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I recently handled a paper where the peer review process ended with two minor revision reviews and two reject reviews. The disagreement was pretty fundamental - the two reviewers recommending rejection think the authors should do X, but the authors disagree, and it's extremely unlikely they are going to agree with each other.

The handling editor decided to accept the paper. Journal policy in this situation (where there is at least one outstanding 'reject' review) is to involve another member of the editorial board. The new editor is asked for an opinion & an explanation of that opinion, which is shown to the original editor to see if the two editors can come to a consensus.

Here's my question: Journal policy is also to not reveal the names of the two editors to each other. The stated reason is to maintain the anonymity of peer review, thereby allowing the editors to speak freely without fear of retribution from the other editor. Is this normal? I don't see anything intrinsically wrong with it, but intuitively it still seems rather weird.

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  • Do you know the identity of the reviewers? If yes, do you think this information is important for your work as an editor? Mar 9, 2023 at 6:21
  • @Snijderfrey technically I'm the publisher and know the identities of everyone involved. I'm not sure if the identities of the reviewers matter in this case as well - the editors can see who the reviewers are, they just cannot see who each other are.
    – Allure
    Mar 9, 2023 at 6:48
  • ...and who decides eventually if the paper is accepted? Does there have to be a consensus or does the "first" editor still decide, no matter what the other editor's opinion is? Mar 9, 2023 at 6:53
  • @Snijderfrey if there's a consensus then we do that, if the two editors cannot come to a consensus then we ask the editor-in-chief for a final decision.
    – Allure
    Mar 9, 2023 at 7:01
  • I wonder what you think is wrong with this. I mean, I see why one may wonder whether this is necessary, however the motivation seems to be pretty clear (as explained in the answer of @WolfgangBangerth), and what harm does it do? Mar 9, 2023 at 22:01

2 Answers 2

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In all but the most bizarre cases, neither of the two involved editors have a stake in the outcome of the process, and as a consequence there can be no "conflict" of interest in knowing the other person's name because there is no "interest". So my personal opinion (as a long-time editor and editor-in-chief) is that the anonymization is not actually necessary.

That said, in my publishing career, I have been fortunate to work with people who put little of their ego into the job. (But I have also worked consciously on making the editorial board work more like a collective.) It is interesting to me that your journal has an explicit policy when in the environments I work in, we would have handled these situations with ad-hoc processes between colleagues trying to figure out what the right outcome is. I do recognize that that is not always the case, but that there are environments in which people have entrenched opinions they want to defend, rather than come to consensus, and in such situations anonymization might make it easier to come to agreements.

There is of course also the issue that in defending the decision to authors, being able to point to a written policy is useful. Since anonymization always makes procedures appear more sound and serious, this then is more defensible than an ad-hoc process would be.

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  • Yes, and the anonymization also seems a bit weird and unworkable in practice. If the editors are knowledgeable in the field, they probably know one another.
    – Buffy
    Mar 9, 2023 at 17:41
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In my experience, the name of the board member would NOT be revealed to the associate editor, and this report is otherwise treated as a regular referee report.

Now to be perfect precise, in case of split decision, the journals I know go to a “senior referee” or member of an “advisory board” or some other such designation, not to another editor as they are sufficiently busy as they are. Moreover, correspondence comes through the office so a senior referee would not know the name of the associated editor.

This is the procedure in at least two journals I regularly interact with.

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