4

For most journals, the reviewer is aware of the names and the institution that the paper is coming from. IMO, if the paper is from a top institution, the reviewer might judge it differently than the same quality of paper coming from a low tier institute (not always the case, but there is a chance). Also, a reviewer might not be fully non biased if the paper is from one of the groups that he / she thinks is a competing group.

The simple way to get around this bias is to anonymize the source of the paper before its sent for peer review.

Why don't editors do that. Why isn't this model widely used?

8

This is called double-blind review. It is common in some fields, though I seem to see it more in conferences than journals.

There are a bunch of issues with double-blind review, next to the obvious overhead:

  • It prevents uploading preprints, since authors risk revealing their identity. This can be a problem in fields with long review times like maths since results would be kept silent longer.
  • If a paper is accompanied by software, how can it be licensed?
  • It doesn't always work, particularly when working in niches with few active researchers. Sometimes you can guess the author with reasonable accuracy based on the content and style of a paper. Some people even manage to guess the reviewer based on feedback.

Some take it even one step further to go for triple-blind review, in which:

  1. The authors do not know the reviewers' identities.
  2. The reviewers do not know the authors' identities.
  3. The person that selects reviewers does not know the identities of the authors.

I would like to take this opportunity to suggest quadruple-blind review, which is triple-blind review in which the reviewers do not get to see the manuscript. To ensure anonymity, of course. You heard it here first!

  • 3
    I'm curious about triple-blind, it's the first time I hear that. If the person that selects reviewers does not know the identities of the authors, isn't it possible that they send a paper to review to its own authors? – Federico Poloni Mar 17 '14 at 20:17
  • @FedericoPoloni I think triple-blind may have been Marc's attempt at comedy, along with quadruple-blind, which is even more absurd. +1 to Marc for his comedy efforts! – Faheem Mitha Mar 18 '14 at 9:41
  • 1
    @FaheemMitha unfortunately, triple-blind is for real (example 1, example 2). – Marc Claesen Mar 18 '14 at 13:12
3

One word: tradition. Both ways have both advantages and disadvantages. anonymity carries with it the possibility to pass social barriers for what is objective scrutiny of a paper. This has become obvious in some journals that allow open anonymous discussion of submitted papers. Being known (both as author and reviewer) adds social control. On the other hand, anonymity allows a reviewer to express criticism that he/she would not dare to do openly because of, for example, hierarchical reasons. In some (smaller) fields anonymity is easily seen through. The lists can e made much longer.

In your question, the role of the editor as a mediator and evaluator is not touched upon. An editor knows both names of authors and reviewers and should make sure that the review process is fair from both sides. Anonymity does not contribute in this sense.

As a reviewer, one also has the possibility to decline a review if one has qualms about the job. If you feel you need to withhold criticism because of the name of the author, then maybe you are not well suited for the review. In the traditional system you have the possibility of remaining anonymous although my personal opinion is that openness is better. I always feel I can take comments better if I know who they come from. I can evaluate if they are due to issues with language or a resear group with conflicting views etc.

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