Peer Review part one- open or blind?

Since becoming Editor of JHND I have been quite surprised by the amount of correspondence I get from authors (usually, “why did you reject my manuscript; if I revise it will you reconsider?”) and reviewers. The latter often want to pass on additional comment about the paper they have been reviewing, or to give some feedback on how the process was for them. Yesterday though I had an exchange with a reviewer who wanted to comment on the way JHND runs peer review.

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Now, peer review is of course a vital process which is intended to guarantee the quality of science publication. It has some flaws and many detractors, but I will save a discussion of that for another day. What my correspondent wanted to discuss was the issue of blind vs standard vs open peer review.

A standard peer review process is adopted by the vast majority of science and medical journals and involves manuscripts being sent out for review by experts in the field (or are they…). The reviewers see who the authors are and where they are based, but submit their review anonymously. This system is wide open to abuse, bias and nastiness due to the dark side of human nature. We all have rivals. Some rivalry is fair and broad-minded. Some rivalry is mean and contemptible. I, for example, know that there are people out there who would rather bathe in their own excrement than agree to anything of mine being published.

An alternative, as used by JHND, is blind peer review. Here, the manuscript has any features that may identify the authors redacted before it goes out for review. Hence neither the author or the reviewer is identifiable. The advantage of this is that the reviewer has to make a judgement based purely on the quality of the work. My correspondent didn’t like this as he felt that being able to see what else the authors had published in the area was important. I don’t quite follow this logic- if the manuscript is good (appropriate design, correct analysis, well-written) it should be published no matter what. Again, I have been on the bad end of this way of thinking, having once had a study on atopic wheeze rejected because neither myself nor my coauthor had ever published in an immunological journal before.

The other way of conducting peer review is the one I favour most, but which very few journals use; open review. Here the authors AND the reviewers are plainly identifiable. The advantage of this system is that nobody can make unnecessarily aggressive, dismissive or unpleasant comments without having to face some kind of comeback from those on the end of those comments. It forces reviewers to be fair. My correspondent thought that this would kill off the process of peer review as nobody would volunteer to do review if they were identifiable.

I wonder what anyone else thinks?

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2 thoughts on “Peer Review part one- open or blind?

  1. I too have suffered from biased standard peer reviewing, where my lack of publishing track record in a specific field has been held against me and my paper consequently rejected – interestingly the next journal it was submitted to undertook blind reviewing and none of the previous criticisms featured in the subsequent reviews and the paper was accepted with flying colours!
    I have also experienced the other side of the coin when I was asked to review a paper in which one of the middle authors was a world class leader of a field but when I read the manuscript, the study and the interpretation appeared to be full of flaws and biased reporting. I spent an inordinate amount of time scrutinising the manuscript ensuring that my criticisms were well founded, purely because the middle author was so eminent in the field and I assumed their work would have been of a high quality. If this manuscript had been sent out for blind peer review I would have been able to have reviewed it purely on its content and not been influenced by the reputation of its authors.
    I have never had a manuscript openly reviewed or been asked to review openly – I can see the benefits (I think it would lead to more robust reviewing where people have really got to back up what they say) but can also appreciate the concerns with this system.

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