No more signed reviews

22 Aug

Peer-reviewing manuscripts is an important service to the scientific community. I had a personal policy to sign my reviews, but yesterday I changed my mind. I will no longer sign my reviews.

The reason I had for signing my reviews is that it forced me to be precise, fair and accountable for my statements.
Once, I almost sent out a really shitty review (of the type: “this paper is so stupid I don’t even want to spend time to explain why”).
Then I realized how unfair and un-constructive such a review is, and how angry I would be as an author if I got such a review. Plus, I realized that I would never write the same thing in a non-anonymous situation. So, I decided to always ask myself, during the writing of a review, whether I would also make the statements I was making, if the situation was not anonymous. And the simplest way to make sure that I wouldn’t hide behind anonymity is to actually write my name.

Signing is not necessary and sometimes awkward

Yesterday I was talking about the issue of signing with two colleagues. And they gave me good reasons why signing reviews is not necessary and sometimes awkward.

1. It is not necessary because the editor will know your name. So even if you don’t sign, there is a senior colleague who sees what you write, and you are not anonymous.

2. It can be awkward if you write a very positive review and sign your name, because it may be seen as if you are just doing the authors a favor in the hope that they will return the favor at another stage.

These two reasons resonated with me and I decided to no longer sign my reviews.

Of course there is another reason why people don’t sign their reviews: it is considered too risky for junior scientists to sign critical reviews.

Double blind

On a related note, I wish reviewing was anonymous in the other direction. I don’t want to know who the authors are of the paper I am reviewing, because I know about implicit bias and I don’t want it to affect my review. If I know the reputation (or absence of reputation) of the authors, this is going to affect my review, whether I want it or not. My opinion about a manuscript is also likely affected by the author’s gender, age, affiliation or ethnicity. This, of course, will distract from the science.
There are some journals in my field that do double blind reviews (Behavioral Ecology, Evolutionary Applications), and I wish others would follow.

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7 Responses to “No more signed reviews”

  1. julian1973 August 23, 2013 at 6:37 am #

    I like the approach “Frontiers” is following, afterwards the reviewers will be disclosed, on the first page of the paper.

  2. Klara August 24, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    I agree with you, double blind reviewing would be good. Unfortunately, names can have more influence than they should!

    • pleunipennings September 4, 2013 at 10:19 am #

      Hi Klara, it is surprising though how many people are against blind reviews!

  3. Kate Hertweck (@k8hert) November 9, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    Glad Dmitri just posted this to twitter! I appreciate how you frame this post: that review anonymity is a personal decision with wide variance in implementation. The arguments for signing reviews (my current standard) are twofold: first, the comments I make often reveal my identity, and second, I believe it makes a world of difference in interpreting a review if you (the manuscript author) know the identity (and therefore, the research background) of the reviewer. Thanks for the post, and I’m always hopeful for revisions to the review process among the scientific community to make it better!

  4. pleunipennings November 10, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

    Lots of discussion on Twitter about this today and yesterday.
    @jrossibarra started by saying: “The fact that writing a signed review is harder suggests it is worth doing.”
    @stepheniwright says: “I’m not so sure. Biases can creep into signed reviews where they’d be absent from anonymous ones, like fear of reprisals.”
    @JanneSeppanen suggests to make the editor blind to the reviewer too (triple blind). He says: “Ref anonymity can protect editor from unconscious bias. Ref can sign after decision”
    But @AxiosReview says: “I think ed can only evaluate review if they know context i.e. who wrote it”
    My reaction to that last comment was: “i am not sure when context becomes bias.”

    • asianelephant December 7, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

      I recently turned down reviewing a paper in a double-blind reviewing journal because I could guess the authors and felt they needed to send it to someone outside the small circle involved in our research. Often it is a small world, and even with double-blind reviewing we should also screen ourselves and our potential preconceptions before accepting to review or not (as far as we can be conscious about it at least).

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Why we don’t sign our peer reviews | The Molecular Ecologist - April 9, 2014

    […] Pennings, postdoc at Standford University, who wrote a blog post on the question last […]

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