14 August 2021

Are we trying to solve the wrong problem with anonymity in peer review?

One of academia’s evergreen topics, anonymity in peer review, has cropped up again on Twitter. 

This is something I’ve changed my mind about a lot since I’ve been blogging. But today, the thought struck me that we put too much emphasis over whether review should be anonymous or not.

We do not put enough emphasis on people not being assholes about getting reviews.

The whole thing driving arguments around anonymity is, as far as I can see, driven by fear of retribution. “If I write a bad review of someone else, they will be petty and have the ability to sink something of mine later.”

As much as I appreciate the argument that people are horrible (they are) and you have to account for things that people regularly do (people are often petty and vindictive), it seems to me there is a lot of possibility to move the dial on author behaviour. To say, “We won’t put up with your little revenge plots.”

Do I know how to do this? No, not yet. I’m just blogging here.

It’s also likely that a lot of bad behaviour here is driven by the sense of research being a zero sum game. Which, in the current funding climate, it is dangerously close to being. If there was no so much competition and windows of opportunity were not so small, people would worry less about whether some jerk is going to try to give you a bad review on a grant because you were critical of their manuscript.

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