5

I understand the concept of (peer-)reviewing as helpful to guarantee a good quality result. Clearly it makes sense that journal articles are reviewed by someone before publication. Yet, what I am still unclear about is who the reviewers are? The focus of this question is not who can peer-review articles, as I am not interested in who qualifies for being a reviewer, but rather about how to find out about the actual people having been involved in the review process?

It disappoints me to not be furnished with a list of the reviewers as it would help me tell if the article is likely to be well-reviewed or not. In academia, where reputation is paramount, it would seem imperfect if the people behind the reviews are kept secret. Yet I have not yet encountered a list of reviewers for a specific article and the best place to put this information seems to be with the article itself.

Another worthwhile information connected to it would be the number of reviewers. After all the more people investing time into a review of some contribtion the higher I assume to be the chances that flaws and problems become corrected and again the more interesting the contribution may become. Since unfortunately there is an excess of publications from people needing to make a career and reading through all of those articles constitutes an obstacle more than an accelaration of the scientific progress.

  • 2
    Elsevier has a nice explanation of the different levels of peer review and what do they mean. – OK- Nov 17 '14 at 1:20
  • 21
    The reason that it's secret that if I, an early-career scientist, reject the paper of a famous scientist in my field, he or she has the power to destroy me. – gerrit Nov 17 '14 at 16:06
  • 2
    1) Peer-review is a certainly a form of quality control but does not 'guarantee good quality'. 2) The number of reviewers is obvious in reputable journals, since you receive a review report from all of them. 3) while it is probably true that there is too much noise in the number of papers published, if anything blind peer-review reduces this noise. – Cape Code Nov 18 '14 at 2:05
  • 1
    @humanityANDpeace It might feel wrong until you have to review a junk paper by a person you know (which is a small field happens a lot), or even worse, your supervisor. Then you'll be happy that the review process is blind. – Nick S Jan 20 '17 at 14:49
  • 1
    @NickS You should never review a paper by your supervisor, junk or not. You have a clear conflict of interest. – JeffE Jan 21 '17 at 15:47
36

how to find out about the actual people having been involved the review?

By and large, you can't. This is guaranteed by the anonymous (or "blind") peer review process used today by most publishers. I guess the main reason for blind reviews are that publishers fear that well-known professors will not be judged harshly by more junior researchers for fear of repercussions.

There are individual publishers out there that share your frustrations with the model, though - most importantly, PLOS One and PeerJ have recently started to experiment with a semi-open review model, where reviewers can choose whether to reveal themselves to the authors.

  • 29
    @humanityANDpeace This isn't at all what I was saying, but ok. I can tell that you have formed your opinion, so I am not going to argue with you. – xLeitix Nov 16 '14 at 17:35
  • 4
    @xLeitix: In case of non-blind reviews, repercussions might also occur among people with the same academic rank. Blind reviews are thus necessary to ensure serenity of judgment at all levels. Some journals require that the submitting authors suggest a list of reviewers (typically 4-5): afaik, however, the editor can choose reviewers not belonging to the suggested list. – Massimo Ortolano Nov 16 '14 at 18:45
  • 4
    Additionally, journals can also let authors provide a list of people who should not referee a given paper, through conflicts of interests or otherwise. However, it is the editor that has the final say on who reviews the paper. – E.P. Nov 17 '14 at 16:07
  • 6
    @humanityANDpeace I find it ironic that you complain about "career and egoism-rooted reasons", when your motivation is that you would like to figure if the reviewers are good because in academia reputation is paramount.... – Nick S Jan 20 '17 at 14:45
  • 1
    And the best reviewers are, in my experience, not the one at the very top of their career; these latter guys have less time for reviews. – Captain Emacs Jan 20 '17 at 20:33
40

Although @xLeitix answer is spot-on, I think you are missing the main point. Anonymity is directly linked to any democratic process. Likewise, your election vote is anonymous. In this sense, a review is just a vote of confidence for the reviewed article and therefore it has to be and remain anonymous for a more objective opinion.

Another point is that anonymity in reviews not only protects the reviewers against repercussions but also protects against nepotism and mutual exchange of favors. Moreover, anonymity also ensures that all reviews are (almost) treated equal. So, a favorable, short review from a professor (who just said ACCEPT because he might personally know the authors) might count less than an informed, in-depth review even if that review comes from a PHD student. So, although the editor knows the reviewers, one reviewer cannot argue / discard with the other reviewer based on their individual status. In this sense, anonymity also protects the reviewed, since if the paper is actually good, it is more probable to be reviewed based on its merits then the authors' public relations.

