Double-Blind Peer Review: The pros, the cons and everything in-between
What does it mean?
Double-blind peer review is a process used by scholarly journals where the reviewer’s identity is hidden from the authors and vice versa.
Journals typically require removing any author details in the manuscript, including self-citations, acknowledgements and any associated properties attached to the manuscript file.
In 2012, the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology published one of the largest studies on peer review. Double-blind peer review was found to be an effective option by 76% of respondents.
Styles of peer review have been discussed at length and will continue to be debated in the future.
Is it as complicated as it sounds?
Well, there’s more we need to understand! There are three common types of peer review used by most scientific journals:
1. Single-blind – the identity of the reviewer is hidden from the author.
2. Double-blind – as above, with the addition that the identity of the author is hidden from the reviewer.
3. Open – all participants know the author’s and reviewer’s identity during or after the review process.
Peer review has been around for some time now (over 350 years), so as we would expect, it is constantly evolving. Time and changes have brought variations to traditional ideas, new models to challenge potential biases and help for over-stretched reviewers with collaborative reviewing.
The best quality method of peer review is a continuing and often lively debate.
Is double-blind peer review the best option?
There are clearly some pros for authors. One of the positive outcomes is that their research is reviewed fairly, keeping out any bias, for example, previous publication history, gender, and academic status.
The above can also be said for reviewers and editors, in addition to any personal bias they may have towards the author(s).
There is a chance that the author’s identity could still be revealed; an educated guess could be made via self-referencing and writing style, and some research fields can be small. Authors should ensure their manuscript, and not just the title page, has been fully blinded.
For the editorial teams, there is the added pressure of ensuring that both authors and reviewers have been anonymised.
Single-blind peer review is the most common form of review for scientific journals. The anonymity allows the reviewer to be honest without fear of criticism from an author.
However, knowing the author’s identity could negatively impact the quality of the review, for example, discrimination based on nationality, gender, and personal bias. If the author has an impressive academic status and author record of accomplishment, the reviewer may not assess the manuscript in such a detailed way — assuming the research is of high quality.
Open peer review popularity has grown in recent times, but this form of review is often not as popular among reviewers, who may even refuse to review for these journals. It is possible that some reviewers may be concerned about criticising the work of more senior researchers and whether this could affect their future career opportunities.
Authors benefit from the transparency of this style of review. The openness ensures accountability and non-bias, which inevitably improves the quality of the review. The British Medical Journal took a bold step and adopted this style of review over 20 years ago.
It’s not an exact science
Peer review, in whichever form, is at the heart of the research process and is there to progress a manuscript from draft to a published article.
Reviewers, experts who have a genuine and invested interest in the field, voluntarily give their time to assess each other’s research. We know that peer review is not an exact science – it is a critical appraisal of the author’s findings. Therefore, reviewers should make their assessment on quality and content.
Comparisons of how effective any peer review method is, remains a matter of debate and will for many years to come.
How do we help?
Our focus is always on how can we support your journal. We know that the logistics of peer review are black and white – there are no short cuts – and there shouldn’t be. The system needs to be rigorous for it to work effectively.
However, peer review wouldn’t work without people: the three core individuals being the author, reviewer and editor. Although most of us love new technology, especially AI, and it certainly has a place in many areas of peer review, the liaison between the three core individuals of the process needs to be managed – and that’s where we come in.
The PA EDitorial and EDiTech teams work to a strict schedule of publisher-led service level agreements, ensuring no paper is left in the submission system without action by one of the three core individuals.
· Reviewers receive personalised email reminders – automatic reminders are great but not as effective.
· Editors receive spreadsheets, lists, shared workflows (whatever works for them) so we can highlight – and they can easily spot – which manuscripts need to be tackled first.
· Authors receive friendly, reassuring updates as often as possible. We understand the process, and the time it takes can be incredibly nerve-wracking.
We support all forms of peer review, double, single, and open, and with our growing portfolio of journals, we learn more and more each day: sharing best practice to support our journal teams and ensuring the smooth running of every journal.
 Peer review in a changing world: An international study measuring the attitudes of researchers
 Types of peer review
 Pros and cons of open peer review