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Before submitting a review for a manuscript, I noticed the appendix possibly contains an author name, but I don't know him/her. My file explorer automatically shows files' metadata, including author name.

The review should be double blinded. Should I inform the editor?

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    Are all papers from this journal double-blinded, or is it an option that authors choose? If the latter, the author is responsible for the double blinding, and if they don't do it properly, that's their responsibility (that doesn't mean it wouldn't be good practice to inform the editor that your review is only single blind though). If the former, I would have though the journal staff would be pretty hot at ensuring all author info, including metadata, is scrubbed. (Aside: the reality is that double-blinding effectively is often pretty difficult, which is why double-blinding isn't yet standard.) – Wandering Chemist Feb 15 '18 at 16:58
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When in doubt: yes. Let them know when and how you found this potentially compromising information. Especially if you think this may impact your objectivity (e.g. "I don't recognize this name, so I'm not going to trust him as much and may/will be more critical than I otherwise would"). But even if you think your evaluation will be unaltered, you should let the editor know. They need to be the one to decide if the review process can still meet the necessary criteria, if the authors should be notified and asked to alter the file to eliminate the metadata, etc.

In your case it sounds like you did the entire review under appropriate double blinding, fully unaware of the authors while making the evaluation, and then at the very end of the process you gleaned a potential clue about the author name. If so, then the editor may accept that no actual problem has arisen, and may simply try to take steps to ensure such metadata is no longer visible to reviewers.

Things get more complicated if there are multiple reviewers for this paper: it now becomes possible that one or more of them saw this data early in the process, and it potentially compromised their review, but yet this went unacknowledged. This makes it all the more important to inform the editor.

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    +1 for "when in doubt: yes" Let the editor decide if this is serious or not. – Thomas Feb 15 '18 at 18:37
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    Something to add: Everyone accepts that double-blinding is imperfect. In my experience, the reviewer instructions will usually say something about this. For example, they will say that it's OK if you know the author identities because you saw a preprint (but please disclose this), just don't go out of your way to identify the authors. – Thomas Feb 15 '18 at 18:53
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I have always informed the editor and in every case, he hasn't cared. I seem to have a super-power in that I can recognize people by their writing style. So I have always known who the author of the paper was, without any tell-tale flaws in data scrubbing. There's nothing the editor can do to thwart my super-power. (Well, perhaps he could have someone translate it into Chinese and then someone else translate it back to English, but it'd be better to just get a different referee.) I just put in my comments to the editor that, "I can tell this is Bobby Boogy's work." So I go for full disclosure and let the editor handle it as he will.

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  • It's not only writing style, in some cases you can guess the author by the topic of the paper. Often, there are only a few groups working on a topic and you can easily identify them by their setups/methods or even style of figures and plots. This must not have any negative effect on the outcome of the review, since this is not the author's fault. That may be the reason why your editor does not care. – J-Kun Feb 15 '18 at 20:36
  • In my field there's no double-blind review (thank goodness), but since it's a very small field, I'm pretty sure that I'd be able to recognize most of the authors anyway. – Massimo Ortolano Feb 15 '18 at 21:24
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Unless you think that this might have impacted your objectivity: No, there is no need to actively involve the editor. As you revealed the identity only after writing the review ("before submitting") objectivity is probably not an issue.

It is important to understand that double-blind is far from being perfect: In many cases the "secret of authorship" just does not hold for long. You know your colleagues, what they are working on, which tools they typically employ, their style of writing and so on.

Hence, so even if there are some common rules, double-blind should not be understood in a too formal manner. It basically is a code of conduct. (1) The authors agree to try their best to hide their identity. However, there is also the other side: (2) The reviewers agree to not actively try to reveal the author's identity.

In this realm you as the reviewer are supposed to not look into the PDF metadata. If you stumble across a single, apparently accidentally left-over name, try to ignore it. Yes, all this should not happen if the authors had done their job. However, we are all humans and as long as neither your objectivity is impaired nor you have the impression that the authors tried to "drop" their identity, there is no need to make too much of a fuzz about it.

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    Is it normal that the journal did not filter out the pdf metadata automatically in its submission handling system? That seems like a rookie mistake from their part. – Federico Poloni Feb 15 '18 at 23:08
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    @FedericoPoloni: I have seen it happening. Even more for conferences, though. – Daniel Feb 16 '18 at 9:54
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If everyone in the chain were to follow the letter of the double-blind process, then the paper either has to be rejected, or has to be reviewed by someone else, and your review may not be taken into account. So, if you like the paper and want to see it accepted, then perhaps you don't want to escalate the situation.

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    ...why rejected? Sent back for revisions, possibly, if it's the author's job, but flat-out rejected? That seems a bit extreme for missing one bit of metadata. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Feb 15 '18 at 21:37

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