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Should peer reviewer identities be revealed?


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Disclosing reviewer identities can improve peer review transparency, but its risks and benefits remain unclear.
  • Signed peer review offers scholars an opportunity to claim credit for their work, but will not in itself remove bias from the process.

Despite the growing support for improving transparency in the peer review process, attitudes towards revealing reviewer identities remain mixed. In their article for the Scholarly Kitchen, Véronique Kiermer and Alison Mudditt explore the arguments for and against disclosing reviewer identities alongside published articles, and discuss learnings from publishers who have implemented different approaches to open review.

The benefits of open-identities peer review have been described in terms of:

  • accountability: increasing the transparency of any competing interests
  • credit: recognising reviewers’ contribution to this important academic activity
  • quality: encouraging more thorough reviews.

However, Kiermer and Mudditt cautioned that the following risks should be considered:

  • Bias: masking author and reviewer identities has traditionally been used to counteract biases in peer review.
  • Impact on vulnerable researchers: early-stage researchers may be more susceptible to retaliatory actions such as negative subsequent peer reviews.
  • Rigor and candour: researchers may be less willing to provide critical assessments or may trade positive reviews with other academics.
  • Halo/horn effect: readers might overlay their perceptions of the credibility of the reviewer on the research article, instead of judging the research on its merit.

Various journals have adopted versions of open review. The BMJ identified a small improvement in constructive feedback following the release of reviewer identities; however, this was coupled with decreased willingness to review manuscripts. In contrast to the BMJ data, PeerJ reported that reviewers choosing to disclose their identity gave more subjective and positive reviews, which could suggest that candour is influenced by social pressures.

Nature journals offer their referees the option to be named on published papers (with authors’ permission), but restrict access to the peer review reports. Overall, 80% of Nature articles name at least one reviewer, which likely reflects a desire amongst reviewers to receive credit for their efforts.

Since 2019, authors publishing in PLOS journals have had the option to release their article’s peer review history, including peer reviewers’ names. Subsequently, in 22% of PLOS journal articles at least one reviewer has chosen to reveal their identity. PLOS also observe a strong desire for credit and have enabled reviewers to add certified proof of review to their ORCID records.

Kiermer and Mudditt believe that all stakeholders can benefit from greater transparency in peer review, although there is some ambiguity as to the value of naming individual reviewers, and a limited understanding of its impact. They stress that on its own, disclosure of reviewer identities is unlikely to overcome the bias inherent in the peer review process, and that greater diversity and representation among reviewers and editors is needed. Further exploring the impact of social identities could help reduce bias and increase trust and transparency in peer review.

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Disclosure of reviewer identities is an important aspect of open peer review:

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