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Occasionally I find myself currently reviewing a paper where I find that many of the criticisms I have are addressed in papers in which I am an author (and often as lead author).

I don't want to make my identity known to the writers of the papers—but how do I make my points clear without breaking the "anonymity" of the review. Even if I cite a bunch of papers each time, it will probably be obvious what's going on.

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You could add in some relevant references of $someJerkInYourField into the mix, to deflect attention their way ;) – user5633 Feb 2 '13 at 18:41
up vote 8 down vote accepted

I recently reviewed a paper in a similar situation. The paper was good but some relevant publications I was aware of (not mine) probably should have been cited. When writing the review I simply suggested the specific topic which should be referred to, rather than specific papers. That way the suggestion is there and all they have to do is look. They got a couple of papers that I had in mind, and some others, so all was well in the end.

I don't personally agree with suggesting citation of your own papers directly in a review since as you point out this leads to suspicion of the identity of the reviewer, but also because reviews should be impartial as far as possible. If a paper that I authored is the most relevant work then any proper search will find it, if not then something else equally suitable will probably be ok for most readers.

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I mostly agree, but I would say that if “any proper search will find” the paper, then the authors would have already done so… or they did not conduct a “proper search”. – F'x Feb 2 '13 at 8:54
"If a paper that I authored is the most relevant work then any proper search will find it": This might depend a bit on the time available for the author to conduct this research. I also have to admit that in a case where a reviewer suggested two quite relevant publications (probably his own) to me during a review, I still don't know how I should have found these on my own. But I work in industry, so perhaps it's just my limited access to academic "proper search" tools that prevents me from finding these. (However, the affiliation of an author is normally known, so this special case is easy.) – user5903 Feb 2 '13 at 16:34

If you believe that there are papers that the author should cite, list them in your review. Yes, I mean the specific papers, with complete bibliographic information. If you include some of your own papers in that list, the author of the refereed paper may suspect that you're the referee, but so what?

On the other hand, if you believe that the only papers that the author should cite were written by you, you're probably wrong. Look harder.

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I agree, not only do I find this approach more common from my own experience of getting reviewed, it also ensures that authors cite the "correct" paper that established a certain concept or idea, rather than a later one that merely mentions it. – ThomasH Mar 9 '13 at 21:17

I don't want to make my identity known to the writers of the papers

(Yes, also in my field reviews are supposed to be blinded on one side. But often very good guesses to who was the reviewer are possible. Sometimes it is obvious, and oftentimes I believe I could track down the reviewers at least to their groups because of the specific use of certain terms. And, yes, you could probably track me down because I also have typical questions. Personally, I'd prefer receiving review swith the reviewers' names (it is useless to thank reviewers A and B, as those two review all my papers, and everyone knows it - but I'd like to acknowledge reviewers by name) and to write reviews under my name as well.)

I see several possibilities here.

  • As was suggested already, name the issue, not the paper. You can also guide the authors to search terms that will lead to relevant papers.

  • There may be valid exceptions to this:

    • Sometimes one wouldn't know from title and abstract that the paper is relevant, e.g. when some methodological point was presented in a paper about an application.
    • Sometimes it is impossible to dig out relevant papers between other papers that use the terms differently or some combination of search terms happens also in irrelevant context*
  • Your question sounds as if you are well-known for the topic which you found missing in the paper.

    • If you are The Big Guy for this topic, pointing to your publication does not compromise your anonymity - any other reviewer who is aware of the issue would have done it, too.
    • If you are not The Big Guy, but maybe the only one in that field looking into this topic, odds are still you were asked to do the review because of this expertise. IMHO, the quality of the review matters much more than semi-existent (see above) anonymity.
      In that case, I'd write the review so the authors can understand and address the issue easily. If you really think that this compromises your anonymity, you may write to the editor that you think your review is not anonymous, because ..., and possibly that he may decide to give your email to the authors and that they could contact you in case of further questions (IMHO it is much less work to answer a few questions that to have to review an additional time).

* e.g. "soft classification" in remote sensing is used ina certain way, which I took over into chemometrics. However, one very important classification method in chemometrics is SIMCA, the "S" for soft. It could be used as as soft classifier in the remote sensing meaning. But is usually isn't. So I got tons of hits with SIMCA. No hits excluding SIMCA, and after looking into a certain number of them and never finding it used in this "soft" way, I gave up and had to say that I didn't find any such application. If anyone knows such a paper, please tell me the proper citation. I don't mind if you're the author.

