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I hope this is the right SE site for this question. To be clear, I am not asking anything about the contents of the paper, but on the practice of omitting certain information that I thought should be included for completeness and clarity.

I have been reading a paper titled: "Spatial and temporal occurrence of pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs in the aqueous environment and during wastewater treatment: New developments", which deals with measurements of drugs' concentrations in river water in the UK.

I was surprised to see no mention of the name of the river anywhere in the paper or the supplementary material. This seems on purpose, since the authors describe the river's properties that are relevant for the study, but neglect to mention which river was it.

Could it be related to some academic practice I am not aware of, or perhaps is it a safety measure to prevent mass panic among the residents of the area?

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    Fascinating question. It's probably not too hard to identify the river in question (there's a drawing of it, it's in Yorkshire, and they give the population of the area). My best guess is that they only got permission from Yorkshire Water for some access by agreeing not to explicitly name the river so as not to attract news coverage. But it's weird to me that such an agreement wouldn't be mentioned somewhere. – Noah Snyder May 30 '18 at 8:29
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I can think of a few reasons for which it might be sensible for names to be withheld, usually relating to not attracting large numbers of the public to a place. For example, a rare bird's nesting site, an endangered seal's haul-out area, or other places of delicate ecology.

However, it would seem reasonable for the authors to make the location known to other researchers on request, as otherwise there is no way to verify or reproduce their findings.

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I can't speak directly for environmental science, but that sort of thing is common practice in education papers. Institutions and individuals are given anonymous identifiers, eg student A.

One reason for this is ethical considerations. An ethics approval form will ask about all potential harm that could arise as a result of the study. Reputational harm is one form of harm.

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