The theme of this year's Peer Review Week is 'Identity'. Although the identity of the reviewer, author and editor can subtly change the peer review process, the benefits for all involved are clear. In addition, the nature of such benefits is also identity-dependent. We spoke to Professor Eliana Scemes, an External Board Member for Communications Biology to hear her thoughts about how the identity of authors and editors can help to shape the peer review process.
With respect to the author identity, Professor Scemes shares her thoughts about the pros of double blind peer review...
'The double-blind peer review (the identities of both authors and reviewers are kept hidden from each other) was proposed as an alternative to the traditional single-blind peer review process to reduce biases based on gender, seniority, reputation and affiliation. Regarding gender bias, studies reporting on the efficacy of double-blind over single-blinded peer review, have been mixed. Depending on the field/journals, there has been an increase in the proportion of manuscripts with female first authors, however in other journals there have been no benefits in this respect over single-bid peer review. Although I view the goal of a double-blind review admirable, I remain skeptical that its goal, in practice, is achievable due to various disadvantages listed below. Nevertheless, I think authors should be given the option to have their manuscript evaluated in whatever way (double- or single-blinded, or even open peer review) they feel would be more adequate.'
In terms of the drawbacks of not knowing author identity, Professor Scemes states:
'The main drawback of double-blind peer review is that it creates an illusion that the Reviewer is blinded. This is because reviewers can guess the identity of the authors or of their Institution based on their knowledge of main players in a particular area, the techniques described in Methods, citations of previous work in References, the properness of the written language (particularly from non-English speaking countries), and/or based in the acknowledgement of financial support. In addition, removing all the potential identifiers from a manuscript may pose a burden on the editors and/or authors. By doing so, the absence of some important information in the manuscript (methodology, rationale, etc.) may end up affecting the quality/depth of the review. Finally, blinding Reviewers to the identity of Authors may prevent the detection of potential conflict of interest that the Reviewers may have, especially for manuscripts with a large number of authors.'
At Communications Biology, both In-House Editors and External Board Members handle manuscripts. With respect to editor identity, Professor Scemes says...
'As an active researcher I actually don't think I handle manuscripts differently to the In-House Editors. Some of the In-House Editors have significant research experience and, like the Editorial Board Members, are well-qualified to evaluate manuscripts. Because In-House Editors also attend and organize scientific conferences and meetings on the behalf of the journal, they are well aware, as are active researchers, of what represents a scientific advancement in a particular field. The In-House Editors and the Board Members may have different in depth understanding of a particular area, but it is the constant dialogue between these two editorial components that assures that manuscripts are treated with the same standard and according to journal policies. Also, being an Editor helps me with my research. It expands my knowledge of the field and makes me more critical of my own work.'
We also spoke to some of our other External Board Members - Professor Enzo Tagliazucchi, Professor Simona Chera and Dr Gabriela Da Silva Xavier, as well as some of our amazing past reviewers to hear their thoughts about how identity affects peer review. Check out our video to hear what they had to say!