Productive researchers are called on with regularity to participate in the peer-review process for academic journals. Generally, journal editors invite feedback on manuscripts submitted for publication from scholars whose research interests align with the focus of the new research or theoretical model presented in manuscript. In some cases, either by journal policy or author request, the review process is fully blind. That is, the authors of the manuscript do not know who reviewed it and the reviewers do not know who wrote the manuscript. Typically, however, the process is only partially blind, with researchers allowed to see the names of the authors of manuscripts they are invited to review. The privileged access to new, potentially important ideas in one’s area of research without the awareness of the originators of those ideas may tempt some researchers to share the content of the manuscript with colleagues or even make use of the ideas in their own work without permission from or credit to the source. This temptation typically is held in check by ethical guidelines of professional societies and journal publishers that govern the handling of manuscripts by reviewers. On occasion, temptation overcomes ethics, and researchers abuse reviewer privilege. Early in my professional career, I was a naïve witness to an abuse in the form of idea poaching.
I was collaborating with a senior scientist doing research on a topic with which he was strongly identified. Most of his research at the time was on this topic. Given his well-earned reputation as an authority on the topic, he was often called on to review related manuscripts. To one of our regular meetings he brought two copies of a manuscript he was reviewing for a top journal in the field and suggested that we look it over together. At that time, I had little experience with the manuscript review process, and therefore did not question the appropriateness of looking through a manuscript that he had been asked to review. In fact, I felt privileged and trusted for having been allowed to see the document.