Reviewer Etiquette on Published Work: Some Responses

The other day I opined that upon learning that a paper that one reviewed has been accepted for publication, it is probably inappropriate for the referee to inform the author(s) of that fact.  I suggested that doing so unavoidably implied a quid pro quo that undermined our collective interest in an unbiased review process.  A handful of folks, all tenured, offered interesting observations and views on my Facebook wall, and I thought I should share them.

I find it useful to know who reviewed my work because it helps me build networks and know who would be a good letter writer for me.

I’ve disclosed before. But I think I agree with Will: at the end of the day, probably better not to tell the author(s). But I don’t see a reason not to approach them about the work on its merits.

After one of my paper’s was rejected, a senior scholar outed themselves to me (they wrote one of the two nice reviews). They provided encouragement to keep working on the project and suggested ways to assuage (in the future) the concerns of (scholars like) the pivotal reviewer. That was pretty damn helpful, and they had to go out of their way to do it.

Interesting points on both sides of this. I have both been told by people who reviewed my work and have told several people that I reviewed their work — both for tenure reviews and article reviews. I appreciated being told, esp pre-tenure, because as Sara points out that’s useful at letter writing time, and I have had people who I told later ask me for rec letters or list me for tenure letters. IF we can maintain a blind review system for articles, then I’m not so worried about the quid pro quo because the tellee doesn’t know at the time of the review that it’s the teller (and for tenure reviews that aren’t blinded, a junior person wouldn’t be asked to write an evaluation of a more senior person). So all the more reason to do everything possible to preserve anonymous review — that is, never google the paper until after you’ve written the review, and disclose to the editor if you know who the author is.

I’ve had someone out themselves to me once, and outed myself to someone once. The former has led to our starting a collaboration, and the latter I did because I felt the other reviews the authors got were unfair and I wanted to encourage the authors.

The same thing happened to me. I became coauthors with someone who reviewed my work and told me.

I guess I might be a little gun shy. I once wrote an extensive revise-and-resubmit for a paper that was brilliant but just not structured and presented correctly. I’m pretty sure that my review, along with the impassioned confidential letter to the editor, turned a reject into an optimistic reject-and-resubmit. I eventually told the author in the context of urging that author to pursue resubmission. Two years later I received a rambling, hostile message on my voice mail accusing me of sabotaging said author’s career.


About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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