From D.J. Wesolowski: Preserving
Anonymity in the Review Process, EOS, 84,
To those scientists who haven’'t served as
editors or associate editors of scientific journals,
I can assure you that it’s already too hard
to find enough qualified reviewers willing to do the
job without threatening them with exposure as well!
So, if you want your papers to be published within
a reasonable time frame, you'll pretty much have to
put up with anonymous reviews. I’ve been an
associate editor of Geochimica et Cosmochimica
Acta for 11 years and an Editorial Board member
of Chemical Geology for 4. I think anonymous
reviews are perfectly acceptable, but that the editor
evaluating the reviews should always be identified,
both to the authors and in the published manuscript.
Reviewers should be permitted to request anonymity,
but authors should always be instructed to specifically
acknowledge in their manuscripts the contributions
of those reviewers who do not request anonymity. This,
in fact, might encourage more reviewers to identify
themselves. I don’t know about you, but it tickles
me pink when I see my name in print!
The review process is intended to ensure that: the
material is new or a useful summary of previous work,
the data and conclusions are correct or at least believable,
proper credit is given to previous researchers, the
subject matter and impact are appropriate for the
target journal, and the presentation is readable and
civil. How best to ensure these should be the only
consideration in soliciting and evaluating reviews.
Requiring reviewers to identify themselves to the
authors is likely to force a more favorable review
than is warranted or more likely result in the most
suitable reviewers declining to comment. Anonymity
certainly encourages vindictive or superficial reviews,
but it is the associate editor’s job to weed
these out. Furthermore, authors normally have the
option of appealing a rejection to the editor-in-chief
or requesting another associate editor, and these
options should always be made available.
I’d like to conclude with some observations.
There is no absolute safeguard against incorrect reviews
or editorial decisions, regardless of anonymity. Rarely
do editors and even reviewers examine manuscripts
in sufficient detail to completely understand the
material, and frequently they don’t have as
deep an understanding of the subject as the authors.
Therefore, I feel that authors should routinely be
given the benefit of the doubt. Rather than the review
process being the ultimate watchdog, the published
“comments and replies” that many journals
offer are an underutilized method of airing scientific
debates. Perhaps it is not fair for bean counters
to consider these as formal publications, and an alternative
avenue might be to permit some such dialog to be included
as an appendix to the manuscript in dispute, even
to the extent of preserving the anonymity of the reviewers.
I know that publication is an expensive process, but
I think it costs us more as a society if we too arduously
squelch controversial observations and hypotheses.
These sometimes prove to have been correct in the
first place, and they frequently spark new lines of
research and testing in any event.
Finally, I’m tired of well-qualified reviewers
rejecting manuscripts out of hand because of poor
spelling and grammar or ugly tables and figures. We
function in a global scientific community, and we
communicate every day, and very effectively, with
scientists who do not have a flawless grasp of the
English language and/or who lack the resources we
take for granted in developed nations. Why do we hold
these same people to much higher standards in the
published literature? I have rarely seen writing so
bad that I could not understand the message the authors
were trying to convey.
– David J. Wesolowski, Oak
Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tenn., USA