Further adventures with reviews and ethics..
This week I was asked to review a manuscript on a topic that is near and dear to my academic heart, so I agreed to do the review even though I'm a bit overloaded with reviews right now. It turns out that this manuscript is on basically the same topic on which I have a paper in press, in the same journal that asked me to do the review.
When I saw the subject of the manuscript to review, I felt very relieved that my group's paper is already in press, especially since my co-authors and I did not rush to submit our paper -- in fact, it took many years for us to do the work and think about what it all means and write it up. In the meantime, I gave numerous conference presentations on the topic, and this other group has been well aware of our work for years, including the specific data we obtained.
I suppose that it's both good and bad that I am so close to this subject: there's a fine line between having expertise in a topic and being unobjective. Even so, the editor is the same person who dealt with my recent paper, so he knew what he was doing when he requested the review from me and presumably will filter my review comments accordingly. Since I don't have any particular stress about being scooped on this topic, in theory I can be magnanimous about this manuscript, except..
.. except that the manuscript is a bizarre and obnoxious attack on my group's work. It is bizarre because their results aren't significantly different from ours, yet they work really hard to find things not to like in some earlier papers by my group on this topic. It's nice that they reproduced our results (old and new), but they discredit themselves by being so unprofessional in their manuscript, which reads more like an hysterical comment written by insecure and cranky people.
It puzzles me that this group didn't do a more thoughtful job with their criticisms. It is entirely possible to write a critical paper without descending into aggressively weird attack mode. What bothers me more than the personal attacks, which have no place in a manuscript anyway, is that this other group seems to have lost sight of the science. Ideally, a scientific paper will focus on the questions being addressed and the things being discovered. Criticism of other work can be succinctly and clearly stated within the broader scientific context.
In any case, the editor can sort it all out -- in my review, I will try to focus on the substance of the manuscript.
9 months ago