A scientist was asked to review a new paper. You’ll never guess what happened next!

_KCM4407(Apologies for the egregious clickbaity title.)

 

A professor I know was recently sent a manuscript to review from PLOS ONE. Nothing unusual in that…except that it was his own paper. After briefly debating how to respond, he accepted the invitation to review the paper, and submitted the following review:

Professor:

 “This is an excellent paper that I wrote. It is timely, well-executed, and very interesting, and I applaud myself for submitting this. I’d encourage PLoS One to publish this paper. However, I recommend that PLoS One obtain some additional reviews, because given that I am the lead author of this paper that I was invited to review, I am afraid that I cannot give myself an entirely unbiased review of my own work. “

Journal:

“Dear <REDACTED>,

Thank you for taking the time to review PLOS ONE manuscript <REDACTED>. We greatly appreciate your assistance.”

The professor was concerned enough to send them an additional email:

“I have submitted a review, but wish to also indicate directly to you via email, that my review should be discounted. You see, I am lead author on the paper I was asked to review. I submitted the review anyway out of a sense of humor, but would appreciate a timely decision based on someone else’s review, not my own.”

He posted the exchange to his Facebook page. It made its way to Twitter and got spread around a bit. Finally, someone at PLOS took notice:

“Sincere apologies for this error. We’re looking into this and how it occurred & will follow up if we req. info.”

Which was followed a few days later by an email response:

Dear <REDACTED>

Thank you for your email below, which I have passed to <EDITOR’S NAME REDACTED> for attention.

Please do accept our apologies for the error of yourself being invited.

Thank you for your time and should you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

 

This is a goofy incident, but it raises a larger issue. We’re all familiar with bogus journals willing to accept any submission without reading it, or those which publish only the journal owner’s own papers. But respectable journals like PLOS ONE are held to a much higher standard. I think it’s fair to call them to task when they screw up (and to be fair, their response was appropriate, if lacking in humor).  I’m curious how common this particular problem is. Scientists, have you ever been sent your own manuscript to review? How did you handle it? What was the journal’s response?

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9 thoughts on “A scientist was asked to review a new paper. You’ll never guess what happened next!

  1. Leslie Helmus November 26, 2014 / 3:06 pm

    I was asked to review my own paper by a journal with a 1.5 impact factor. I declined and responded that I could review it, but given I was a co-author, it would be overly positive. The editor responded within a week to apologize for the ommission.

  2. William Grit November 27, 2014 / 4:10 pm

    That’s funny. Sounds like something that would happen to me; my eyes would shift back and forth. In my skull. And I would think: are they testing me? Is this a joke? However, overall, I would enjoy writing back…

  3. judithweingarten November 29, 2014 / 10:17 am

    Just last month, a major university press asked me to review a book for possible publication. I replied that the book was indeed interesting and would have great impact on the field; then noted that I had written the introduction to one of the main sections. An apology came very quickly, but didn’t they even look at the list of editors and authors?

  4. Veso M December 2, 2014 / 5:49 am

    “wow, this looks interesting… This dude has a really good arguments indeed… It is a bit relieving to find someone with a similar point of view as mine… solid sampling… This is simply amazing, I wonder who this guy is… Oh, wait”

    Not a scientist but something similar happened to me.

    • Jennifer Raff December 3, 2014 / 7:41 am

      I believe it’s still in review, currently.

  5. JE Bonnin December 5, 2014 / 2:50 pm

    Hey, I think it is understandable regarding the amount of sunmissions any top journal processes. Moreover, it is a good proof of the blindness of the blind review, isn’t it?

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