News Peer review

Should science papers be anonymous?

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Asks Stat News, offering a roundup of notable views in support:

Hanel, a psychologist at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, posted a manuscript recently calling for anonymity in science articles. More than that, Hanel suggests stripping identifiers from virtually all academic output: doing away with name-based citations, CVs on researchers’ web sites, author names on book chapters, titles on academic journals, and more.

The immodest proposal — made available on arXiv, a preprint server, before peer review — is akin to destroying the academic village in order to rid it of pests. But while some of what Hanel recommends is impossible at best, and perhaps even counterproductive, his overarching point seems pretty solid. When it comes to protecting the scientific literature from bias, the safeguards that academics now use are sorely inadequate.

Nature, arguably the world’s most prestigious scientific journal, recognized this earlier in the year when they announced that authors “will be able to request that their names and affiliations are withheld from reviewers of their papers — a form of peer review known as double blind. At present, the process is single blind: reviewers are anonymous, but they know the authors’ identities.” The move, said the journal, could get rid of “personal biases, such as those based on gender, seniority, reputation, and affiliation.” More.

Hmmm. A Machiavellian case could be made for having no safeguards at all beyond prevention of criminal or civil liability, or loss of funding or reputation.

The problem with safeguards that don’t work is not just that they don’t work. Rather, they can work against the aims of the process. Bad stuff escapes their net precisely because it meets the peer review safeguards, and that is the main thing. Soon a whole system gets built up, with all kinds of rubbish in the journals that a system with no safeguards would weed out.

That’s what gave wings to the Sokal hoaxes.

Often the most important real-life safeguard, as newsers’ll tell you, is the publisher’s fear of embarrassment: “Hey… Amir! Rosa! Boss? This stuff just doesn’t make sense. … Yeah right, guess we better check… ”

To what extent does peer review shelter publishers from embarrassments they would otherwise be more zealous in trying to avoid? – O’Leary for News

Note: This is a Machiavellian case. Blame Machiavelli, not UD News. Essentially, it’s this kind of question: If the police are more dangerous to us than the criminals, are we better off without the police? If people with the same prognosis are more likely to die if they go to hospital than if they convalesce at home, are we better off without hospitals?

It puts the onus on the defenders of the system to defend it in the light of the current situation, not only in the light of problems they claim the system prevents.

See also: Triple blind review process?

and

If peer review is working, why all the retractions?

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2 Replies to “Should science papers be anonymous?

  1. 1
    Jonas Crump says:

    I think that the names should appear on the published paper but that they should be submitted to the reviewers with no names on it.

  2. 2
    EDTA says:

    That would work, unless the reviewers, eager to cut off their competition, resort to stylistic analysis to unmask the paper’s authors. See this. It has been successfully used to unmask on-line posters, and so a journal paper would have more than enough text to make it possible.

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