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Recently I had a paper sent back to me (rejected) with two referee reports. This is not that surprising as this was a very good journal. The problem is that the identity of one of the referees is revealed even though it's supposed to be a single-blind system. This wouldn't be too much of a problem usually, but the identity of the referee turns out to be one of my letter writers, and someone I've worked with closely.

This creates a very awkward situation for me. Any advice?

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  • 15
    What do you want to accomplish?
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 1 at 14:06
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    what is very awkward? did the referee you know said anything offensive, wrong or are they being deceiving with you?
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 1 at 14:51
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    Clearly the poster is worried about managing their future interactions with the referee, but there is another consideration here: the journal! They will almost certainly regard this as a disastrous mistake on their behalf and will greatly appreciate being told about the violation of anonymity. Jul 2 at 6:36
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    I would suggest an email to the editors "Dear Editor, I would like to let you know that the identity of referee XXX was visible in the email you forwarded to me, which I presume was not intended. I have no intention of taking any action based on this information, since I consider their comments to be reasonable and fair; but I thought I should notify you in order to avoid any further accidental disclosures in future". [Speaking as a journal editor, if one of my journals was revealing referees' names to authors I would definitely want to know about it ASAP.] Jul 2 at 6:38
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    @AndreasBlass the referee essentially said something like "in my paper with..." in the report, which clearly identifies them.
    – anonymousx
    Jul 4 at 1:23

4 Answers 4

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Let it go.

They were doing their job. If their commentary was fair there is nothing for you to do here, but forget about the incident. This is a rather explicit case, but in the future there will be many cases where you can quite accurately infer the identity of a referee. Some of those referees will be people you know, some reports will be negative. It something you have to (learn to) deal with.

If their comments where exceptionally harsh to the point of them clearly not respecting you or your work, then it may be better to remove them from your list of letter writers.

(As an aside, if they are writing letters for you, it would probably have been better if they had recused themselves from reviewing your work.)

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    the report actually wasn't negative at all. If anything it was positive, and I believe the paper was rejected mostly because the other report explicitly said to do so. However, if the identity of the referee wasn't revealed normally I would simply forward the email to that person and ask for advice on where to send the paper next. This is obviously not really possible to do now without potentially creating a lot of unnecessary and unwanted drama.
    – anonymousx
    Jul 1 at 14:43
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    @anonymousx What kind of drama are you envisioning would arise from forwarding the email with a note like "Hi X, thanks for your report on (manuscript). I particularly appreciated your suggestion to improve (blabla). Unfortunately, the paper was rejected. Do you have a suggestion for what journal we should try next?".
    – Anyon
    Jul 1 at 15:36
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    @anonymousx Per my comment on your question, you need to make your goals clear in your question, not approach this sideways in the comments. If the problem is "Normally I would send the reviews to Prof X and ask their advice on where to send the paper now, but now this will reveal that I know Prof X was one of the reviewers", or whatever is the actual problem you face here, say it! You might know it in your head, but if it's not clear in the text of your answer we can't easily guess at it.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 1 at 15:45
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    @anonymousx why would you need to reveal you know who it was? Given that their review was both fair and positive, I don't see why revealing you know they reviewed it is a problem anyway, but if you feel it is, just copy/paste the contents of the rejection letter and remove their name when you send it to them.
    – terdon
    Jul 3 at 18:01
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TimRias' answer properly addresses how to feel about the referee.

As for the broken anonymity, could this be a case where the referee signed their report? Some journals will respect a referee wishing to break anonymity in this way. If that is not the case and the journal inadvertently leaked the referee's identity then I would suggest pointing this out to the editor in case they can take steps to avoid such situations in the future. (The fact that only one of the referees' identity was included rather than all makes a signed report more likely.)

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The review is single-blind, so the reviewer had nothing against reviewing your paper knowing you were the author. In their eyes, then, there is nothing awkward.

In fact, if the review was fair, there is no issue. The double blind is in place to avoid bias, but if the referee did a good job (i.e. a fair review, without bias) then no problem.

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There is a good rule: "If in doubt, do nothing."

Other people believe that you should notify the editor. I wouldn't do that, as you cannot be sure the editor would not notify the referee, and that would be more awkward :-)

I don't see how the current situation is awkward for you, unless you let the referee know what you now know. Actually, you just obtained some valuable information. If we knew what other people say about us behind our back, we might lose some illusions, but I am not sure this would be a bad thing :-)

The only thing you may wish to do is consider if you should ask this person to write support letters for you, although you cannot be sure other potential letter writers say nicer things about you behind your back :-)

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