12

Recently, the single-blind peer-review process failed to appropriately deal with highly sexist comments. An anonymous reviewer provided a sexist review and the Academic Editor forwarded it on. They have since blacklisted the reviewer and asked the Academic Editor to step down. While I think that blind peer review provides useful protection for reviewers, are Academic Editors generally provided anonymity? Further, is there any precedence for when a journal should reveal the name of a reviewer?

  • 11
    Well, for instance if it was found that the reviewer plagiarized and/or stole from the work he reviewed, I think protecting his anonymity would be entirely inappropriate. – Pete L. Clark May 3 '15 at 17:19
  • 5
    The review process of PLOS One did not fail. One reviewer made sexist comments, and the editor failed to take appropriate action. How can you blame that on PLOS One's process? – rmounce May 3 '15 at 17:20
  • 1
    FWIW I'd lay some of the 'blame' here on the widely-used process of anonymous peer-review. Would the reviewer dare write what s/he did if s/he knew their comments were definitely going to be published for all the world to see? – rmounce May 3 '15 at 17:29
  • 4
    @rmounce and then the authors filed a complaint and the publisher ignored it until they were publicly called out. That seems like an utter failure to me. – StrongBad May 3 '15 at 17:35
  • 2
    @StrongBad "the publisher ignored it" I disagree. According to Fiona herself, they took about 3 weeks to respond to the appeal. Being slow isn't the same as completely ignoring it. PLOS have very publicly acknowledged this both on their blog and on Twitter. – rmounce May 3 '15 at 18:04
13

While I think that blind peer review provides useful protection for reviewers, are Academic Editors generally provided anonymity?

In my experience this is rare but not unheard of. For example, the PNAS submission guidelines specify that the editor handling the paper will remain anonymous until the paper is accepted. Presumably this is meant to protect editors from retribution over a rejected paper. I'm not convinced this is necessary, but the existence of these policies indicates that someone must care.

Further, is there any precedence for when a journal should reveal the name of a reviewer?

I'm not aware of any policy that allows journals to reveal the name of a reviewer without the reviewer's consent. It could be reasonable in a case like this, but I wouldn't want to be in charge of writing a policy delineating when it is or isn't allowed.

  • 2
    In addition to the difficulties in writing such a policy, I am not sure I would review for a journal that had such a policy. – StrongBad May 3 '15 at 17:49
  • @StrongBad Knowing this would be a deterrent, but I actually have no idea what the policies are for any journal I've reviewed for. – Kimball May 4 '15 at 1:16
8

Anonymity, when used for any scientific role, is intended to make it easier for people to conduct honest scientific assessments. It is not intended to be a shield from which to attack with impunity.

In business, there is a concept of "piercing the corporate veil," in which the shielding of corporate liability limits is removed in cases of gross misconduct. Likewise, I think that it is reasonable to pierce the veil of scientific anonymity in cases of gross misconduct. This recent case of "please add a male author" is one such; others could include abusive personal attacks or plagiarism.

I'm not sure that exact boundaries of such a policy would need to be spelled out in advance: simply saying "anonymity may be breached in cases of gross misconduct" may be sufficient.

  • 3
    What I find tricky is that I'd like to be able to assure referees that being wrong can't constitute misconduct. (You are entitled to your own scientific judgment, even if it looks foolish or negligent to the authors/editors. It might make you a bad referee whose opinion shouldn't be trusted or sought again, but it wouldn't mean you were guilty of gross misconduct.) I see "please add a male author" as gratuitously abusive, not a scientific judgment at all, but I'm sure the referee would complain loudly that their honest scientific opinion was being oppressed thanks to political correctness. – Anonymous Mathematician May 3 '15 at 20:43
  • @AnonymousMathematician I think that certain types of misbehavior mean that people need to be called out and shamed. I'd be fine to have that referee complaining loudly: bigots generally do. It's not for the benefit of the bigot that we name and shame, but for the rest of society. – jakebeal May 3 '15 at 20:46
  • 2
    I agree that there's no need to feel sympathy for this particular referee, and I'd be happy to see them shamed, but I'm worried about making it clear where such a policy would be applied. I've never seen a genuinely offensive/abusive referee report, but I've seen some lazy or foolish ones and some harsh ones, and I've seen authors who were offended by what seem to me to be legitimate differences of opinion. I hope I'll never have to deal with a referee who deserves public shaming, but I expect that a shaming policy would cause some authors to ask whether it could be applied in their case. – Anonymous Mathematician May 3 '15 at 20:56
  • 2
    For example, suppose an author submits a short, readable paper but the refereeing takes an extraordinarily long time. Meanwhile, the author's tenure case is submitted or their eligibility for a prize for young researchers expires. Has the referee committed gross misconduct by being so slow? I'd say no, but some people might disagree. Or what if a referee says something clearly negligent, such as "this method is well known, as the authors could easily have discovered by consulting an expert or even using Google" when in fact no other expert knows it and there are no references online? – Anonymous Mathematician May 3 '15 at 21:08
  • 1
    Yeah, I think both (hypothetical) referees I mentioned are bad referees. Currently, the punishment for doing a bad job is having the editors think less of you, which may or may not be a deterrent. If the editors recognize a bad report, they will ignore or replace it (I can't believe that didn't happen at PLOS ONE). Adding a further possibility of public shaming is not necessarily a bad idea, but it would lead to a lot of debate on how to apply it, and I'm not convinced it would end up being applied as sparingly as I think it should. – Anonymous Mathematician May 3 '15 at 21:31

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.