Now that the academic year is over, it seems that reviewers and editors (including FSP) are getting caught up with their tasks. Yesterday I wrote about some reviews I received. Soon after, I got an email from someone who was reviewing another manuscript of mine.
I hate it when this person reviews my manuscripts because he always writes to tell me that he is doing the review, has some possible problems with my interpretations, suggests that we 'discuss' it, and then he asks me for a favor. Once he asked me to pay for his travel to the U.S. This time he asked me to do some analyses for him. Sometimes I request that this person not review my manuscripts, and I give a vague reason like "conflict of interest", though I didn't do that with this manuscript.
This particular unethical reviewer I've just described is the only one I've encountered who does this. I think it is a rare situation, but it raises the general and more relevant issue of how and whether to suggest that someone not review your manuscript or proposal.
Most journals (and NSF) give authors an option of listing "non-preferred reviewers". I don't like to use this option if at all possible. In an ideal world, we are all objective and will focus only on the Science. But back in the real world, there are people who should not review certain (or any) papers/proposals, and sometimes editors and program directors don't know who these people are without some information. If a reason must be given, "conflict of interest" is vague but professional. Somehow I have never felt comfortable writing things like "He harassed my postdoc" or "He asked me for money the last time he reviewed one of my papers".
If I don't have direct experience with someone's giving me an unfair review, I don't list them as a non-preferred reviewer. I would never use a suspicion that someone might be unfair as a reason to request that they not review something of mine. Delusional though it may be, it's best to give someone the benefit of the doubt unless there is evidence to the contrary.
As an editor, when I see non-preferred reviewers listed, sometimes I know the situation and can evaluate whether the list is valid, but in other cases I wonder why. I typically respect the wishes of the authors unless their list is long and includes everyone with any expertise in their subject. In these cases, the list of preferred reviewers is typically loaded with the names of the authors' friends and former co-authors. [memo to authors: Don't do this.]
I am sometimes asked whether it "looks bad" if you list non-preferred reviewers, as if you are afraid of criticism and not confident about the excellence of your paper. The advice I give is basically what I described above: if you have a concrete reason for requesting that someone be excluded from reviewing your work, you should do it. If you just have a suspicion, don't do it.
1 year ago