Suggesting Reviewers

Who do you select when listing potential reviewers for your manuscripts? 

I go for suggestions that I think will be favorably inclined toward acceptance. This may be primarily because they work on similar stuff (otherwise they aren't going to be engaged at all) but also because I think* they are favorable towards my laboratory. 

Of course. 

(I have also taken to making sure I suggest at least 50% women but that is a different matter.)

I wouldn't suggest anyone that violates  the clearest statement of automatic COI that pertains to me, i.e. the NIH grant review 3-year window of collaboration.  

Where do you get your standards?


*I could always be wrong of course

30 responses so far

  • Strangesource says:

    Highly successful sci's seem to circulate their work to a relatively small group of friendly editors and reviewers. Having been beaten up and thrown down the review process stairs..I wonder if I should do anything differently.

  • MoBio says:

    The listed COI items are quite sensible--I note one item that allows one to review related to freely sharing reagents and so on. As someone who hands out a lot of reagents 'and so on' to 100's of labs it was helpful to me to see this spelled out as allowable.

    I basically recommend people who are 'knowledgable in the field' and are not likely to be 'biased against' the particular technical/conceptual approach of the paper.

  • Philapodia says:

    I send mine to my meeting drinking buddies who are are on the study section that reviews my grants. Makes it so they don't have to read my actual grant to give me 1's since they already know what'll be in it. A little quid pro quo goes a long way...

  • L Kiswa says:

    Depends. At the time of submission, I ask my trainees who they would like to suggest as reviewers. There are some glaring conflicts in the lists they provide (my former PhD advisor), but usually they have many names who have recently published on related topics. If we are improving/expanding/building on a specific result reported by others, I will list them.

    Q: I list an individual at another institution as a professional reference on my CV. I have published with said individual in the past (one paper, > 5 years ago). Although I do not collaborate with this person, they are well aware of my work and we serve together on various committees in societies. Is listing them a conflict? no, they are not a drinking buddy!

    The NIH guidelins DM linked to above notes I have a COI with anybody whom I have had "a professional relationship" with -- does being on a society tech committee count? Clearly, this tech committee is filled with others who would likely be COIs.

  • Established PI says:

    I stick to the COI standards, select competent reviewers and don't suggest names of reviewers I think might be hostile or may not appreciate our approach. This is just based on my own flawed ability to judge reviewers - I have heard time and again from editors that reviewers that are suggested by authors for their presumed friendliness to the work sometimes deliver the harshest reviews. You never know.

  • Busy says:

    I find it very icky that one is asked to suggest reviewers. What this leads to is authors suggesting people who are likeliest to accept, clear of COI rules, rather than the most qualified person.

    Plus that really is the job of the (sub)editor.

  • Newbie PI says:

    We've had several people who are in my field visit our university in the past year. I met with them in my office and showed them our recent work. As I'm now submitting papers, these are the people that I suggest as reviewers because they've all been positively primed (I think) by meeting with me and seeing some of these results already.

  • drugmonkey says:

    EPI- this was partially motivated by a suggestion on the twitts that NSF has a lifetime COI approach for mentoring relationships. The difference with the NIH 3-yr rule struck me as interesting for our usual "my way is the only way, your way is TOTES UNETHICAL" discussions.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I should also mention that early in my career I asked a BigWig Scientist type EIC if maybe I shouldn't take a review request because of tight-science-homie type COI (which this EIC was positioned to know the nature of, btw). The EIC stared at me like I was insane and said "if that was the standard we would never get our manuscript load reviewed!".

    So that has been influential on me.

  • Established PI says:

    DM - The NSF rule is preposterous and particularly cripples review of highly specialized work. I know this well from my significant other, an NSF-funded researcher who has to grapple with the challenge of suggesting reviewers who are either pathologically non-collaborative, very junior and inexperienced, or in another field. Not a recipe for quality peer review.

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    For what it's worth, PLOS ONE has eliminated the ability for authors to suggest reviewers, although I haven't seen that propagate much to other journals. It does make life harder for AEs in that they can't just do a quick check on a suggested reviewer to see if they haven't written papers with the authors and actually have written relevant papers themselves.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    I suggest reviewers who I feel will be able to honestly and critically evaluate the paper. I am such a noob.

  • Re: NSF. Do you really have to list each co-author of a manuscript as a COI? Because yikes if you are on a bunch of genome sequencing papers.

  • Established PI says:

    It looks as if NSF modified their earlier, more stringent language, which had a lifetime ban on . There is a COI if there is:

    • Past or present association as thesis advisor or thesis student.
    • Collaboration on a project or on a book, article, report, or paper within the last 48 months.

