Monday, October 31, 2016

Anonymity in Peer Review

In a recent blog post, Michael Smith has raised important concerns about the anonymity of peer review. I wish to raise another. In their endless quest to invade our privacy, companies like Microsoft and Adobe have reduced or eliminated the anonymity of document authorship. In other words, personal information such as your name or affiliation may be embedded in electronic documents that you create. I realized this as I was writing up a peer review a few days ago. This could, obviously, compromise the anonymity of peer review. If you send your review to a journal editor in a document that contains your name and then he or she forwards it to the article authors, they could easily discover your name. In some cases, just your institutional affiliation would be sufficient to identify you. I, for example, am the only Maya archaeologist at my university, so it would be relatively easy to deduce who a reviewer was if the name of the university were hidden in the document properties.

In fact, you can remove such information from Word documents and, I believe, pdfs.  I had to dig through a bunch of help files to find out how to do it, and then I changed my settings to prevent saving personalized information. Of course, the new settings now force me to click on pop-up dialogue boxes every time I save a document. That won't get old.

So, you might want to check the document properties before you send a supposedly anonymous review to an editor.

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