Naming of Reviewers

Peer review has controversies. There are numerous criticisms, but when it comes down to it, to paraphrase Churchill on democracy, it’s the worst way of doing it, except for all the others. I don’t want to discuss the whole process of peer review here, except to state that when we publish something, because we’re not always experts in that field, we ensure that there has been peer review.  The question I want to pose here is around the degree of anonymity.

Some journals allow complete anonymity – our journal, for example. While we’d not let any downright rude comments through to the author, we give the reviewer a free and anonymous hand. Other journals require complete openness – the BMJ is an example of this. It is made completely clear to you, the reviewer, at the outset, that what you say is going to be read with full accountability.

I noticed that one of the journals in our group – Practical Neurology – names the reviewer or reviewers at the end of the article, and I’m wondering if we should do this in Education and Practice.

There are pluses and minuses.
The pluses, to my mind, include:

  • It acknowledges the work put in by the reviewer.  To be honest with you, on some occasions I really feel like a reviewer is a secret co-author; sometimes our authors acknowledge this in their thanks at the end of their paper.
  • It gives a reviewer something to be able to point to.  In these days of increased scrutiny of our activities, it can be helpful to state very clearly what you’ve reviewed.
  • It could lend extra authority to the paper.  In the same way that an author’s name does, inevitably, add weight to the paper, so could the reviewer’s name.
  • It could increase the rigour of the review process.  Some reviewers write “This is a very nice piece” which, frankly, isn’t that helpful to me as an editor or to the authors; there is always something which could be added.  In this way we’d be signalling that they’d be formally endorsing a piece in public and therefore, perhaps, their review would be more careful.

Then there are the minuses:

  • Sometimes the reviewer will need to be negative about something written by someone who may be eminent in their field.  Maybe they will feel the need to protect their career – or their face at the next conference – by moderating their comments.
  • We’d need to be careful about whose names we published.  For example, I usually review each piece I commission in some detail, but this isn’t so much about the science as about the presentation – so I shouldn’t be cited as a reviewer, and besides, you’d get even more bored at seeing my name
  • It might take up some space in the journal

Reading through these, I can’t find myself feeling too negative about the whole thing; the negative points I’ve made seem either process related – which are straightforward to fix – or relatively unlikely.

I want to emphasise that I’m talking here about the Education and Practice edition – I think that there are other arguments about the other sections, and besides, I don’t run them.

So, what do you think?

– @ian_wac

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