Peer review blind dating: Is this system fairer for authors?


Although many academic authors do prefer double blind peer review as they feel it largely removes all bias, more still select single blind when given the choice. But it also depends on the region, of course, as well as the subject area.



As we’ve discussed in earlier blog posts, three main kinds of peer-based are currently employed by academic journals: completely open (such as via a preprint server), single blind, or double blind. Although lots of journals utilize the second type, where reviewers are aware of who authors are but not the other way around, surveys have shown that increasing numbers of researchers do actually prefer their papers to be reviewed ‘double-blind’. Author names and affiliations are removed from papers in this approach so that both sides remain unaware of the other’s identity. This requires more work on the authors side at submission, as we’ll discuss.

Editors, of course, control the double blind process: Ensuring that reviewers do not know the identities of authors and vice versa. This is important to remove any hint of bias: Studies have shown that reviewers can be biased towards a paper, both positively and negatively, depending on institution and country of article origin, even based on who authors are, how famous they are.

Thus, ‘double blinded’ peer review is certainly the fairest and most reproducible mechanism that journals can use to assess academic papers as it removes a lot of the human bias inherent to this process. We’ve all heard stories along the lines of ‘I just could not get the paper accepted but then when I added an author from the University of Oxford it just sailed through’. Indeed, in some countries, academic authors are actually advised to try to work with foreign coauthor colleagues in order to improve their chances of publication success.

Some pro tips: When entering your paper into a ‘double-blind’ review situation it’s important to check you don’t give the game away with the way you write: try to remove self-citations, for example, and phrases like ‘in 2019, we showed’, followed by a reference to one of your own papers. Reviewers will easily be able to figure out your identity and act in a biased fashion. Along the same lines, it’s also important to make sure your acknowledgements section does not give away your identity in such review situations: a short note to the editor can solve this issue along the lines of ‘we will complete the final details of our acknowledgements section once our paper has entered the final production stage’ should be all that is needed when making a submission.

Double-blind peer review turns out to be particularly popular amongst authors from ‘less-prestigious institutions’. This is because people do tend to feel that they are disadvantaged in the peer review process depending on country of origin and institution. Part of the problem here is reviewer bias, no question. Sadly, all the data and surveys conducted in this area show that if you actually did go on a blind date with a typical peer reviewer, chances are he would be white, from western Europe or North America, and English-speaking.

Selecting a double blind peer review process is part of journal selection. As many journals offer this option, be careful to tick that box or specify this when making your submission. Indeed, since some journals do not allow double blind, these will be off your list when choosing your outlet.

Choice of double blind also does not mean you should not make suggestions to the editor as to who they might like to use as peer reviewers in your cover letter. This part of the process is very important and often overlooked by authors. You have a chance, in your cover letter, to put some names in front of the editor who she or he might actually use.

Understanding different kinds of peer review as well as some of the tricks you can use to speed up your article’s processing time are all part of being a more effective academic researcher.

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Tips in Peer Review: Communication with Journal Editors >>