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The author Anonymous has 74,305 publications in the Scopus publication database. Those include 32,476 peer-reviewed articles, most from the 1980s and 1990s.

Why would anyone write a peer-reviewed paper anonymously?

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  • 6
    Wow; that guy is productive!
    – Ben
    May 13, 2022 at 1:51

7 Answers 7

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I searched for the author Anonymous in PubMed (the life sciences publication database), and found 26 results, which shed some light on your question.

Some paper titles:

  • "I was sexually harassed as a junior by senior doctors: it still goes on, and it needs to stop"
  • "My own story: dealing with depression"
  • "A mind surrounded by a moat: a first-person account of cognitive impairment in multiple sclerosis"
  • "Trying to overcome racism in the NHS"

So in many cases the authors are describing a sensitive experience or medical condition they have and they do not want others to know about. Alternatively the author could be a whistle-blower. It may also be used in some cases where the editor wrote the piece but does not take credit, but I am guessing this is usually not the case.

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In one case that I know of (Anonymous, 1969; J. Glaciol) the article summarizes a then new report on terminology. The paper is published in a high impact journal in the field but is not a research article and not a review article, just a summary. The purpose was to inform the community and after that people reference this paper rather than the report, which before internet was hard to get.

The reason why the authors were anonymous in this case was that they felt no-one in particular should be personally associated with this summary (get credit as if it was a scientific paper when it really was not). The report was made through a large international effort with international peer review. So from this perspective, the Anonymous author has a function to fulfil. The material becomes possible to reference and it is not tied to a person but a community. It would, of course be possible to call the group working on the report something and then use this communal name instead of "Anonymous" as is also sometimes the case in larger projects.

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    You could call the group "Collective Mind", or simply "Collective Effort" which would be immediately informative about how the paper was written. To differentiate it from the ordinary use of the terms, one could use the Latin version, which probably would be something like "Mens Collectivum" or "Labore Collectivum". Aug 10, 2014 at 13:55
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    @AlecosPapadopoulos, or in SE terminology, "community wiki" :-)
    – user10623
    May 6, 2017 at 6:52
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In one famous case, a statistician had to use a pseudonym (he used A. Student instead of Anonymous, but basically the same idea). William Gosset was employed by Guinness as a researcher and I'll just quote Wikipedia here:

Another researcher at Guinness had previously published a paper containing trade secrets of the Guinness brewery. To prevent further disclosure of confidential information, Guinness prohibited its employees from publishing any papers regardless of the contained information. However, after pleading with the brewery and explaining that his mathematical and philosophical conclusions were of no possible practical use to competing brewers, he was allowed to publish them, but under a pseudonym ("Student"), to avoid difficulties with the rest of the staff.[2] Thus his most noteworthy achievement is now called Student's, rather than Gosset's, t-distribution.[1]

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    Incidentally, 'no possible practical use to competing brewers' is fairly plainly untrue: I'm sure many brewers could benefit from a significance test that could detect whether there's a statistically significant difference between the carbohydrate content of grain from different farms, given measurements of multiple samples from each farm. Sep 3, 2020 at 16:51
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This paper was published anonymously as a critique for lack of mathematical foundation on optimization literature. The paper shows a ridiculous algorithm that meets all accepted criteria for having a sound theory supporting it.

Editor's note: This manuscript was transmitted, torn and tattered, to Mathematical Programming by Philip Wolfe with a letter, stating, in part: “I have refereed many papers which proposed optimization algorithms without studying their effectiveness; it will save me much time to have here a single reference I can cite, saying ‘This algorithm solves all the problems yours does and, on the available evidence, equally well.’ I therefore recommend publication ⋯ and hope that the author will come forward to receive ⋯ what he richly deserves.”

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  • My university has no access to the linked paper :(
    – gerrit
    May 11, 2017 at 9:39
  • That's not a critique. It's a joke. Sep 4, 2020 at 12:50
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Publishing anonymously made (makes) sense in a society where internet comunications is not part of a citizen's daily life of living (and work). For all the reasons already presented here. Mainly due to safety concerns.

(...)

That reality changes to the oposite (of of being unsafe) when is meet the above internet requirement. Europe, in 2005 (ish) meet that minimum requirement. In today's european digital reality (2021), publishing anonymously is no longer safe, nor advantageous. Even when considering top secret "military" projects.

(...)

To better understand what i just said, i invite the reader to study how prototyping and business creation is made (online) with all available to read, listen and see, from idea conception to a running business. And I'm refereing to well known businesses such as was the case of google 20 years ago and more recently any open source businesses demostrate.

(...)

One must also consider, patenting and patents are now available to download and study for free. With all the business frenesim well known nowadays, best protagonized by Elsevier.

This leaves academia (some in panic , others static) behind, when forcing their scientific method while forgeting to include the latest technological adavances into their research activities.

(...)

In summary,

research laboratories are required to open to the world outside, and when doing it, gain access to:

  • real live data for their resarch project studies and activities. This results in bigger datasets on presented findings when publishing
  • in turn, live data, aquired from any IoT data acquisiton device, leads to the creation of biggest dataset available in history (a dream come true for any true scientific researcher). And to cope with all that data ocean is needed automation tools such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.

If the reader missed, all above is already happening in a publicly acessible enviroment, not anonymously. Think for instance geo located data.

(...)

Finally,

I consider to be more urgent , the chalenge of overcomming vertical rankings in science, for instance incresase the number of index used in sci. metrics, at the same time a researcher gains access to above metioned digital tools and devices. While doing it, research activities will enable faster scientifc prodution, with increased collaboration*, cooperation*, partnership* all happeing #live, in real-time and more importantly asynchronously (with minimal disturbance of a research daily work schedule).

In the end, the researcher can expect great improvements in quality of published research. Publicly knowing is a safer practice to deliver science in the world. (and more)

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Why not?

Actually, why would anyone write not anonymously?

What's the real point behind a list of names, especially in a scientific article?

Papers are written for the purpose of the advancement of science.

Not for personal advertisement.

Names can still be registered with the journal editor and/or with a regulatory organisation.

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    If all science papers (even just those in physics) were written anonymously, then I suppose things like Maxwell's equations, Einstein's theory of relativity, Dirac equation, Newton's law of gravitation, Heisenberg uncertainty principle, Van Allen radiation belts, Fermi-Dirac statistics, Schrödinger equation, etc. would be called something else. May 12, 2022 at 20:33
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    A lot of papers seem to be written more for advancement of careers than for advancement of science.
    – Anyon
    May 13, 2022 at 0:04
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Scopus has 82,000,000 documents. You have found that less than one in a thousand is attributed to anonymous. The consensus view is that papers should not be published anonymously.

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    True. Anonymously published papers are rare. However, rare events still have a cause are rare choices still have reasons, so I think your answer is a bit too simple.
    – gerrit
    May 13, 2022 at 6:58

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