Can Peer Reviews be Made Public?

Here is a question for the professional scientists.

What’s the ethics of making public anonymous reviews? Specifically, if there is an anonymous review of a paper I submit, am I allowed to make that review public, so long as I do not identify the reviewer?

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I would say that yes, you can. The whole purpose of anonymity was to protect the reviewer, who might be a quite junior person in a field, from the wrath of a vindictive senior person who is the author of the submitted manuscript. As long as you are the author of the paper and you do not somehow identify the reviewer, so ahead. Though I must say that I have heard people get it wrong as to why anonymity is needed, and argue that they cannot identify themselves as having been the reviewer so as to protect Anonymity. Usually that does not make sense.


I don’t think so. It’s like publishing a private email. And of course, since it’s anonymous, you can’t ask. I’ve received signed reviews before, and I would ask before publishing them, though I’ve never tried. You might perhaps ask the editor to contact the reviewer.


That seems to be internally contradictory. If the reviewer is anonymous, your “so long as….” is impossible. I’d say fine ethically, with the political caveat that there might be repercussions from whoever obtained and conveyed the reviews to you (journal or book editor).


In this case, it was a vindictive senior person (whom I won’t identify) that tried to unethically suppress a publication. So in this case it really seems to be abuse of the rules of anonymity.

In this case, I was able to identify the anonymous review.

It does seem the consensus (except @John_Harshman ?) is that it’s ethical to reveal the review, without me deidentifying it. In fact, I see scientists doing this all the time. But it does seem prudent to notify the editor ahead of time.

Oh yeah? Then you must never have seen the kind of review where the “anonymous” reviewer demands that you cite the definitive papers by Smith (1998), Smith (2003), Jones and Smith (2005) not to mention the essential review article by Smith (2009).


I think the editor and the journal are who should answer this. The editor should be asked (NOT informed) about this ahead of time. If they ask that the review not be made public, then doing so wanders into murky ethical territory, IMO.

I would add (ask) - to what end? Will making the review public get the paper published? I expect not. Will it change the reviewer’s mind? I expect not. Will it help one’s standing with the editor(s) and journal? I expect not. It’s hard to see anything good or constructive coming from this.

My 2c.


I suppose one alternative purpose with making the review public is to show it wasn’t just rubber-stamped because it agreed with preconceptions, but was in fact properly reviewed and criticized where appropriate.

I think you should carefully consider the relationship between the editor and that review, if that is possible? It not just what that editor thinks that matters, but the position it puts him in with the review.

I would add to Art’s comments: What if this backfires and makes the situation worse?


Not only have I seen them, I’ve written them. For more fun, I’ve also written them in that style to demand the citation of papers written by a third party. :grin:


The paper is published.

I want to make the peer review public to bring into view specific fallacious arguments that are being deployed in private for the purpose of excluding my work, so that these arguments can be addressed head one.

Your advice is good though. I should do this with, ideally, the support of the editors.

[added later: in this case too I want to make clear an example of abuse of the peer review process by a more established scholar. In that sense part of the goal is to shed light and give information about a particular example of mis behavior.]

This all good advice. I gather:

  1. It’s probably ethical to make the review public.

  2. As matter of etiquette and respect, I should still ask for permission from the editor/journal to do this, ideally with their approval.

Consequently, I’ve just emailed the editor with a query, linking to this discussion. I doubt he will participate in the exchange here, but perhaps it will be helpful to him.

I also wonder if there have been any relevant discussions at COPE or other professional organizations. If you find any, let me know by linking them here.

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I also have talked to one reviewer of someone’s paper, who said that he was considering revealing his identity to the author, but hesitated to do so because he didn’t want to violate the anonymity of the review process. I never did figure out how that worked. The reviewer was quite happy to have the author know his name, but was concerned that someone (who?) would be upset about the lost anonymity. In my own case once I was secure enough in status to not be afraid of angry authors, I have usually identified myself to the author in my review. It has one advantage, if you’ve corrected any error or made any good suggestion, you are likely to be acknowledged by name when the paper is published.

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What I find important about these rules of confidentiality is that they are usually enacted with the goal of protecting vulnerable groups from retaliation.

However, in practice, the rules are abused by people who have a lot of power and no need for protection. In fact, in this case, anonymity is being used by a scholar with more seniority to conceal a fairly blatant attempt at retaliation.

While I am not identifying who this person is, I do not intend to, it seems that the intent behind these sorts of anonymity rules is important in judging when they should be broken. I also note that there is a growing debate about whether anonymous reviews make any sense any ways:

Perhaps this article presents a good solution:

Established academics, less prone to pressures, should be encouraged to reveal their identities, while anonymity for young scientists ought to remain an option to ensure power balance.

Would it not serve your purpose as well to articulate and respond to the fallacious arguments without the need for direct quoting?

Incidentally, I habitually sign my reviews.

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Not in this case. Perhaps when you see the review you might understand a bit more.

It’s worth noting that making a review public doesn’t actually break anonymity or confidentiality. If we don’t identify (or have a basis to identify) the author of the review, anonymity is preserved. It is also my understanding that peer reviews are part of the official professional correspondence of the journal, so they are not actually confidential. This makes sense of course, because the right of authors to make peer reviews public is one way that the peer-review process is protected from abuse.

Out of curiosity, where might you publicize the aggrieving review?

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There are several places quotations of the review could be published.

It’s possible we’d publish the complete review on our nascent-but-growing pre/post-print server.

Or perhaps as just a blog post.

From another discipline…I was asked by a publisher to anonymously review a manuscript proposal and the publisher outed my name to the author! I thought the book was worthy of publication, but not with this particular publisher. Thankfully, it ended up working out OK and I made a friend at least by way of email correspondence (and the book was picked up by one of the publishers I had recommended). But still a mistake on the publisher’s part. I would’ve complained if it hadn’t worked out OK in the end.

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