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Concealing of Author and Reviewer Identities 

Concealing of Author and Reviewer Identities

Editorial Assessment and Processing

Richard M. Glass

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Subscriber: null; date: 26 February 2017

Concealing of Author and Reviewer Identities

Among the unsettled issues in peer review are efforts to conceal the identities of authors (and their affiliations) from reviewers, and the question of whether the identities of reviewers should be revealed to authors. Biomedical journals commonly use a “single-blind” (single-masked) review process in which authors’ identities are revealed to reviewers, but the names of reviewers are not revealed to authors (see 5.7.1, Ethical and Legal Considerations, Confidentiality, Confidentiality During Editorial Evaluation and Peer Review and After Publication). This process recognizes the difficulty of concealing author identities, makes it easier for reviewers to detect attempts at duplicate publication by the same authors, and may encourage more candid reviews because the reviewers know they are anonymous to the authors, who may be their professional colleagues.

However, this single-blind tradition is controversial. Reviewers might be influenced by the identities and reputations of authors or their affiliations and thus not judge a manuscript solely on quality and importance. Furthermore, some critics believe that authors ought to know who is evaluating their work and that reviewers should stand by their critiques by signing them, a process sometimes called “open peer review.”5,18 Journal policies vary regarding concealing or revealing author and reviewer identities, and these practices should be indicated in the instructions for authors (see 5.11.4, Ethical and Legal Considerations, Editorial Responsibilities, Roles, Procedures, and Policies, Editorial Responsibility for Peer Review). In some disciplines (eg, nursing and psychology), “double-blind” review, in which neither author nor reviewer identities are revealed, is common. Authors who submit a paper to a journal that attempts to conceal author identities should remove identifying information from all parts of the manuscript. Author names, affiliations, and acknowledgments (including funding sources) should be submitted separately.

A few empirical studies of these issues have been published. One relevant finding is that attempts to conceal author identities are often not successful due to self-references in the paper or reviewer knowledge of the authors' work. The latter is not surprising because the reviewers are experts in the authors' fields. Thus, “blind” review is often unblinded. A multijournal randomized controlled trial19 found that masking of author identities was successful for only 68% of manuscripts overall, and that author masking tended to be less successful for reviewers with more research experience and for well-known authors, but was unrelated to a journal policy of masking.20 Even more important, masking of author identities, whether it was successful or not, did not improve the quality of reviews as assessed by editors or authors.19 These findings were similar to the results of trials of masking of author identities undertaken at single journals.21-23 In a large-scale “field trial,” the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) in 1984 switched to concealing author identities but reversed this practice in 1990 after concluding that the time-consuming efforts to conceal author identities were often unsuccessful and did not improve the review process.24

Less empirical information is available on the effects of identifying peer reviewers to authors (open peer review) vs keeping them anonymous. A randomized trial25 performed at the BMJ concluded that asking reviewers to consent to being identified to authors had no important effects on quality of reviews, recommendations regarding publication, or the time taken to review, but it increased the likelihood of reviewers declining to review. Positions in favor of open peer review are usually taken on the grounds of ethics and accountability.5

Whatever its problems may be, it is clear that peer review “has been indispensable for the progress of biomedical science”26 and that no better alternative has emerged for the assessment and improvement of submissions to biomedical and scientific journals.27 Rennie5(p12) has observed, “It is therefore no surprise that as the evidence of its flaws and inefficiencies accumulates, peer review, far from foundering as it hits iceberg after iceberg, shrugs them off and sails proudly on.”

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