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I teach a seminar where I organize an anonymous peer review procedure among the students.

One of my students gave another colleague an exceptionally helpful feedback. The recipient was so grateful and impressed that they asked me to reveal the name of the reviewer. I received permission from the reviewer and eventually disclosed the name.

However, on second thought, I am unsure whether my approach was actually correct. I myself received exceptionally friendly & helpful anonymous comments from multiple journals in the past, but it never came to my mind that I could ask the editor to disclose their names. But as an author and researcher, it would, of course, be great to continue the dialogues that started within such anonymous processes.

Requesting to reveal the identity of a reviewer somehow seems indecent to me, as if it violated a holy rule of the scientific publication system. I could also imagine that dishonest requests could be made under the guise of gratitude.

May I thus ask you whether it is fine for an author to ask the editor to disclose the names of anonymous peer reviewers with the argument that they are so grateful & impressed by their comments?

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  • Your question is not really clear. Is this part of a course you are teaching, or part of an actual peer-reviewed scientific publication process?
    – N.I.
    Feb 7 at 16:06

4 Answers 4

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There is rarely any ethical issue in asking for something. Whether it can be granted or not depends on others and on rules in place. Those rules generally have a purpose and sometimes, as in this case, the purpose may have been fulfilled and is no longer relevant.

So, from the standpoint of the one asked, you need to decide whether it is proper to reveal the reviewer. Their permission, which you obtained seems to be essential, again lessening any adverse affects from breaking confidentiality.

You are in a teaching situation, of course, so the rules are, perhaps, slightly different from the normal rules in publishing.

The intent of the ask and the intent of the reveal is not, in this case, to enable retaliation or dishonest reviewing or anything else (IMO) negative.

Sometimes the author doing the ask simply wants to give special acknowledgement to the reviewer. This can be done anonymously, of course, but that may not always be required.

So, ask yourself, as the instructor, what are the consequences of the reveal. Does it diminish, in any way, the validity of the review or of the system?

But, the original ask itself is benign, whether it can be granted or not.

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Most journals have the option to display your name as a reviewer, and some journals/publishers actually list the reviewers and include their comments with the published manuscript. I've personally received an acknowledgement from authors to thank me for my advice.

Beyond this, every review you do should go on your Publons profile, which in turn should be linked to your ORCiD ID to keep a thorough record of all the reviews you have done. Serving as reviewer is a long-standing scientific tradition and is "part of the job". It is a valid contribution to science, and you deserve recognition for the work you've done.

Disclosure can also be important if the authors decide to go with a different journal. Ideally the second submission (even to a different journal/publisher) should make use of the same reviewers. About half of the papers I've reviewed for one publisher was later published elsewhere a few years later and I wasn't involved in the 2nd review. This ultimately means my advice may have improved the initial paper significantly but there is nowhere I can be credited for it beyond Publons and ORCiD.

In post-publication review, through commenting or communication/letter to the editor, those are usually not done anonymously either... your name and affiliations are indicated with the comment. The same applies to pre-print servers like biorxiv and research square where commenting/review is not done anonymously.

I also think that in this day-and-age of predatory journals who publish your work without peer-review, authors and the community want some proof that the paper was reviewed by actual people and any concerns were addressed.

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This is fine, assuming the reviewing process is over. It’s also totally fine for anyone (editor or reviewer) to say no. It really should only happen rarely when the reviewer makes an exceptional contribution.

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This situation has played itself out, so it's done. What I would consider in the future is to have the requesting person simply express their gratitude in writing and submit that to you for you to pass on to the anonymous reviewer.

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