Should You Referee the Same Paper Twice, for Different Journals? (guest post by Eric Schwitzgebel)

The following is a guest post* by Eric Schwitzgebel, professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, and blogger at The Splintered Mind.

Should You Referee the Same Paper Twice, for Different Journals?
by Eric Schwitzgebel

Uh-oh, it happened again. That paper I refereed for Journal X a few months ago—it’s back in my inbox. Journal X rejected it, and now Journal Y wants to know what I think.  Would I be willing to referee it for Journal Y?

In the past, I’ve tended to say no if I had previously recommended rejection, yes if I had previously recommended acceptance.

If I’d previously recommended rejection, I’ve tended to reason thus: I could be mistaken in my negative view. It would be a disservice both to the field in general and to the author in particular if a single stubborn referee prevented an excellent paper from being published by rejecting it again and again from different journals. If the paper really doesn’t merit publication, then another referee will presumably reach the same conclusion, and the paper will be rejected without my help.

If I’d previously recommended acceptance (or encouraging R&R), I’ve tended to just permit myself think that the other journal’s decision was probably the wrong call, and it does no harm to the field or to the author for me to serve as referee again to help this promising paper find the home it deserves.

I’ve begun to wonder whether I should just generally refuse to referee the same paper more than once for different journals, even in positive cases. Maybe if everyone followed my policy, that would overall tend to harm the field by skewing the referee pool too much toward the positive side?

I could also imagine arguments—though I’m not as tempted by them—that it’s fine to reject the same paper multiple times from different journals. After all, it’s hard for journals to find expert referees, and if you’re confident in your opinion, you might as well share it widely and save everyone’s time.

I’d be curious to hear about others’ practices, and their reasons for and against.

(Let’s assume that anonymity isn’t an issue, having been maintained throughout the process.)

art: Andy Warhol, “Shadows”

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