UPDATE (8/17/14): David Warsh retracted the harsh critique of Debreu that I quoted below. Warsh now states that Debreu did not delay in sending a referee's report on McKenzie's paper. He did, however, not inform Arrow of the paper's proof. For more, see economicprinciples.com.
David Warsh (“The Startling Story behind a Famous Footnote”) calls attention to an apparently shocking case of ethical misconduct uncovered by Till Düppe and Roy Weintraub.
In Finding Equilibrium: Arrow, Debreu, McKenzie and the Problem of Scientific Credit (2014), Düppe and Weintraub reveal that Gerard Debreu, while himself trying to write a paper on general equilibrium with Kenneth Arrow, had been the reviewer of a paper on that subject by Lionel McKenzie (photo).
Did Debreu steal a Nobel from McKenzie? Warsh reports that:
Further details had emerged, including an astonishing fact: the anonymous referee, who bottled up McKenzie’s submission to Econometrica for a critical time, while Arrow and Debreu tidied up their proof, was none other than Debreu himself; and Debreu hadn’t disclosed his conflict of interest to the editor, Robert Solow. Debreu’s conduct was thus revealed as having been dishonorable.
Is it possible Debreu’s conduct can be justified? Did Debreu think McKenzie’s work was sufficiently different so as to not merit citation? Did he think McKenzie’s work was of such poor quality that it did not merit citation?
One cannot cite everything that one reads and omissions may seem obvious with hindsight that are not at all obvious at the time.
Still, this reminds us why journals need to lay out and follow strict guidelines for conflict of interest and to promote virtue ethics through exemplars and role models.