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For whatever reason, authors are occasionally able to guess who the reviewers of their papers are. Sometimes these guesses have even gotten published:

"We appreciate the very candid critical insights of 2 anonymous reviewers, M. Gompper, and K. Beard." In Conservation Biology.

"We do not gratefully thank T. Appourchaux for his useless and very mean comments." In ESA.

What is the best way for an editor to handle these not-necessarily-correct guesses, if they are noticed:

  • during peer review (e.g. in the cover letter or author response to reviewers)
  • after acceptance?
  • The authors may find that editors have a long memory and their next paper takes a loooooong time to get published if ever. Hopefully the editors improve for the next paper, but in small fields this may be difficult. – Solar Mike Nov 15 '18 at 6:37
  • If the authors keep their guesses to themselves, it's no problem. Such comments are the problem. – Thomas Nov 15 '18 at 6:49
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    Grammatically the first example is ambiguous: are you sure that Gompper and Beard were the anonymous reviewers, and that the authors aren't thanking four people? – Peter Taylor Nov 15 '18 at 7:21
  • @Peter, there is no ambiguity. (Albeit, the link creates an underline, which makes the comma hard to see. I've editted to avoid that.) – user2768 Nov 15 '18 at 8:56
  • In the second link it is not at all clear if T. Appourchaux was actually a reviewer. – Dirk Nov 16 '18 at 2:07
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I suspect this is rare enough that there is no "standard procedure".

If I were the editor, I'd ask for #1 to be deleted as the authors presumably cannot really be sure who the reviewers are (unless they are known to have voluntarily revealed their identities).

I'd ask for #2 to be deleted as it is simply in poor taste. If they want to complain publicly about the review, they can do so in the "letters to the editor" column (if they are more polite about it), but it doesn't belong in the paper itself.

If the authors make guesses about the reviewers in the cover letter (not in the manuscript itself), I'd just ignore them, or perhaps say something like "Obviously, I will neither confirm nor deny your guesses."

(Disclaimer: I'm not an editor.)

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    Why do you think #1 suggests M. Gompper and K. Beard are reviewers? Similarly, why do you mention #2 in the context of the reviewing process? – user2768 Nov 15 '18 at 7:31
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Editors need not respond to author guesses.

Regarding,

We appreciate the very candid critical insights of 2 anonymous reviewers, M. Gompper, and K. Beard.

There is no suggestion that either M. Gompper, K. Beard, or both were anonymous reviewers. Actually, the serial comma suggests they are not. (Even if the comma were absent, I'd perhaps assume authors were unfamiliar with its need.) Similarly,

We do not gratefully thank T. Appourchaux for his useless and very mean comments.

Gives no suggestion that T. Appourchaux was a reviewer.

(Useful) insights and comments are provided beyond the reviewing process and should be acknowledged.


There might be exceptions -- e.g., if authors are claiming reviewer bias, having correctly guessed the reviewer's identity -- but the OP doesn't provide sufficient details to determine whether that's the case here.

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    At the very least, the former could be altered two at least change the order to "We appreciate the very candid critical insights of M. Gompper, K. Beard, and two anonymous reviewers." That makes sure that there is no confusion as to whether they are the reviewers. – Vincent Nov 15 '18 at 7:59
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    @Vincent There's really no confusion: google.com/search?q=serial+comma+jokes That said, I would favour your revision over the original. – user2768 Nov 15 '18 at 8:19
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    Having said that, it seems that the authors have chosen that ordering to convey a weighting. Indeed, M. Gompper comes before K. Beard alphabetically (whereas the reverse is perhaps more natural, alphabetically). So, perhaps the authors considered insights from the anonymous reviewers as the most useful, followed by Gompper's insights, and finally those of Beard. – user2768 Nov 15 '18 at 8:25
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What gets published:

  • The paper itself - gets published (if it passed review).
  • The guesses themselves - don't get published, i.e. the naming of people gets removed from the acknowledgements.
  • The positive acknowledgements - get published.
  • The negative acknowledgements - published after editing the snideness out. This kind of oblique comments are not appropriate in a scientific publication.

I would also do the following:

  1. Talk to the reviewers, preferably in an audio conversation rather than an email exchange, to try and feel out whether you believe there was some clear bias in the review which also led to them being found out, or whether it was innocent (e.g. because so few people on the PC are capable of reviewing). This is particularly important in case of a rejection.
  2. Suggest to the authors to replace the negative acknowledgement with a letter to the editors and/or a blog post. Argument: "Do you think that people 100 years from now need to read jabs at dead people within last century's scientific community? It's unbecoming and cheapens your work."

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