Prof. Mark Israel (Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services) has kindly given permission for this hypothetical case study to be reproduced.

Karen is asked by a journal to review an article written by a former colleague. They have not co-authored together, though they did discuss doing so once. They are both in the same very narrow field of specialisation and have found themselves repeatedly competing for the same jobs around the world. This article appears to be covering similar ground to the work Karen recently presented at an international conference. How should Karen approach the review?

Commentary (by Dexter Leung)

The research integrity and ethical issues which are likely to arise in relation to the above hypothetical scenario are:

  • Conflict of interest.  Peer review is the process through which an article submitted to an academic journal is subjected to objective evaluation by other qualified individuals in the same area of specialisation. In the present scenario, the article was written by a former colleague of Karen. In addition, Karen and the author have both repeatedly competed for the same jobs around the world in their same very narrow field of specialisation. Therefore, to a reasonable bystander there is a personal relationship and rivalry that exists between Karen and the author. This conflict of interest should be disclosed (it should be noted that perceptions of and potential conflicts of interest are just as important as actual conflicts of interest).
  • Plagiarism.  In the present scenario, the article appears to cover similar ground to the presentation delivered by Karen recently at an international conference. If the article fails to acknowledge and give credit to Karen, this would constitute plagiarism. Karen should therefore report the suspected plagiarism to the journal as well as other relevant authorities.

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