Outside Reviewers Stay Anonymous!
Outside reviews of manuscripts are important to many publishing enterprises, from scholarly books and articles to general interest works of nonfiction. Honest, objective and impersonal assessments are vital.
That is best promoted when the identity of the reviewers is held strictly confidential, by editors and reviewers alike, with editors sharing only the substance of reviews to enable improving a manuscript.
Contrary to this normative ideal, reviewers often seem to feel free to identify themselves, and even editors are sometimes sloppy in leaking identifiying data. In just the past year, I have personally had several different unfortunate examples. The upshot is the same: outside reviewers must stay anonymous.
In one case, I was asked to review a scholarly manuscript of an article on a subject within the field involving law and accounting. I gave a generally favorable review, along with some quibbles and suggestions. The editors tentatively declined the piece with an invitation to resubmit based on the quibbles and suggestions. The author somehow figured out that I was the reviewer and contacted me to say so. It felt as if I were being accused of interfering with some one’s scholarly work. Not pleasant.
In another case, I submitted a book proposal to a university press. The press expressed great enthusiasm and the editor told me it had to follow standard practice and have outside reviews. It circulated the proposal, including sample chapters to several anonymous reviewers. One of them, an old acquaintance of mine, told me he was a reviewer and that he really liked one of the chapters.
Again, I wish he hadn’t told me this but, having told me, I followed up by asking his opinion and seeking his comments on the book. Bizarrely, he refused to discuss any aspect of his review or the book. Worse, the interest from the publisher went totally cold.
The connection was hard to miss. It seems clear the acquaintance both wanted to signal his power to interfere without providing the substantive assessment which, oddly, the press never did either. All in all, it would have been better for this fellow to keep himself anonymous.
In a third case, a different university press, also very enthusiastic about my book proposal, supplied me with all the outside reviews it commissioned, and offered to publish the book. In the meantime, one of the reviewers, while communicating on a different subject, mentioned that he served as such. I said I appreciated the review.
What I didn’t say, but might have, was that I wish I had not known that he was the reviewer. The knowledge obviously did not produce the negative feelings I got when from the other two episodes. But I still would rather not know.
The norm of anonymity for outside reviewers exists for good reasons. It should be respected.