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I was reading an answer to another question, which says on the topic of a reviewer potentially contacting an author under a special set of circumstances

Some would say you should wait until it is public, so as not to break the anonymity of the reviewing process. Others think it is fine to reveal yourself and contact the author directly

My first thought was "The anonymity is there to protect the reviewer, so of course he can give up the protection and initiate contact". But then I realized that maybe there are other people whose interests might be hurt if this happens.

So, let's assume that the anonymous person (the reviewer, and in some cases also the author), always benefits from his own anonymity. Is there somebody else who is interested in the reviewer remaining anonymous?

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I think this is a different question: "Who benefits from referee anonymity?", not "Can I, as a referee, reveal my identity?" –  JeffE Jun 14 at 0:00
    
As JeffE said, I didn't intend to discuss whether the identity should or shouldn't be revealed. This is just the background of the question. I am asking exactly what I said in the title: assuming the anonymity is kept, who has benefit of this. –  rumtscho Jun 14 at 14:04
    
@JeffE If the question is considered different, is it fine to (almost) copy-paste an answer from the other question? –  tohecz Jun 14 at 22:19

4 Answers 4

The readers and the editors can benefit.

I know this is a contended issue, and there are many different views.

But as you've asked specifically whether there's somebody else who is interested in the reviewer remaining anonymous, let's just look at that.

As a reader, I want the peer review to have been fair and thorough.

If the reviewer is able to review freely, without fear of comeback, then they can be much more frank. They can shoot down a bad paper, even if one of the authors or one of their colleagues could hold some kind of power over the reviewer, whether it be funding, future job applications, peer reviews with the roles switched, whatever. Anonymity may enable reviewers to be more frank, more honest, and more direct in their reviews. And that directness can be of benefit to the editors, too.

I'm not saying this is the way. I'm not saying this has to be the way. I'm discussing possibilities here.

It would be great to have some solid evidence on the pros and cons of anonymity. At the moment, there seems to be a great deal of discussion, but I don't see much science on the subject.

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Since I do not see benefits this answer will in essence not answer your question. It is possible to imagine benefits but reality is what counts and that tells a different story in my experience.

So, from my experience as editor, author and reviewer, I have to say, I am not impressed by anonymity in this process. Anonymity has a tendency to free some people from much of their socially acceptable behaviour and the review process is not the place for anything other than objective criticism. I should also add that in my field reviewers are more often known than anonymous and the general trend is towards more openness.

When I receive reviews as an author, I find that i am far more likely to take suggestions seriously if the reviewer is known than when there is an anonymous reviewer. There are probably several reasons for this. If I know the reviewer (as a peer in the subject) I can better read between the lines and understand from where the comments come from. with an anonymous review you loose that possibility. If there is a name at the other end, it becomes more of a person than otherwise so I believe anonymity makes it easier to disregard from criticism or take it less seriously.

As an editor, I can see many anonymous reviews containing quite rude remarks. As an editor, you have the right, perhaps obligation, to convey what you perceive as being constructive information to the authors for their revision. If I get a rude review, I may not convey the entire review to the author, or more commonly, I will excuse for the poor behaviour of the reviewer and highlight the parts that the author should focus upon. So an editor has a moderating role in such cases. But, most bad (in one way or another) reviews come from anonymous reviewers. In some ways reviewers may of course feel awkward for providing a very negative review that they wish to remain anonymous.

So to try to look at the big picture, I would say that most reviewers do a good job but anonymity seems to bring out the worst in lots of cases and in ways that are not founded in what should be in a scientific review.

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What sort of rude remarks do you see in reviews? I've only seen this once as an editor (when the author turned out to be plagiarizing the referee's work), but maybe you're thinking of a lesser degree of rudeness than I am. –  Anonymous Mathematician Jun 13 at 18:49
    
The only rude remarks about my work I've ever seen (in contrast to frustrating ones) all had the person's name attached. –  Fomite Jun 13 at 19:05
    
@AnonymousMathematician I am sure you realize the impossibility of answering your question? –  Peter Jansson Jun 13 at 19:41
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@PeterJansson: I don't mean to ask for specific quotations, but I'm curious about what sort of rudeness. For example, are you talking about deliberate insults? ("The author writes like an undergraduate.") Sarcastic comments? ("This paper fills a much-needed gap in the literature.") Harsh, blunt judgments? ("This paper is completely worthless.") Mainly, I'm just surprised since rudeness in reviews isn't something that seems common to me, so I'm curious whether we have the same experience (and are just describing it differently) or different experiences. –  Anonymous Mathematician Jun 13 at 20:14
    
I have met many rude people, both in anonymous circumstances (including a review so vitriolic the memory still stings even though the paper got published), and in person. I have worked with them, lived with them and loved them. And none of them was a sadist who liked torturing others when he thought he can get away with it. Rather, they were arrogant jerks who were convinced that they are right and their behavior is above reproach. And they did not shy from exhibiting it face-to-face. So, while I believe you that rudeness in reviews is a problem, I don't think it's enabled by anonymity. –  rumtscho Jun 14 at 12:10

The other answers and comments are completely reasonable, and/but, srsly, there is the obvious synthesis, which we all really know, namely, that human behavior has a certain range...

So, yes, ideally, it would even be better to have a double-blind system... or, wait, ideally, no one would behave prejudicially. :)

Ok, start over. So, assuming people might react prejudicially, the typical single-blind system only protects the reviewer/referee, not the author, from subsequent complaints. No, it does not protect authors from the many different possible prejudices of referees. Yes, it does allow referees to be b*tchier than they'd be if they were in a public place. This conceivably has some purpose, but, also, it might just be venting.

And, then, there's the point that with substantial work, the coterie of competent referees is small, and that an observant author can infer the referee by use of language and other mathematical details. "We're not stupid". :)

At this point in my life, I think a not-at-all-blind system would work better. In particular, referees would be culpable for blocking competitors' work, or for gratuitously disparaging novices' work.

Next, we can ask why the traditional publishing houses control scholarly "publication" ...

... nevermind...

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To be fair, I've been in situations where giving a negative review publicly would have been a serious issue: I was a doctoral student at the time, and the researcher was rather famous in his/her field. This means that a well-known scientist in my field would have been in a position to hold a grudge against a young(ish) student. The opportunities for abuse in this situation are endless. –  cody Jun 14 at 14:25
    
@cody, I agree, there is potential for abuse, probably in any version of the game. Probably an editor should choose a referee whose "status" is close to, or above, the status of the author, whether blind or not. –  paul garrett Jun 14 at 18:36

The only one who benefits is the community, or, if you wish, the science itself. Blind review allows more fair reviews, the reviewers need not to fear getting revealed (in the ideal world).

I don't see how I as a reviewer benefit from it. When blind review is dropped, I start to make not-really-honest reviews because I don't want to be frowned at by my colleagues, no gain nor loss for me personally, it's loss for everybody. Unfortunately, the authors often think that the reviewers are responsible for the fact that the article is a crap, which causes all this. We aren't able to accept honest opinions.

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