Peer review: Single-, double-blind, or open discussion

Public, blind, or not so blind review process. Image credit:

Within the scientific community, it is common practice that the peer-review process for a submitted article to a journal is kept anonymous. That is, only the journal Editor selects (and knows) who the referees are, usually three. This is also known as single-blind review. One of the main reason behind this custom is to allow the referees give genuine feedback, without fear of causing any personal issues with the authors. Despite this, some referees have no problem to identify themselves and feel that the authors have a right to know who is reviewing their work. In fact, some journals allow for the authors to list suggested and/or disliked peers in order to help facilitate the review process. The Editor will, of course, have the final say.

Another peer-review process, although not so common, is double-blind peer review. This is when the authors too remain anonymous, this time from the reviewers.  One example of a journal who took this into consideration is Nature Geoscience. Some argue that “Anonymity of authors as well as reviewers could level field for women and minorities in science” (or, Double-blind review favours increased representation of female authors). Not everyone, however, likes this review process: “In my experience, though, both as a reviewer and author, I have found this to be quite puzzling. I often find it very difficult to create an anonymous version of my own manuscripts. If I am going to remove every trace that could identify myself and my coauthors there wouldn’t be much left of the paper.” – Alexander Refsum Jensenius

Public, open discussion is a relatively recent new concept that has been introduced by the European Geosciences Union open-access journals such as Earth System Dynamics. The submitted article is put online and is open for public review and discussion. Interactive comments can be published by designated referees (anonymous or named) and all interested members of the scientific community (named). It is expected that “the discussion phase represents a unique opportunity to engage in an iterative and developmental reflective process”. Read about the full review process of Earth System Dynamics here: interactive public discussion.

The discussion phase represents a unique opportunity to engage in an iterative and developmental reflective process.

The reviewing of articles before publication is healthy to the community, both for the authors (their credibility and work presentation), and for the readers in order to improve their understanding and trust. Probably the anonymous/blind system will remain in place for years to come, however, the public discussion initiative may perhaps become more popular over time. The open discussion gives the opportunity to more experts worldwide to scrutinize the work before publication, which until recently would have only been limited to three, selected referees – hence improving the quality of the publication even further.

Matthew Agius is a recent PhD graduate from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in Ireland and is now doing research at the University of Southampton (National Oceanography Centre). His research focuses on the dynamics of the lithosphere beneath Tibet, the Central Mediterranean, and the Pacific Ocean. Matthew’s role as a young scientist representative is to promote the efforts done by young researchers and to engage in discussions that concern seismology students. You can reach Matthew via e-mail at

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