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The Blinded Reviewer

A handful of scientific journals are considering implementing double-blind manuscript review, Nature reports.

While authors rarely know who reviewed their paper, the reviewers typically do know who wrote the article, leading some to wonder if reviewers may be influenced by the names on the paper and not just the quality of the work.

“There is a widespread concern out there that referees may be biased by the authorship of a paper,” Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature and other Nature-branded journals, says.

Nature Climate Change and Nature Geoscience are conducting a trial in which authors may select double-blind peer review when they submit a manuscript. Campbell says, though, that it's too early in those trials to tell what the effect of the change is.

Some critics say that, especially in smaller and niche fields, reviewers may still be able to guess who wrote a particular paper, though Nature notes that supporters argue that while some guesses will be correct, others will not and the uncertainty may increase fairness.

Conservation Biology is also weighing making the switch, and the journal has found “overwhelming support” for the idea, particularly among younger and minority researchers. The editors there plan to present the idea to Society for Conservation Biology, which puts out the journal.

"Peer-reviewed publications are widely used as indicators of research productivity and success," Emily Darling from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill writes in an essay in Conservation Biology. "Thus, the scientific community should critically and quantitatively evaluate whether there is any aspect of the peer review system that can be improved to increase diversity in science."

Switching to double-blind review at Conservation Biology, she adds, would generate the date needed to achieve that goal.