A Reviewer Learns the Fruitlessness of a New Research Project


A scenario about a researcher who, after reviewing a journal article, realizes that his collaborative project is fruitless.


You have thought of a new model that you see as leading to a promising new line of research in your field. To carry out your investigation of the model you need collaborators with some complementary skills. After much ground work you convince a rather prestigious group at another university to collaborate with you in this research.

You are collaboratively writing the grant proposal when you receive a journal article to review. The research reported in the article is very exciting, but it shows that your model cannot be right. You do not see any way to alter your model to circumvent the problems you now see with it. You realize that going forward with the project will be fruitless.

  • What, if anything, can and should you say to your would-be collaborators?
  • Perhaps there is a way to alter your model that you just don't see. How, if at all, can you approach other team members about altering it?

Variant: Suppose that you are the editor of the journal, rather than the reviewer of the article, and the reviewer asks you for guidance.


Caroline Whitbeck introduced methods and modules for discussing numerous issues in responsible conduct of research at a Sigma Xi Forum in 2000. Partial funding for the development of this material came from an NIH grant.

You can find the entire sequence on the OEC at Scenarios for Ethics Modules in the Responsible Conduct of Research. Some information in these historical modules may be out-of-date; for instance, there may be a new edition of the professional society's code that is referred to in an item. If you have suggestions for updates, please contact the OEC.