    So, yes, you would have to list all co-authors for a paper in the last 4 years. The "project" wording is more ambiguous. In theory, the program officer has lattitude in making the final decision as to whether there is a COI. In the past, when there was no time limit, some POs were still not flexible.

  • (1) My post-doc mentor and I have reviewed each other's grants and papers numerous times over the years. She is a fucken dicke when she reviews my papers.

    (2) You absolutely need to strategically leave *off* your list of suggested reviewers about half of the people who you would really like to review your paper. This is because editors will never only assign reviewers that the authors have suggested, and so if you list everyone you like, you guarantee that someone you don't like will review your paper.

    (3) It is absolutely absurd to claim that "drinking buddies" constitutes a conflict of interest in reviewing grants and papers. How many fucken times are we gonna have to debunk this fucken gibberish?

  • > The EIC stared at me like I was insane and said "if that was the standard we would never get our manuscript load reviewed!".

    I feel like there's a difference here between accepting a review request and suggesting reviewers. In my experience, people managing review processes only consider it a conflict of interest in the most obvious cases, and borderline cases are often decided on the side of allowing the review.

    Suggesting someone who looks like one of my buddies looks bad, even if I think they could *technically* be allowed under a reasonable COI rule set.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I am not sure how it looks any less bad from the outside. Still the appearance of COI whether suggested by the authors or the AE.

  • I mean that it looks bad from the *inside*.

  • drugmonkey says:

    How does it matter to the prospective reviewer whether s/he has been selected from an author recommendation or from the AE doing a pubmed search on keywords?

  • physioprof says:

    There is some insane shittio being thrown around here. (1) You the author have no idea who the fucken reviewers are unless the reviewers tell you. (2) You the reviewer have no idea whether the author requested you unless the author tells you. (3) No one on the outside knows anything about any of this. (4) Only the editor knows who the authors requested and who the reviewers actually are. (5) Only the editor knows why she chose the reviewers she did. (6) It is nutso to think that a reviewer with the most appropriate expertise should be excluded from review because they are "drinking buddies" with an author. (7) The usual COI standards of (a) no current/very recent collaborators, (b) no family members, (c) no one from same institution, and (d) no one with interlocked financial incentives makes perfect sense given how non-sociopathic scientists behave. (8) You can't design and operate peer-review systems to the least common denominator of trying to ensure that sociopaths can't get away with anything.

  • I've definitely known who the author requested as a reviewer for some reviews because some journals give the cover letter to reviewers, and some authors request reviewers in the cover letter.

  • physioprof says:

    What half-assed cockamamie journal sends the author cover letter to reviewers?????? I've never heard of such a thing. Is this some kind of "Dear Esteemed Professor: We are very impressed by your recent publication on {title of your last paper} and invite you to submit a manuscript to our journal, where we promise timely publication" journal?

  • Jonathan says:

    @A Salty Scientist: as if NSF was funding large-scale genomics research!

    One does wonder how the physicists cope though, since they also publish a thousand to a paper.

  • It's happened so often I don't think of it as notable. Definitely happened in a BioMed Central journal once where I found the authors' request in the cover letter to exclude the most four relevant experts on their work from reviewing because of competition a little off-putting.

  • physioprof says:

    It's happened so often I don't think of it as notable. Definitely happened in a BioMed Central journal once where I found the authors' request in the cover letter to exclude the most four relevant experts on their work from reviewing because of competition a little off-putting.

    That is extreme editorial failure. And yeah, of course this happened at a fake-asse "Biomed Central" spamhouse journal whose "editors" are failed post-docs hoarding bitcoins on side streets in San Diego and Mumbai. Legitimate journals with professional editors who know what they're doing don't allow that kind of egregious idiocy to happen.

  • L Kiswa says:

    so journals that do not have "professional" editors (i.e., whose main/sole job is not editing said journal) are not legitimate?

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Plos journals include the cover letter to the reviewers I believe. But they tell you that this is the case. I wonder if EMBO does as part of their transparency program?

  • Newbie PI says:

    I just reviewed for one of the fancier plos journals and the reviewer suggestions were part of the pdf that was visible to me as a reviewer. I found it very strange. I don't know if this was a mistake or not.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    It was not a mistake. The cover letter is included and this is stated as policy.

  • Jonathan Badger says:


    I don't know what the BMC journals are like in your field, but in genomics, BMC's Genome Biology has an impact factor of 10.8. By comparison, Elsevier's "Genomics" is only 2.3 (making it even less significant than PLOS ONE).

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