  • sadly anonymity is ranked high may lead to secrecy and eventually to substantial loss of democracy which comes through the loss of transperency. Neither anonymity nor transperency are likely to be reached in absoluteness and should be relatively based. Just declaringt anonymity sacred and democratic falls short. – humanityANDpeace Nov 17 '14 at 16:01
  • 20
    @humanityANDpeace Have you actually been a reviewer yourself? If yes, you already know that through anonymity, it is easier to express your "true" opinion about a paper. Transparency relates to the review process not to the names of the reviewers. – Alexandros Nov 17 '14 at 16:27
  • 10
    @humanityANDpeace That's ridiculous. Most journals publish a list of reviewers. Who's acting as reviewer for a journal is not confidential, but who reviewed which article commonly is. – silvado Nov 18 '14 at 9:08
  • 2
    @humanityANDpeace Any system can be subverted by jerks. Forcing people to reveal their identities does not make them more reasonable. With signed reviews, senior referees could bully junior researchers into changing their papers to suit the senior researchers’ agendas, or could simply refuse to acknowledge legitimate criticisms because they come from junior researchers. – JeffE Jan 21 '17 at 15:54
  • 2
    @humanityANDpeace for fear of adverse consequences I cannot disclose if I have been a reviewer, sorry. Can you understand? — No. I can't. What consequences? Nobody knows who you are. – JeffE Jan 21 '17 at 15:57
10

In terms of conflicts and deliberate sabotage, it is the responsibility of the editor assigned to your paper to moderate this. The reviewers and authors are known to the editor, and the editor has the ultimate power to accept or reject a paper. If there appears to be a conflict of interest, or a reviewer is unduly harsh, or misunderstands the content, the editors have the power to overrule the reviewer, and the editor-in-charge has the power to overrule assistant editors.

You will see this in some journals where each paper has a name under "communicated by". It lets the reader know that the named editor is responsible for the review process.

Finally, the number of reviewers is disclosed. All journals I've ever worked with have a policy of providing reviewer comments unedited to the authors. Just count the number of reviews you receive. The editors should have no problems telling you how many reviewers were involved; I've frequently received e-mails saying "I got 2 reviews back and am waiting on one".

8

The short answer is "you can't". Unless somehow required by local law, editors will not reveal the reviewers' names. This answer focuses on the reasons behind this.

So far, two benefits of blind peer reviewing have been mentioned:

  • It (maybe) avoids a situation where junior researchers are afraid to criticize senior researchers.

  • It (maybe) avoids the issue of exchange of favors, where reviewers help each other by giving overly positive reviews. This is similar to a benefit of secret ballot voting, which helps prevent "trading" votes with another person, because the secret ballot makes it impossible to tell whether the other person actually voted the way they agreed to vote (as long as the vote isn't unanimous).

I see two other benefits:

  • Many research areas have a small number of researchers. The anonymity of peer review (maybe) helps to avoid personalizing the peer reviews. My own subfield of mathematics has under 100 researchers in the world who could realistically referee my papers, and only maybe 25 who could claim to be experts in the specific area. I know many of these 25, and they know me. So we are often asked to referee papers for authors whom we know - there are not that many experts to do the reviews, after all. In small research fields like mine, the inevitable disputes over rejected papers could otherwise be toxic to the common good.

  • The editor is responsible for choosing appropriate reviewers. Keeping them anonymous to the author cuts off an avenue of appeal where, instead of responding to the content of the reviews, the author instead just tries to impeach the reviewers. Of course, the author can already tell the editor "I don't think the reviewer understands the field". But they can't directly refer to the reviewer's identity when doing so - they have to look at the actual review.

  • good answer to the question "what are the reasons/benefits motivating the blind peer review process?", yet does it really inform who the reviewers are? – humanityANDpeace Nov 18 '14 at 12:48
  • 3
    @humanityANDpeace: indeed, no. You could ask the editor, or your colleagues when you meet them at conferences, or try to guess based on grammatical idiosyncrasies of the reviewers report (it seems you want to know who has reviewed your paper), or other detective work. However, people are trying to explain that you're not supposed to know who has reviewed your article (for good reasons), even if there were a way to find out. Oh, yes, egotism and self interest play a role in human activities throughout known history, scholarship included. – P.Windridge Nov 18 '14 at 13:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.