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Somewhat a follow-up to this post.

I recently had a paper reviewed, and in receiving one of the reviews, I feel strongly that I know the identity of one of the reviewers (someone with whom I'm on generally friendly terms, but not enough to be a COI). Unfortunately, the paper didn't quite make it in, so we're looking to make the requisite changes and resubmit elsewhere.

Out of sheer curiosity, I'd like to reach out to this individual to ask if they were a reviewer for this paper. However, I believe this may be inappropriate, and have thus avoided doing so. Is it ever appropriate to ask such a question, and if so, when? I suspect doing so before the paper is accepted elsewhere is likely a faux pas for many reasons, including selfish ones (e.g., getting this reviewer again after making the suggested changes would likely be quite beneficial).

While not strictly relevant to the question, it's worth noting that this reviewer gave an extremely helpful and thorough review, though they ultimately gave a weak reject. In my reaching out to this reviewer, it would be solely to ask whether or not they reviewed the paper, and not discuss the review whatsoever (regardless of how they responded).

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    How about sending them a copy of the paper and asking their opinion without disclosing your suspicions? Wouldn’t that have the same effect? – Spark Jul 9 at 5:35
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    Although I agree that it doesn't change the answer much, I think your last comment about the review being a rejection is in fact relevant. In addition to the issues raised in the answers, your approach could come off as an attempt to social engineer a more favorable review from them if they should get it again. – Bryan Krause Jul 9 at 15:19
  • If a reviewer won't show you his face, never ask for it. It will usually look bad. – Scientist Jul 9 at 15:36
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    "Reaching out to this reviewer, it would be solely to ask whether or not they reviewed the paper". If this is the sole purpose of reaching out, I fail to see the point. Just trying to see if you correctly guessed the reviewer's identity? "...and not discuss the review whatsoever (regardless of how they responded)" even if they turn out not to be the reviewer, they have enough expertise in this area that you think them capable of writing an "extremely helpful and thorough review", you would not want to discuss the paper any further with them?? – Gregor Jul 10 at 17:17
  • Thanks all for the advice! I'll definitely avoid reaching out. @Spark, I think I may take your suggestion, as this reviewer has some previous experience in related fields. – deckeresq Jul 11 at 2:58
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No, this is why the review process is anonymous...

Any "reaching out", while you say it is only to find out if they did or did not review your paper (and others will think "well that's because they want an inside track"...) will put the reviewer in a difficult position whether you intend that or not.

The reviewer's reputation with the journals they work with is important to them, so while you might be curious, don't go there.

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    Thanks! I'll avoid reaching out. – deckeresq Jul 11 at 2:58
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There is one reason I can think of as legitimate for getting the identity of a reviewer, and it is closely related to your situation: you have a manuscript rejected and found the reviewer's comments so helpful that you'd like to ask them to collaborate and become co-author of the enhanced version of the manuscript.

In contrast,

In my reaching out to this reviewer, it would be solely to ask whether or not they reviewed the paper, and not discuss the review whatsoever (regardless of how they responded).

to me would not be a legitimate reason.


All that being said, I still don't think it legitimate if an author directly approaches the suspected reviewer: what you could do is to explain your reason for wanting to contact the reviewer to the editor who handled your manuscript. If they think it a legitimiate reason, they can contact the reviewer whether they in turn agree to be de-anonymized. If everyone agrees, you'll get to know your reviewer - if not, this procedure ensures their anonymity.

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    It's certainly not unknown for deanonymization to be pushed in the other direction as well (that is to say the reviewer contacts the editor and says "I have a method to fix this flawed paper, can I reveal my identity and collaborate?"), but ethical communication will still be via the editor. – origimbo Jul 9 at 15:49
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Is it ever appropriate to ask such a question, and if so, when?

I can't think of many instances (probably only if there's some gross misconduct). Reviewers are anonymous for a good reason.

Out of sheer curiosity, I'd like to reach out to this individual to ask if they were a reviewer for this paper.

Paraphrasing, curiosity killed the paper :)

How about just sending them a copy of the manuscript and asking for their opinion?

"I have written a manuscript that I think you might find interesting, I would love to hear your thoughts."

This alludes in no way to you having any suspicions (you may get your answer if they inadvertently let it slip), and offers you a chance to get more feedback. If they aren't actually the reviewer then you can get more feedback and outreach for your work - a happy unintended consequence!

  • If I was the reviewer, I'd feel obliged to lie to the author and respond with something like "Thanks for the manuscript – it looks like great work, and I deeply appreciate that you ask me for my opinion on it. But right now, I'm so busy with work that I can't really find the time to give it the attention that it surely deserves. I'm very sorry about that." I would never reveal to the author that I reviewed that manuscript before. If the potential reviewer feels similarly, your approach will never provide a positive identification. – Schmuddi Jul 11 at 8:33
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    I agree, but I suppose the point is to get more good feedback... – Spark Jul 11 at 12:14
  • I'm not sure that getting feedback is really what the OP wants. To quote from the question: "In my reaching out to this reviewer, it would be solely to ask whether or not they reviewed the paper, and not discuss the review whatsoever" – Schmuddi Jul 11 at 15:26

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