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Just like my other research-related activities, I keep a complete record of the reviews I perform: both the original papers and the reviews I have written, as well as the revised manuscript I receive one, and the final published manuscript if it is published (but sometimes in a different journal!)

I don't think I ever read anything in reviewer guidelines that forbid this, but I recently met someöne who argued that confidential material should be deleted after review. It's true that keeping it on my hard drive exposes it slightly to a risk of breach of confidentiality, but no more than the rest of confidential material that I handle every day…

So, what are policies on this matter and what are the existing practices?

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I do the same (i.e., save all versions of a manuscript I receive and all of my and the other reviewers' comments that I receive through the review process). I save them in a single directory according to their manuscript number, which tends to keep things fairly organized and easy to find later.

Why might I want to find them later? First, when I receive a revision, I find it is a lot easier to go back and look at the files I have stored locally to see what I recommended change (in case it has been months since I first saw the manuscript), whether the author(s) did, in fact, change anything, and whether the changes were actually in-line with my and the other reviewers' suggestions. This came up recently when I received a revision that claimed to make changes but I found they had actually not made changes in the manuscript (the original and revision were strikingly similar) and I suggested a rejection.

The second instance where this can come up is receiving the same manuscript from a different journal (e.g., because it was rejected by the journal you reviewed for first). Having your previous comments and the previous version allows you to see how the manuscript has developed and either provide original feedback or reiterate points that still need improvement that you highlighted in your previous review. Or, decline to review because youf ind it difficult to present an unbiased opinion.

A third, and final, reason that I find it useful to save these things is pedagogical. In graduate school, several professors sent us versions of their reviews for manuscripts so that we could see how to write a peer review. Having manuscripts and your reviews available makes passing down that future pedagogical activity much easier. (Note that sharing manuscripts may be more controversial than sharing one's review, but if the paper was previously available as a working paper or conference paper and was subsequently published, I see little ethical concern with sharing the manuscript with future students.)

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    A fourth reason, for me, is that often a paper I review is one that I will want to read again later (because it's on a subject that I'm interested in). My notes are often helpful in reminding me about details of the paper that I'd otherwise have to figure out from scratch. – Nate Eldredge Apr 7 '14 at 16:24
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There is no legal reason to hold on to old reviews, it would be the responsibility of the journal in that case. I have kept a record of my reviews just as you describe you have done, mostly because I like to save my work. I sometimes curse this because I can see reviews I would like to share with students but cannot since I perceive them as confidential unless agreed otherwise with the author(s), and the reasons I would like to share them usually does not reflect well on the paper.

Unless the reviews are made under a contract of some sort, I would argue that they fall under immaterial rights; it is your intellectual work which is provided to (1) the author and (2) the journal. I do not think anyone else can claim rights to a review.

The review work is generally made under the assumption that it is a communication between reviewer and author, albeit filtered through an editor. I have not seen any instance where someone has argued ownership of a review in my field, either in general or in the case of the journal where I am an editor. As a reviewer one must always consider the fact that all help that is provided is practically given away and should of course be seen in the greater perspecite of both giving and receiving in some form of balance.

Instances where reviews may be contracted are common when reviewing reports for government agencies or commercial enterprises. I have not seen, but cannot discount the possibility, that a journal or publisher could have such agreements. But I cannot imagine such an agreement would be hidden, it would be communicated very clearly.

As for keeping your reviews safe from being spread, I would say that the journals electronic manuscript systems are far more likely to be hacked into than that of an individual researcher. To some extent I would compare having a review on a hard drive to having it in a ring-binder. It IS possible to get hold of it but I doubt more security than that is required (i.e. ordinary computer "security" measures, e.g. provided by a university).

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