee a paper entitled “XYZ.” Ben graciously accepts the request to referee the paper entitled “XYZ.” When it arrives via email the next day, Ben realizes that despite the title being different, “XYZ” is an only slightly modified version of the paper he already refereed for Journal Alpha. Should Ben recuse himself, inform the editor, or what? Does it matter what his previous recommendation was? Should he pass along the same set of comments, assuming that what little revisions have been made don’t render them irrelevant?
D3: A month ago, Carl received a request to referee a paper for Journal Gamma. Today, Carl receives a request to referee a paper for Journal Delta. It’s the same paper, and both journals have a policy that explicitly disallows simultaneous submissions. What should Carl do? What should the journals do if Carl informs them?
D4: David publishes an article in Journal Epsilon. Earl writes a discussion article criticizing David’s article and submits it to Journal Epsilon for publication. Should Earl, as a matter of courtesy, send it to David first for his comments? Should the editors of Journal Epsilon seek David’s input before publishing Earl’s article?
D5: Fred is working on a paper in which he attacks a particular version of Theory X. Despite this version of Theory X being an interesting and initially plausible version of the theory, there is nothing currently published that defends this particular version of Theory X. Fortunately for Fred, though, he has just received a paper that he has agreed to referee that defends the particular version of Theory X that he is so keen to criticize. The paper is of excellent quality—certainly publishable. What’s more, it would provide an excellent foil for the critical paper that Fred has been writing up. What should Fred do? Should he advise the editors to accept the paper in its current state? Should he advise the editors to ask the author to revise and resubmit, giving the author the detailed criticisms that he had been working up for his own paper?