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I was recently asked to review a paper for a (reputable) journal in mathematics. This journal follows a single-blinded peer review process (which is quite standard in math). Reviewers are not revealed to the authors, but the reviewers know who the authors are.

However, in this situation, the author of the paper is also an editor at that particular journal. Can they access the identities of their paper's reviewers? What measures do journals use to avoid revealing this information to their co-editor?

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  • The good thing about mathematics is that the proofs are either valid or invalid, and no author wishes to publish an invalid proof, so it doesn't matter if you point out any flaws in their proofs. So at least in the aspect of correctness, reviewers don't have to worry about lack of anonymity. It would be best if you can be more explicit about what exactly you are concerned about that requires anonymity.
    – user21820
    Mar 28, 2023 at 9:19
  • @user21820 You guessed correctly, I believe I have found a mistake in their proof.
    – Yanko
    Mar 29, 2023 at 19:46
  • Then I really don't see any problem at all. I do not know a single professional mathematician who would not want to be told as soon as possible of any apparent mistake. In fact, because of that I don't really think the two questions in your post are actually relevant to your situation (even though they would make a good question for other kinds of peer-reviews).
    – user21820
    Mar 30, 2023 at 3:38

3 Answers 3

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For the record: I have served as a managing editor on 2 editorial boards for many years (currently, just one board) and as a regular editor, on one more board. I encountered the situation you described in both capacities (my papers were submitted to "my journal") and I refereed editors' papers for other journals.

It is normally expected that the editor handling a paper keeps the author of the paper (another editor) out of the loop, regarding the identities of the referees; this is done, for instance, by using non-editorial email to contact referees, receive referee reports, through software used for the submission/evaluation process at the journal, etc. Any reputable journal will try it best to follow this. Of course, there is always a chance that something will go wrong...

Personally, the way I write my referee reports is so that I never say anything anonymously as a referee that I would not be willing/able to say openly to the author. This way I never have to worry if an author discovers or guesses correctly that I was a referee (this also has happened to me few times).

How much are you willing to trust the system to do the right thing, is your call...

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Usually yes

Editors who are also authors are expected to recuse from the review process of their own papers. Once they recuse, they can no longer see the identities of the reviewers (usually, editors can only see the identities of the reviewers for the paper they are handling; if they are not handling their own paper, they are as blind as other authors). This goes for the editor-in-chief as well.

However, it's only "usually" because it's really easy for someone who's unfamiliar with the editorial management system (or simply not paying attention) to screw up. For example, if the current editor-in-chief resigns and another editor is promoted to editor-in-chief, it's entirely possible they will be able to see who reviewed their previous papers. It shouldn't happen, of course, but someone needs to notice before it happens, and there's no guarantee they will.

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In addition to the other answers, I would like to point out that there is a major difference in this case between an associate editor and a chief editor in a typical journal workflow.

  • Associate editors generally have no access to each others' work queues. Thus, if the author is an associate editor, the chief editors should send it to a different associate editor, and confidentiality is then maintained just like it is for any non-editor author.
  • Chief editors generally have access to all of the work queues. Thus, confidentiality will depend on appropriate recusal, as pointed out in the answer by @Allure.
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  • One thinks the chief editor user role should not give access to the reviewer selection, but only be able to distribute incoming manuscripts to the associate editors. So unless he assigns himself to the manuscript, the editor-in-chief ought to be completely oblivous as to who did the reviews. Standard GxP procedure to split tasks along user roles instead of users.
    – Karl
    Mar 27, 2023 at 15:00
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    @Karl The chief editor often serves as an auditor on the whole process, so they have access to all of the information.
    – jakebeal
    Mar 27, 2023 at 17:58
  • That is the user role "auditor", which should not be activated for standard chief-editing work. And the system should allow to exclude certain users from using the auditor rule for specific cases. At least that's how processes are designed to be compliant in regulated environments. I'm sure publishing software solutions are not as well structured today. ;) And I know this sounds like a lot of hassle. It is, if the processes are not very well adjusted to the task and specific journal.
    – Karl
    Mar 28, 2023 at 22:12
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    @Karl Yeah, that's a heck of a lot more structured than the average journal, where the editing duties are generally carried out by volunteer experts.
    – jakebeal
    Mar 28, 2023 at 22:14

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