Reviewer shenanigans?

Dec 11 2012 Published by under Careers

Someone on the Twitts today asked if it was okay to send signed manuscript reviews directly to the authors. After submitting them to the journal of course. The rationale was to speed up the process by giving the authors a headstart on the revisions.

Much to my surprise he received a bunch of "yes, I've done that before" replies.

IMHO this is a bad idea.

By doing this, a reviewer is circumventing the editor (and the process set up by the publisher). The editor has been entrusted with the job of making a decision on the fate of said manuscript. It's not the job of a manuscript reviewer to decide whether or not a paper should be published. Or even what revisions should be required. Reviewers make recommendations. Editors make the decisions. Sure, most often the editor will agree with the reviewers as far as what should be revised. But not always.

So what do you think?

13 responses so far

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    Agreed. Plus if this becomes trendy it ends anonymous reviewing.

    • odyssey says:

      The Twitt was actually referring to a review he had signed his name on, presumably because the journal required that? Or maybe voluntarily...

  • Spiny Norman says:

    I have sent critical (negative) reviews to friends so that they at least know where the criticisms are coming from -- someone who perhaps they trust, not some anonymous jerk reviewer. I do this in the hope that my criticisms will be taken more seriously.

    I have especially done this on occasions where I signed a review but the review was passed to the authors anonymously. In general, I think that anonymous review is a bad system and that its frequent abuse outweighs the system's advantages.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    Dude, I've got to get myself back on the Twitterz....need more time in the day! Overall, sending your review directly to the authors: BAD IDEA...unless your end game is get less manuscripts to review in your inbox.

    ...back to organizing my class for the Spring....

  • AK says:

    I've had this happen to me as an author. Though it made me fairly uncomfortable, it ended up being an overall positive - we could correct the referee's misunderstandings pretty easily, and get an early start on his good suggestions. This only happened because the referee was a good friend of my advisor, and I don't think it's common practice in my field.

    I would only do this if a) I knew the author very well, and b) it was a fairly low-prestige journal, i.e. I think the chance of eventual publication is nearly 100%, and my only interest is making sure the paper is as good as possible. Even then, I'm not sure - the whole thing kind of smacks of cronyism.

  • Spiny Norman says:


    The one-way mirror of the current review system does nothing to prevent cronyism. In fact, this system *encourages* cronyism because the names of the referees are not publicly attached to the published paper. The ability to unfairly help one's friends or punish one's enemies without retribution under cloak of anonymity is the system's cardinal weakness.

  • Jim Woodgett says:

    Agree, the editor needs to maintain authority. The real danger here is that the author contacts the reviewer and initiates bargaining directly. It is not the reviewers call as to whether the weight of criticism directs acceptance or rejection as its a complex grouping of separate points. The time saved in direct communication is likely a week or two and not worth the associated issues.

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    I favour signed reviews. But I don't think I would do this, unless I had some sort of reason to think that the editor was holding back the reviews. I don't like doing end runs around the editorial process.

  • AK says:

    Norman: I'm not really arguing one way or the other about the downsides of anonymous peer review here. But the practice discussed here doesn't increase transparency for anyone but the author. It may certainly benefit the author. And if we're only doing it for people we know well, it's hard to argue that this isn't helping our friends over other people. As I said, I'd be very uncomfortable doing this for a paper where there was any chance of it being rejected.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    Yes and no. I am *more* inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to authors I don't know personally. Ultimately I'm less interested in the careerist aspects of publications, and more interested in the quality of the published literature -- are the experiments good? Are the interpretations correct?

  • odyssey says:

    I have no objection to people signing reviews. I do have concerns with requiring all reviewers signing though. In a perfect world I'd be all for it. But both reviewers and PI's are less than perfect, being human and all. While it's true that some reviewers can be dicks when hiding behind anonymity, what's to stop a BSD from trashing the grants of some young assist prof who (correctly) rejected a paper from the BSD's lab in a signed review? If I were a young 'un on the TT, under that system I would be very reluctant to agree to review anything. I can see requiring signed reviews resulting in an even more limited pool of reviewers*, leading to a more narrow view of what should be published.

    * IME as an AE it is already damn hard to find decent reviewers.

  • Namnezia says:

    If the reviewer want to sign the review I have no problem with this. And if the editor is so slow in getting reviews back to author, then having review sent directly to author by reviewer speaks more with frustration with editorial inefficiency than anything else.

    • odyssey says:

      Except how do you know if and why the editorial process is slow? Not all journals update the reviewers on decisions made by the editors, although that's certainly becoming more common. Often the process is slowed by recalcitrant reviewers - journals certainly don't tell reviewers that the other reviews are overdue. Either way, by circumventing the editor you run the risk of giving the authors the impression that your review is representative of the editors decision, which it may not be. As an AE I can tell you that receiving conflicting reviews for a manuscript is not uncommon. How do you know the editor will come down on your side? Or if the editor has had to seek out an additional review to resolve the conflict?