38

Say a reviewer writes something like

This paper is [yada yada blah blah].

Sincerely,

Professor John Smith, Big Name University

Should the editor just forward the review to the authors because Professor John Smith, by signing his name onto the review, is presumably willing to reveal his identity to the authors? Or should the editor keep the review anonymous by deleting the signature?

  • 18
    Just a data point: I have some senior colleagues who always sign their reviews, whether they are positive or negative. Their view is that reviewer anonymity is a right that they choose to waive, rather than a rule they have to follow. This is probably very field dependent though. (My colleagues who do this are Earth scientists.) – Nathaniel Jan 3 at 13:13
  • 11
    What about contacting the reviewer to clarify what their intentions are? – usul Jan 4 at 3:14
  • 1
    @Nathaniel i'll second that as an earth scientist myself. Many of the senior people around me always sign their name, unless they are forced to be anonymous. – Gimelist Jan 6 at 9:58
41

If the journal is structured with a blinded review process, as most are in my experience, I would censor the name as an editor.

Only if there is some sort of explicit journal policy allowing reviewers to unblind themselves would I consider not censoring the name.

  • 6
    This answer relies on the assumption that the blinded review process is fundamentally reliant on compulsory, rather than offered anonymity. At least historically this is definitely not the case, and some people argue that reviewer anonymity is voluntary (others argue more strongly that it’s positively a bad idea). I therefore think this answer’s reasoning is flawed and, consequently, the recommendation is incorrect. – Konrad Rudolph Jan 4 at 19:33
  • 2
    @KonradRudolph See JoshuaZ's answer. The signature of a senior person on a review, especially for a more junior author, could carry an implied threat of "Do what I say because I'm a big cheese and I can crush you". Anonymity removes that power. – JeffE Jan 5 at 23:30
  • @JeffE You can make this argument but it’s definitely not obvious. And it’s flawed (I’d go even further: it’s flat out wrong): in single-blinded peer review a vindictive reviewer could punish non-compliance with review demands anyway, regardless of signature. In double-blind peer review this gets much harder — but, again, regardless of whether a reviewer wants to sign their review. The fact that a signature isn’t obviously seen as a threat completely removes its effectiveness to work as such. – Konrad Rudolph Jan 6 at 19:01
  • @KonradRudolph Some journals explicitly have a policy that reviewers may give up their anonymity. In that case, as my answer states, no need to censor anything. As JeffE points out, there are arguments for anonymity regardless of reviewer views. In smaller worlds, breaking anonymity of one reviewer could easily break the anonymity of others indirectly, or at least reduce the uncertainty, as well as the implied threat that JeffE suggests, and the possible quid pro quo that could be implied ("I gave you a favorable review so you might do the same for me"). – Bryan Krause Jan 6 at 20:46
  • 1
    @KonradRudolph Sure, but a vindictive colleague could also punish disagreement even without being a reviewer. Eliminating abuse is impossible. I'm proposing the anonymity takes away a channel inappropriate leverage, and just as importantly, the appearance of inappropriate leverage. Authors should not feel pressured to accept reviewer opinions because the reviewer is their senior; crucially, that pressure exists independently of the senior reviewers' actual intentions. – JeffE Jan 7 at 19:28
23

So, I have heard of people not censoring when people do so. There have been at least some controversies in some fields where this has happened. See for example, https://www.quantamagazine.org/a-self-aware-fish-raises-doubts-about-a-cognitive-test-20181212/ . For that reason I would strongly recommend removing the signature. Anonymity is important, and I personally (and other people) have had bad experiences with referees who have deliberately unmasked themselves. A big part of the concern where a referee has deliberately unmasked themselves is that if they are prominent in the field there's a possible implied intimidation or threat of retaliation for results they don't like. Also, it is possible that the file you got was intended for the editor and wasn't actually intended to not be unmasked in the first place. But regardless, editors should do all they can to keep the referees anonymous.

  • 3
    I would also mention to the reviewer that it isn't appropriate to sign reviews. This might result in some discussion, of course. – Buffy Jan 3 at 1:30
  • 8
    What were these bad experiences about? – henning Jan 3 at 8:02
  • 4
    I think the name should not be elided without asking the reviewer. If it is your policy to strictly cut out the identification, you could tell the reviewer that you cannot use their review with an unblinded name and ask them permission to do so. But I strongly recommend to never remove any words (including name) silently from a review. – Captain Emacs Jan 3 at 11:08
  • 4
    @JoshuaZ That's interesting. The article reports a reviewer who waived anonymity. His review strongly criticized a paper that was part of a debate in which the reviewer took an opposing view to the paper. He also had an important stake in the debate. But I don't understand what difference it made that the he signed the review. The review would have been critical regardless, and the author would have improved his study and resubmitted at another venue, also regardless of the reviewer's anonymity. – henning Jan 3 at 14:14
  • 6
    @henning The concern is in part that if someone is sufficiently prominent in a field they are by non-anonymizing their review potentially engaging in implied intimidation. That's one of the issues. Tangent: I actually had an issue in another direction on another paper where there were multiple reviewers and a technical error resulted in all the reviewers being deanonymized to each other (not to the authors); one of the other reviewers was extremely prominent. My review was in essential agreement with his, but if it had disagreed a lot, I would have been concerned. – JoshuaZ Jan 3 at 21:03
18

There are a few different cases to consider. First of all, there is the question of whether a journal's policy even allows for signed reviews. I think that most journals do not have an official policy about this. However, if there is a strict prohibition against non-anonymous reviews, then the editor should remove the identifying information before sending the report on to the authors (and any other relevant parties, such as other referees who are working on the same paper).

