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04/28/2014

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Daniel

I don't think it's a full answer, but asking the referee to disclose any prior familiarity with a paper is pretty common now, and I think it's a good practice.

Justin Coates

Journal of Philosophy used to have a policy of publishing symposium papers from the Eastern APA. Those are the longer (~5000 words) papers that typically have one or two very substantive replies. So one shouldn't be surprised that under-developed ideas were sometimes published in JPhil (though, it's my understanding that JPhil eventually did away with this practice because too many of the papers were underdeveloped).

Now you might think that the APA wouldn't have accepted Rawls' paper if he hadn't been a hot shot from the Ivy League. I can't speak to that. For what it's worth, Mortimer Kadish and Wilfrid Sellars also had symposium papers published in that issue. I'm not sure where Kadish was at, but I think that Sellars was at Minnesota during the period in question. In any case, a quick look at the folks published in the most recent issues of JPhil and Phil Review reveals a lot of names that I don't recognize at all and a lot of institutional affiliations that don't appear at the top of the Leiter rankings. This warms my heart at least. No doubt, you're right to worry that some people Google to see who they're refereeing, but all in all, I think that things are so much different now than they were in the 50s that I'm not sure why Rawls' paper is supposed to be an issue. Its inclusion in an issue of JPhil strikes me as not having much to do with the real issues in fairness that exist today (some of which you rightly touch on). Unfortunately, like you, I'm not sure what might be the best solution to our current problems.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Daniel: I think that's a good convention, but in my experience as a reviewer there is very little policing of this. I cannot recall, for instance, ever having to read and (say) check off a *box* attesting to the fact that I had no familiarity with the paper (a box of the sort that authors must check off in manuscript-submission programs to attest that their work is not under review elsewhere). Making reviewers read and check off such a box might be one small way to better police the issue.

And, how about this as another? How about requiring authors to submit a list of *universities* they have presented their paper at? This might sound "crazy", but I don't think it is very onerous (who doesn't keep a list of their presentations on their CV), and it could give editors reasons not to send the paper to people at places the person presented their paper. This, I think, would be a very good change.

Olle Blomberg

Given that people now post drafts on PhilPapers, academia.edu and other web sites (which is surely a good thing, people should do this without worrying about compromising anonymous peer review), I suspect it is often virtually impossible to keep the author's identity hidden from the referees. And it seems to me that keeping the author's identity a secret is relatively minor factor in deciding who are best placed to review a paper (avoiding conflicts of interest is sure important though). A good policy would be to always request referees to state whether they know the author's identity (as well as state any potential conflict of interest) when they reply to a request to review. This can only help editors make informed decisions about whether to publish. Speaking of which, if it is important that reviewers don't know the identity of the author, isn't it just as important to keep the identity of the author hidden from the editor (who, after all, is the person making the decision about whether to publish or not).

Anonymous peer review is not just about keeping the author's identity hidden from the reviewers but also about keeping the reviewers of the reviewers hidden from the author. I think this is just as (if not more) important for avoiding the peer review process to become (even more?) unfair. If you write a review of a paper written by someone at a prestigous/powerful institution, and the author knows your identity, then there is potentially an incentive for you to write a more favourable review.

Olle Blomberg

Correction: First sentence of the second paragraph in my last comment was (of course) supposed to state that anonymous peer review is also about keeping the *identity* of the referees/reviewers hidden from the author.

Mark van Roojen

FWIW, I think that it *is* important to keep reviewers from knowing who wrote the papers they review if at all possible. More important than the other way around. In my experience, not knowing that someone whom I respect did not write the paper under review is important to incentivizing giving that paper a fair shot. So Googling authors is very bad and I'm frankly surprised that people can't keep themselves from doing it. I understand the curiosity, but if you don't have the self-control not to do that, how do you function when facing other temptations? I'm wondering what contributes to the seemingly widespread violation of this norm. It seems like it needs an explanation.

I think most journals at least ask for disclosure of such knowledge. I always let the editor know upon being asked to review, though I also generally let the editor decide whether I should continue as referee. I don't think it worth adding information about where one has given the paper to the mix of things an author must disclose. Asking people whether they know who wrote the paper is probably sufficient and much less work. I do think it would be better if journals tried a bit harder to find people who didn't know who wrote a paper. Interestingly, I've also found that I am often wrong when I think I know who wrote a paper.

Olle Blomberg

I've never been asked to disclose whether I know the author's identity when I've been requested to review a paper, although I have disclosed such knowledge when I've had it. (Admittedly, I can count the papers I've with my fingers, so this may not mean much.) That should be the norm I think. Also, perhaps journals should explicitly request reviewers to agree not to try to find out the author's identity when they agree to review? This might be sufficient to enable (some) reviewers to withstand the temptations of curiosity as well as clarify that it would be a norm-violation.

I suppose someone might try to find out the identity of the author for a reason beyond pure curiosity if they strongly suspect who the author is and want to disconfirm this suspicion in order to rule out a conflict of interest. (Of course, there are better ways of doing that, such as directly asking the person they suspect wrote the paper, or raising the issue with the editor.)

Mark van Roojen

Olle's Idea of asking people to agree not to contact seems like a good one to me. Many of us are better at keeping most promises than at complying with tacit norms unaided. Funny how little things can make a difference.

Marcus Arvan

Olle: I completely agree. Every journal editor should engage in the practice to enforce the norm.

Mark: I agree with your agreement! :)

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