Many journals operate a single blind peer review system, meaning that the submitted manuscript is confidential until publication. Peer reviewers and editors are required to abide by professional conduct standards, protecting the interests of authors who submit work. Guidelines published on journal websites include an expectation that reviewers will not use the content of the submitted manuscript to unfairly advantage their own research. In this case, the reviewer could contact the journal editor for advice and to declare their conflict of interest. They could also excuse themselves entirely from their role as peer reviewer for this manuscript. The reviewer may feel they can still review objectively and not use the information in the submitted manuscript to influence their research. However, they should carefully consider the consequences that may arise if the undeclared conflict of interest later becomes known.
Emily Skinner is a publishing ethics specialist at the Royal Society of Chemistry