Thursday, May 2, 2013

Do you ever reveal your identity as a referee?

I don't, even when I write positive reviews.
If someone asks me, "Did you review my paper/grant?" I tend to say, "I never say one way or the other."

I think it is tempting to tell colleagues:
"I reviewed X's grant and it was a load of rubbish."
"I reviewed that paper for Nature and rejected it."
"I reviewed that paper for PRL and thought it was brilliant."
"I really liked your grant application and gave it a 5."

I try not to do this.
Even if you don't directly tell someone of a negative review it can get back to them.
On the other hand, I would like to tell people of positive reviews to encourage them.
But, I really don't want them to think I am asking them to return the favour. "I scratched your back. Now you, scratch mine.".

If I say neither yes/no when asked, it keeps people guessing.

So, do you ever reveal your identity?
If someone asks you?
Do you ever offer the information to others?


  1. I always sign my reviews. The less secrecy in science the better

    1. Your courage is admirable.
      Have your negative reviews ever led to hostile encounters with authors?

    2. PS. There is no courage involved if one is not afraid. I just came to the realization that if you provide constructive feedback in a friendly tone that is open to dialogue, then people are unlikely to be too upset. If you don't feel comfortable putting your name on something you wrote, you should really reconsider what you've written.

  2. Once a referee revealed his identity to us even copying editor's name into the email.

    And for the same paper another referee revealed his identity after our paper was accepted for his positive report.

  3. I never sign my reviews. Are we even allowed to? I think of the secrecy as simply being part of the job.

  4. I would think that most reviewers would not opt to reveal their identity simply because it would force them to actually produce (and be responsible for) a high quality report. The not uncommon one- or two-paragraph reports with little detail or explanation would not reflect well on a person's reputation.

    But this gets to another issue, which is quality of referee reports. Another way to enforce responsibility for this other than revealing identities is to simply publish/post paper reviews along with accepted publications. The possibility of having referee reviews made public, even anonymously, would certainly tighten up the often too brief and sometimes ridiculously unfair reviews we all occasionally come across in the paper review process. I don't see why this is not possible in today's online age; the best excuse I've heard is about a journal's need to correct grammar and spelling... hardly a good reason!

    1. John,
      Thanks for this insightful comment. You raise two issues I have not even thought of.

      I agree there are too many superficial reports, both positive and negative. I have to confess occassionaly to do write bland reports for bland papers.
      Earlier I posted about

      I agree that putting referee reports online with published papers would be a positive step.
      I think readers would find this fascinating, particularly with hindsight, to see on what grounds papers were accepted. Good detailed reports would help readers better appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of papers.

      This would also create greater accountability for the decisions of journal editors.

    2. I post my reviews on a blog:

      When I publish on PLoS ONE, which allows comments, I can then link to the reviews there.

  5. I sometimes reveal my identity, and sometimes don't. Sometimes I think my comments will be more likely to be taken on-board if the authors know who I am, so in this case I will id myself. Sometimes vice-versa.