I see a few questions about open peer review (OPR), as more publishers move towards open access and open review.

As an early career scientist I wondering if publishing my name as a reviewer is a risky business as I am usually very thorough in my reviews but also try to be as fair and friendly as possible.

So I know that being a reviewer doesn't really count that much, it seems that publishing my name has potentially more pitfalls than advantages. I don't like to make "enemies 'among my peers as I respect their work, so I am afraid that my comments might be taken the wrong way and create potential conflicts. This for me would be the only reason not to participate in OPR. In my field people are mostly open and friendly, but of course there is competition.

The only possible advantage I see is that when I am being reviewed I might receive a more fair treatment similarly to the one I have given, but this seems less likely as the pool of potential reviewers is large.

Are there more advantages or disadvantages when participating in OPR?

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    How early in your career? Student? Assistant Professor? – Buffy Jan 2 at 21:15
  • @Buffy, I don't really think students review papers. But in any case from late Phd until you are not well established in the field. – Herman Toothrot Jan 3 at 18:41

My opinion:

I don't see your reasons either for and against as compelling. I suspect it's neither risky nor significantly advantageous.

You should take this on if you think it a good way to contribute to progress in your discipline. You might learn something too.

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    Agree. The reputation effects are negligible. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 3 at 2:46
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    "The reputation effects are negligible." Maybe in the case of a mediocre review. I have received a few reviews in the past that were very so useful that I would consider them as formative for my career, by inspiring significant follow-up work. These reviewers would have received a boost in my recognition if they were known to me. There is also the converse case (see my answer). – lighthouse keeper Jan 3 at 14:46
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    @AnonymousPhysicist: you've commented on every (I think) answer here saying that "reputation effects are negligible". Granted that this is a very hard thing to measure in either direction, can you point to evidence one way or the other? (I would guess that we could come up with anecdotes supporting positive reputational effects from a well-received review or political backlash from a badly received one ...) – Ben Bolker Jan 3 at 20:19
  • @BenBolker Sure, there are many thousands of scientists in my field, but the average paper is read by fewer than ten of them. One can extrapolate that fewer people will read open peer reviews than papers. Even fewer people will care about and remember who wrote those peer reviews. Therefore reputation effects of open peer review are negligible. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 4 at 3:19
  • smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/… "In the 2007 study, the authors introduce their topic by noting that “as many as 50% of papers are never read by anyone other than their authors, referees and journal editors.” – Anonymous Physicist Jan 4 at 3:20

In the majority of cases, the net outcome for you is probably positive, assuming that your reviews are indeed fair, and most people have the necessary judgment to recognize that.

The tricky part is the minority of cases in which you might have to write a fair but negative review, and (some of) the authors have a personality that cannot deal with criticism. This definitely applies to a certain percentage of people. The ugly part is that such authors might have a tendency towards retaliation behavior, and dealing with that you might want to avoid, at least until you have tenure.

In the best case, the reviewing system allows you to reveal your identity in the case of good news, and conceal it in the case of bad news for the authors.

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    @AnonymousPhysicist I think you significantly underestimate the number of people who at some point will have power over OP. The person could in the future review some of OP's papers and grant applications and may be involved in a hiring decision that is relevant for OP. – lighthouse keeper Jan 3 at 8:57
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    If the author is an influential senior, it's more likely than not that they belong to the pool of potential referees. In the case of a grant proposal, a single "meh" review can break your neck. In a hiring case, a single person can try to steer the decision, which is bad enough. – lighthouse keeper Jan 3 at 9:32
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    @AnonymousPhysicist A single bad review is easily enough to doom a project. And could be even for tenure if it is not a stellar one where the bias would be obvious to the committee. – Vladimir F Jan 3 at 12:01
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    @benxyzzy By and large these legitimate factors matter, but there are black sheep in every profession, so it's a good idea to behave in a way that shields against their power. – lighthouse keeper Jan 3 at 13:22
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    @lighthousekeeper well overall it seems that there's not really that much to gain and possibly more to lose. I think I agree with your points. – Herman Toothrot Jan 3 at 18:53

One advantage that you haven't mentioned is visibility/networking/reputation; by providing a thoughtful, thorough open review, you will make yourself known (favourably) to the authors — and to anyone who reads your review, in cases such as Wellcome Open Reviews where the reviews are published alongside the paper.

OPR might also incentivize you to work harder to frame your reviews as constructively as possible, knowing that your name will be publicly associated with them (although this might not matter much given that you say you are already a fair & friendly reviewer).

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    Ah, but does it sort of force a bias toward favorable reviews? I have to admit to being skeptical here. – Buffy Jan 2 at 22:56
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    It might; that's a disadvantage of OPR in general (i.e., of the system). The OP asked about advantages to them (an ECR) of OPR. – Ben Bolker Jan 2 at 23:05
  • @Buffy Overly positive reviews would hurt the reviewer's reputation too. But all the reputation effects are negligible. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 3 at 2:45
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    @AnonymousPhysicist, I am concerned about the quality of the reviews, not the effect on reputation. Junk reviews help no one. – Buffy Jan 3 at 11:03
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    @AnonymousPhysicist fair reviews are not necessarily positive, hence the problem of revealing your name because of people who don't take criticism – Herman Toothrot Jan 3 at 18:46

Best case scenario: influential members of your research community see your review, and conclude (1) you are a good community citizen and do your fair share of paper reviewing; (2) you are a conscientious and thoughtful reviewer. These impressions result in a small positive boost to your overall reputation.

Worst case scenario: an influential author of the paper reads your review and takes the criticism poorly. They engage in a campaign of retaliation, attacking you whenever the opportunity arises (hiring decisions, tenure, grant and papers reviews) and spread negative gossip about you to other senior researchers.

I think the cost-benefit calculus is clear. Note that I do think there are good reasons to favor open reviewing and that there are many opportunities to improve the peer review process in general, but I would save experimentation in these directions for after you have tenure (or are otherwise confident and secure in your position in your community).

  • In practice, campaigns of retaliation usually hurt the retaliator. If the author of the paper has power of you, you shouldn't be peer reviewing them anyway. It's an unethical conflict of interest. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 4 at 3:22
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    A campaign like that is indeed the worse case, not entirely unrealistic, but probably rarer than the case of "opportunity retaliation": If the author is invited to review the reviewer's next grant proposal, they might use the opportunity to "pay back". There is zero risk for the retaliator, since they can write the review in a way that is indistinguishable from a regular negative review. – lighthouse keeper Jan 4 at 7:21
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I'm not sure how familiar you are with academia, but (1) a great many people (almost everyone more senior than you in your research subarea) have power over you, when you're junior; (2) you will review those people's papers all the time (though usually blinded); (3) nobody considers this a conflict of interest. – user168715 Jan 4 at 8:05
  • You're claiming thousands of people have power over a junior faculty member. This is just wrong. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 4 at 8:20
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    @AnonymousPhysicist It's probably closer to hundreds than thousands. – user168715 Jan 4 at 8:34

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