Sunday, September 2, 2007

reviewing articles: anonymity, or not?

Here's a question for all the readers of the geoblogosphere:

Under what circumstances would you choose to remain anonymous when reviewing a journal article?

- When recommending an article for rejection, or stopping just short of recommending rejection?
- When reviewing somebody famous/important in the field?
- When your personal circumstances were uncertain (grad student, post-doc, pre-tenure faculty member...)?
- When some other type of politics was involved, and you had somehow gotten stuck in it?

I have received anonymous reviews, back in the far distant past. They panned my papers, but stopped just short of recommending rejection. I was too stubborn (or maybe too stupid) to get the hint, and stuck with it until the papers were published. (Also, although the reviewers were anonymous, their identities were pretty obvious. They were the only people who would have had those particular objections. So I didn't feel like I had been personally rejected, or that my ideas weren't worthwhile - I felt like I had gotten stuck in the middle of an argument that I hadn't started.)

The signed reviews that I have received, on the other hand, were very constructive, and I learned some useful things by dealing with their comments. (I learned a lot from dealing with the anonymous reviews, as well, but I also learn from picking up hot objects off the stove.)

After my experience with anonymous reviews, I have always signed my own reviews. (Even when the reviews were very harsh, in part because I suspected that my identity would be obvious.) But I've also always gone out of my way to be constructive and detailed in my criticisms. And it's a good thing that I'm not asked to review papers very often, because critical-but-constructive reviews are a lot of work.

And I wonder. Is there any paper for which I wouldn't sign a review?

What about you?


CJR said...

This is a difficult question. I've only done a couple of reviews thus far in my career, and I'm 50-50 in the signed-anonymous stakes. The one I signed was more critical than the one I did not, but more crucially the latter paper was authored by much more senior people and I was writing it at a time when I was job-hunting, and this made me cautious. On reflection, this may have been a mistake...

Thermochronic said...

As a post-doc, I get really nervous signing reviews. I've done a few article and NSF reviews, and have remained anonymous on them all, even though I feel like I am cheating each time. It comes down to a fear of retribution. I'm careful to be honest and fair, and I am not derogatory in my reviews, most of them have even been positive, but it seems to easy to have my career derailed now. I am also annoyed by anonymous negative reviews, which makes me a hypocrite. I like to think that when I am in a tenure track job I'll let my guard down more, although I wonder if I would have done myself a career favor by signing some of my more well thought out reviews. I hope if and when I am tenured I'll sign everything, but it is easy to talk when that is at least 8 or 9 years off. When I think about it it comes down to my distrust of other people's professionalism, warranted or not I don't know.

Kim said...

I can see the point about not signing while a post-doc. It's a tough call - on the one hand, you want to have people know your name. (For job searches, or for tenure decisions, it's good to have people around who say "oh, yeah, I know X, he/she's really good!")

It's too bad. I think science would be better if it were all done in the open. But I also wish that every post-doc could be secure in the knowledge that there was a job waiting for him/her.

Covenant said...

I have only performed a few reviews so far, but I will always sign my reviews. As stated by other commentators, it is clear who is reviewing your paper even if they do not sign the review.