In the more likely event that signed reviews are not outright forbidden, then editor should look at the additional question of whether the referee really intended to make their identity known. From the report alone, it may or may not be clear whether a referee is intentionally choosing to dispense with anonymity. If there is just a signature at the end of the report, the reviewer might have added it out of absentmindedness. If the situation is unclear, the editor should check back with the referee, to see whether they actually intended to include their name before passing that name on.

However, I have seen one review that concluded with:

I choose to sign this review.

[Referee's Name]

In that case, it was quite clear that the reviewer (who was both a very senior person and giving a positive report) was not worried about maintaining anonymity. In a clear-cut situation like this, a referee can simply send the authors the report without any additional concerns.

  • 8
    This policy seems to encourage signing every positive report with your name... – HRSE Jan 3 at 6:52
  • 3
    @HRSE, I'm not sure it does. My reviewing style is very distinctive. If I signed a positive report and then didn't sign a negative one for the same author, then it would be very clear to the author who had authored the negative report. (Probably it is anyway, to be honest.) – LSpice Jan 4 at 18:53
6

If the journal policy is to maintain anonymity then it should not be done, even if the referee has indicated her/his name can be revealed. The reason is simple enough: if the review is not signed and one knows that John Smith from Big Name University usually signs his reports, then one can deduce the referee was NOT John Smith, which may help the author conclude about the identity of the real referee.

  • On the other hand, if one is really dedicated to this kind of sleuthing, one could simply ask John Smith, who, being willing to sign his reviews, is presumably also willing to own up to them even if unsigned. – LSpice Jan 4 at 18:53
6

"Should" or "should not" is impossible to answer in the general case. Some journals may have a formal policy one way, some may have a policy the other, and I suspect that the vast majority have no formal policy about what to do with signed reviews.

There is a (small and localized but real) debate over whether reviewers should sign their reviews, and at least for a while it seemed that there was a small movement toward signed reviews. I can say that I've signed reviews and at least in some instances they have been passed on to the authors, so there are some journals and editors who don't have concerns about this.

  • 2
    Regardless of the policy, as has been argued elsewhere, silently changing a referee's report is, I think, not good practice. If it is to be changed, then it should be done only with notice to the referee. – LSpice Jan 4 at 19:11
1

As ZeroTheHero touches on, anonymity is not a property of an individual, it's a property of a set of people. You can't have a single anonymous reviewer; if of the set of possible reviewers, all but one sign their name, then whenever there's a review that isn't signed, everyone knows whose it is (note my wording does admit the possibility that there are people that are qualified to review but haven't been asked to do so by the journal, in which there would be some anonymity in that people might be unsure as to whether the review is from one of them, but for many papers the set of people qualified to review is quite small). We don't let voters waive "their" right to secret ballot, because if all the voters for Party A sign their names on their ballots, then we know that any voter whose name we don't see voted for another party. Since anonymity is not a property of a single person, it is not the right of a single person to waive.

Now, if you as a journal want to have limited anonymity, that is your choice, but it's not the reviewer's choice.

0

I was involved as a referee in a case where the authors turned around and invited me to be a co-author, and I've heard of that happening before. I didn't accept the offer, because the paper wasn't something I wanted my name attached to, but I can imagine cases where it would be appropriate to do so.

  • Welcome to this site! I'm not sure how your answer answers the question. Did cou sign your review with your name and have you been contacted by the authors? – OBu Jan 4 at 12:23
  • 1
    Even without an author's signature, this is possible; the authors can contact the editor with any messages, including invitations to co-author, for the referee. – LSpice Jan 4 at 19:12
  • 1
    I have also done this, but with the editor as an intermediary. – JeffE Jan 5 at 23:34
-1

I think the editor should delete it to avoid spoiling the puzzle game of figuring out who the reviewer is. (Easy one is when they ask the author to cite them.) ;-)

  • figuring out who reviewed you. Please explain who is that "you"? – scaaahu Jan 3 at 7:18
  • @scaaahu "you" will be the author, if the author is also the reviewer then that really is an issue... Other readers are also left with the puzzle... Don’t think it really deserved a downvote... – Solar Mike Jan 3 at 8:09
  • 1
    @SolarMike The question asks what should the editor do, not even a reviewer or an author. – scaaahu Jan 3 at 8:12
  • 4 "you" and not all the same ... – Solar Mike Jan 3 at 8:15
  • @SolarMike I was asking the answerer to explain the "you" in figuring out who reviewed you. Which "you" are you talking about? – scaaahu Jan 3 at 8:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.