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Identity in Peer Review

Updated: Oct 29



Peer review is a cornerstone of journal publishing, ensuring that the quality and academic integrity of publications is maintained through proper scrutiny of articles.


While the purpose of peer review is a positive one, there is still a lot of debate around certain aspects of the process, not least of which is the issue of identity in peer review.


In this blog, we’re looking at identity from two angles. The first is concerned with anonymity and the second, the importance of social and cultural identity.


Guess who? - anonymity in peer review


Across the journal publishing industry, anonymity in the peer review process is handled in several ways. Some, such as Open Science, have a fully transparent peer review system, where the identity of the author and reviewer is known.


However, this is certainly not a standard process as most other publications opt for a certain amount of anonymity. Usually, this is a single-blind process, where the reviewers are anonymous to all but the journal editors. Others use a double-blind process where both the author and the reviewer are anonymous. This is to prevent the previous works or public profile of the author affecting the objectivity of the reviewer.


The reasoning behind this is that it allows objectivity and removes the fear of retribution. How many peer reviewers would decline an invitation to review if their name was going to be made public?


An article in Scientific American goes so far as to say that anonymity in peer review is actually being used as a cloak for unethical behaviour on the part of reviewers.


The cloak of anonymity has also been something of a positive for younger academics, who can only benefit from this kind of experience in analysis and critical thinking, without the fear of upsetting their established colleagues.


While on the surface, anonymity seems the perfect solution to creating an objective peer review process, it also raises a lot of questions. It leaves the journal readers with little information on the quality of the reviewers, their academic history, and any potential conflicts of interest.


Cultural identity in peer review



It’s well established that the representation of gender, race and social identity within academia and research is lacking and has come under scrutiny. This is an ongoing debate within the publishing community and is the theme of Peer Review Week 2021.


It has been argued by some that the cultural and social background is unimportant in peer review, it is the experience and academic background of the reviewer that is most important. But this has led to an overwhelming lack of diversity across the board. By focusing solely on the academic side of things, the peer review process is in danger of creating its own echo chamber. It was only very recently that the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, who celebrates diversity with the ‘Vice-Chancellor's Diversity Awards’, called for greater ‘ideological diversity’ in an effort to become more reflective of today’s society.


The issue of diversity and identity is a problem throughout academia, in a survey carried out in 2020, fewer than 1% of university professors were black.


Journal publishers are aware of this lack of diversity and have been for some time. Back in 2019, Sri Devi Narasimhan, the Deputy Editor of Cell, published the editorial ‘A Commitment To Gender Diversity In Peer Review’.


After Peer Review Week 2018, Elsevier published an article discussing how publishers and editors could improve diversity in peer review. Given the topic of this year’s Peer Review Week, the industry isn’t going far enough or fast enough for most, this year’s theme was chosen through an open survey.


Sage Publishing came up with its own ethos on fostering identity and inclusion. These focus on multiple areas such as increased diversity on editorial boards, broadening reviewer pools and increasing outreach to authors of different cultural identities and genders.


PA EDitorial have recently helped coordinate a diversity identification project with one of the leading publishers. Our team assisted them with the identification of their reviewer pool, thus ensuring they create a diverse sounding board for all their submitted articles.


COVID-19 and its aftermath have pulled inequality and social justice into sharp focus. It’s clear that we cannot and should not disregard cultural and personal identity when it comes to reflecting society in academia. These diverse voices need to be at both ends of the peer-review process.


How PA Editorial can help




The team at PA EDitorial works with over one hundred journals and their respective publishers, implementing robust peer review systems.


We support all forms of peer review, double, single, and open, sharing best practices and ensuring the smooth running of every journal. If your journal is committed to improving the identity and cultural diversity of your peer review system, we can work with you to make that happen.


For more information or to find out how we can help you, visit our website www.paeditorial.co.uk or email us directly at info@paeditorial.co.uk

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