[Computational Complexity] Reviewer Ethics
When you are asked to referee a paper you need to follow a set of ethical guidelines that are rarely spelled out and often ignored. Here are the rules as I see them.
The same ethical rules apply to refereeing papers or reviewing manuscripts for conferences. By "editor" I mean whomever asked you to referee or review the paper.
You should not review a paper co-authored by yourself, a member of your institution, someone you are related to, or having relations with. It is fine to referee papers by recent co-authors or by your former advisor or students. The conflict rules are not transitive, you can referee a paper by someone else at your brother's institution. If for any reason you do not feel you can give an unbiased review of the paper, discuss your issues with the editor or just refuse to referee the paper.
You should only discuss the paper with the editor. The fact that you are a referee, or even that the paper was submitted is confidential information. You should not ask someone else to look at any part of the paper without the editor's permission. You must never ever contact the authors directly.
If the paper has not yet been publicly announced, you must follow Rule Number One
Other than reviewing the paper you must ignore the paper completely for any other purpose, including your own research, until the paper appears.
If you find a simple extension or simplification of the paper: Tell the authors through the editor, they will likely add it to their paper and give you credit through a nice acknowledgment to the "anonymous referee."
If you find a significant extension to the paper: Shame on you, you have already violated Rule Number One. Best thing at this point is to wait until the paper appears and then write your extension. If the authors or someone else beats you to it, or the papers never appears, that's what you get for violating Rule Number One.
You also have put yourself in a messy situation since you are now no longer unbiased in the outcome of the paper. If you think there is a significant extension, mention the possibility in your report or keep it to yourself but don't work on it. It only leads to trouble.
Posted by Lance to Computational Complexity at 4/09/2006 10:33:00 AM