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An editor of a journal asked me to review a paper but did not provide his/her name or institution, signing the e-mail as, essentially, "Editor of ...". The e-mail seems to be based upon a template. The sender's e-mail address is of the form AbbreviatedJournalName@PublisherName.com

The journal is reputable but not a top one. I cannot determine the editor's name from public online sources or private contacts. My best guess is that the name of the author of the e-mail is very likely to belong to the list of the editors advertised on the web page of the journal. I know nobody from this list personally through I've read and cited some of their papers.

  1. How should the editor's decision to stay anonymous be qualified? For example, was it

    • (un)ethical,
    • (un)professional,
    • (contrary to the) commonly accepted practice?
  2. What does this tell us about the editor or the journal?

  3. I would like to know whom I am speaking to before taking any decision. What would be the most appropriate reaction from my side, if any?


In another circumstance, the editor of a different, top-notch journal to which I submitted is unknown to me. I corresponded only with the chief editor, and I know that the manuscript is under review, but that's it.

  1. Is it

    • (un)profesional
    • (contrary to the) commonly accepted practice

    for the chief editor not to reveal to an author which editor was assigned to the author's submission?

  2. I would be happy to know who is the actual editor of my submission. Is it possible (and how) to ask for that such that the question is likely to be answered?

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    Does it really matter which editor touched the work flow at some point? The most desirable circumstance is that the identity of the editor is totally irrelevant to the outcome. (Aside from a name to put at the top of an email to them). – Jon Custer Sep 9 '16 at 20:56
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Sep 11 '16 at 3:03
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    @JonCuster Yes, it matters. People are more careful with their decisions when they are personally responsible for it and sign them with their name. As the internet proves, anonymity makes people worse. – Federico Poloni Sep 12 '16 at 6:55
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    @FedericoPoloni - Well, in the case of a journal, it is the journal itself that is responsible, with the journal's reputation on the line. The editors work on behalf of the journal, and while they (individually) can help or harm the journal's reputation, their individual reputation is not really an issue. Perhaps it is just me, but I've never cared which editor handled any of my papers. – Jon Custer Sep 12 '16 at 14:23
  • @FedericoPoloni being personally responsible and signing with their name are not really the same. Some technical editor at a journal that does not sign with their name might in fact feel a lot personal responsibility, e.g., as continued poor performance will result in termination of their employment. Then some big-name mathematician doing editorial work might feel rather little responsibility in their dealings, e.g., since their performance in that task is pretty inconsequential to them. And while many big-name mathematician do good editorial work, I'd say the latter is all but unheard of. – quid Sep 17 '16 at 14:21
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(Due to some rearrangement of comments, etc., I'm rewriting a comment as an answer... :)

First, yes, as noted by others, on many occasions such emails are software-generated... stimulated by an on-line submission, without other human intervention. So it's not that anyone is trying to avoid revealing their identity.

At the same time, nevertheless, I myself do not find machine-generated "invitations" adequately motivating in most circumstances to get me to do volunteer work. My viewpoint is that if no human being is willing to take the trouble to invest at least their identity and a few moments for a small email, then I needn't feel an obligation to invest my (identity, even as "anonymous" reviewer, and) time.

A feature that helped me move down this path was crappy automated interfaces... (won't name names)... which tried to coerce my referee reports into a format that misrepresented my comments... and on other occasions didn't like the browser I use, etc. In particular, when dealing with the interface was a lot more trouble than carefully reading the paper? And there was no one to email about it?

But this did start me thinking about the whole arrangement. Docile free refereeing for for-profit large corporate entities upon the command of software is not the way I want to go.

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How should the editor's decision to stay anonymous be qualified? For example, was it

(un)ethical,

(un)professional,

(contrary to the) commonly accepted practice?

What does this tell us about the editor or the journal?

Or Option D: Likely the result of using editorial management software, with no particular agenda behind it.

There are many reasons why the template can be generic. For example, a purely practical one is that one editor might be handling your submission, but then hand it off to another editor if they think they've got more appropriate expertise, if they need to take leave, etc.

One's interaction with an editor isn't particularly a personal one. They are acting in their capacity as the editorial office of X Journal. And when it comes down to it, it's the Editor-in-Chief's decision that is the final one, regardless of who you worked with, so it's entirely reasonable for the journal to speak with their "voice".

So no, it's not particularly unprofessional, and it's definitely not unethical. For that matter, it's not even a departure from common practice - likely a good half of the journals I publish (field: Biomedicine) in don't necessarily disclose what editor is assigned to your paper.

  • @LeonMeier Though paul's answer may be read as being anonymous and asking to referee "as a favor" is an indicator of poor quality. A good journal doesn't need to regard reviewing for them as a favor. – Fomite Sep 9 '16 at 23:44
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    @LeonMeier Yeah, that's not a favor as much as it is just boilerplate language. – Fomite Sep 10 '16 at 0:00
  • The fact that editorial management software in common use works like this does not make it automatically ethical/professional. – Federico Poloni Sep 12 '16 at 6:03
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    @FedericoPoloni I'm pretty sure that almost none of the objections regarding the behavior of academic publishers has to do with editorial software - and a number of journals run by academics also use some form of editorial management software. Indeed, if anything, a journal incapable of sending an automated message on behalf of the editorial board is more likely to be unprofessional, in my mind, than one that can, if you want to talk purely about signaling. – Fomite Sep 12 '16 at 6:56
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    @Fomite Can we at least agree that "this is how the journals do it" does not mean automatically "this is professional and ethical", which was the remark that started this discussion? – Federico Poloni Sep 12 '16 at 7:03
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Regarding 4 and 5 specifically: In my experience it is not common that one is informed about which editor is assigned. It may not even be the case that some editor is assigned (beyond the Editoe-in-Chief, the Managing Editior, the Editorial Office, etc).

If you want to know about this I think you could just ask, like: "Could you please let me know which editor will handle my paper, so that I know who to contact in case I need to communicate some information related to my submission."

I think it would be slightly unusual to do this for the reasons given above but I doubt it would be a problem either.

On the general subject, generally, I consider referring as a service to the community, as a service to the journal, as a service to the editor in this order.

I thus do not consider the identity of the particular editor as overly relevant as long as the authenticity and the seriousness of the request is guaranteed by other means (as appears to be the case).

Yes, if I get asked by somebody I know it will change the dynamic of the situation slightly. Yet, if anything I would consider giving much importance to this as potentially ethically problematic not the converse.

Finally, many mathematicians write reviews for the Mathematical Reviews/MathSciNet an entity run by a professional society the American Mathematical Society. In my experience as a reviewer, it is exceedingly rare to be in contact with any particular individual. This is not exactly like refereeing for a journal, but close enough. I thus wanted to bring it up as it feels relevant to the question if this is common and considered as professional (by scientists and mathematicians more specifically).

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