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One reason not to identify myself is that they could potentially be asked to review my papers, and would prefer not to be an open target. – aeismail Feb 2 '13 at 22:16
@aeismail: valid point (and one of the issues of the only supposedly blinded review system that IMHO speaks for open review: reviewers would be forced to write reviews that don't make them blush when associated with their name...) Though a) you can of course list them as "not suggested reviewers". b) if they don't know of the topics you work at, how would they become reviewers for your papers? c) if you suspect they know, but suppressed it, you should have very good arguments for that, and IMHO that were something the editor should know. – cbeleites Feb 3 '13 at 14:37
@JeffE: No. The issues in the paper go way beyond citing relevant papers. If it were just a citation issue, I wouldn't have bothered with the question. – aeismail Feb 4 '13 at 11:05
@aeismail: Sorry, let me rephrase. Really? You expect your colleagues to react that badly to professional criticism? Really? – JeffE Feb 4 '13 at 14:37
@JeffE: Unfortunately, yes. I've already had it happen to me. Once bitten, twice shy. – aeismail Feb 4 '13 at 16:09

If the author is an unknown nobody, then you don't need to worry about hiding your identity. The author probably has a lot to learn from you anyway, your papers will help him, and the author might even be happy to learn that his paper was reviewed by such an experienced expert in the field. (The number of relevant publication which you authored clearly indicates that you are an experienced expert in the field.)

The story is different, if you know the author quite well. In this case, the author might have been well aware of your publications, but intentionally didn't cite them. In such a case, I would rather avoid reference to my own publications.

The conclusion is, if you think your publications will help the author (and that he will take at least a cursory look on them), then reference the publications that you think are relevant. If you just want to complain that the author didn't cite you, then let it be.

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I'm not sure it is wise to advise reviewing papers differently based on whether the paper authors are famous or not… Maybe you might want to rephrase that? – F'x Feb 2 '13 at 17:25
In such a case, I would rather avoid reference to my own publications.Why? – JeffE Feb 4 '13 at 6:50
+1 for the last sentence. – JeffE Feb 4 '13 at 6:50

This is a great question. I've run into this situation several times, and I'll tell you what I do:

  • First choice: Post a comment visible to authors. If I'm lucky, the program chairs have chosen reviewing software that allows me to post comments (which are separate from my review) that will be made visible to the authors. Then, I mention that the citation in a comment that's visible to the authors. This way, the citation/comment can't be linked to my review. The authors might guess that I was one of the reviewers, but they won't know whether I was one of the folks who wrote a positive review or a negative review.

    This is the best case, but sometimes you get unlucky and the program chairs have chosen reviewing software that doesn't support this feature. In which case, my second choice is:

  • Fallback: Contact the program chairs and ask for their help. I contact the program chairs, explain the situation (that I have a comment I'd like to share with the authors, but I don't want it to be linked to my review, because it might identify me), and ask for their help. Often they have a way that they can accomodate this. For instance, most online reviewing software these days can accomodate external reviewers. In that case, the program chair can send me an invitation as though I were an external reviewer, and I can supply an external review whose only content is the citation. As another example, the program chairs might be willing to manually send an email to the authors mentioning this additional comment, or they might be willing to submit a review of their own mentioning the relevant citation.

  • Last resort: Don't mention it in my review. If none of the above options are available, then I do not mention the citation in my review. I believe reviewers have the right to remain anonymous, and don't have any obligation to the authors that supersedes that. Instead, I mention the related work in a comment to the program committee, to justify my recommendation on whether to accept or reject the paper. Then, I might include a general comment in my review that the authors have not done sufficient review of the literature and that they should do a further literature search; and I might even include some tips, like the conferences or journals that they should be reading. This is not as helpful to authors as I would like, which is why this is my last resort. And, if I'm forced to this last resort and the program chairs aren't able to help me get my message through to the authors, then I tend to view that as a shortcoming of the arrangements that the program chairs have made.

I think it is great that you are thinking about these issues and doing your best to provide authors with detailed comments and reviews. Kudos! That's the kind of spirit we should all applaud and encourage.

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