Ethics in Peer Review: A Scenario to Consider

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, this is the story of Dr. Red and Dr. White. Red's paper was submitted to Journal V. Journal V sent it to White, who reviewed it carefully, shared it with members of his lab, identified a problem, suggested that appropriate changes be made before the paper was accepted, and asked to see the revisions. At the time of the review, White's group was in the very early stages of research that was similar to Red's. White subsequently submitted a paper to Journal L with results essentially identical to Red's. White's paper did not cite Red's publication in Journal V.

It is increasingly evident that there is little love lost between researchers over scenarios like this one. Ethics in the peer-review process is an increasingly critical - and volatile - element in the culture of science. In this column, the NIH Committee on Scientific Conduct and Ethics would like to ask intramural scientists to debate our Valentine's Day scenario and consider the following questions. Should White have reviewed Red's paper, or returned it immediately, based on conflict of interest? Should White have shared Red's paper with his lab? Should White have cited Red's paper? As a reviewer, what would you have done? What action should Red take now, if any?

Send us your best responses (e-mail: We will publish representative and informative responses in a future column. Readers are also encouraged to suggest topics for future Ethics Forums.

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