SfN's new eNeuro journal will attempt double blind peer review

From the author guidelines:

eNeuro uses a double-blind review process, which means the identities of both the authors and reviewers are concealed throughout the review process. In order to facilitate this, authors must ensure their manuscripts are prepared in a way that does not reveal their identity.

And how do they plan to accomplish this feat?

Eliminate author names and contact information from anyplace in the paper. See Title page for more information.

Make sure to use the third person to refer to personal work e.g. replace any phrases like 'as we have shown before' with 'has been shown before (Anonymous, 2007)'

Make sure that the materials and methods section does not refer to personal work. Do not include statements such as “using the method described in (XXX, 2007).” See Materials and Methods for more information.

Ensure that figures do not contain any affiliation-related identifier.

Depersonalize the work by using anonymous text where necessary. Do not include statements such as “as we have reported before”.

Remove self-citations and citations to unpublished work.

Do not eliminate essential self-references or other references, but limit self-references only to papers that are relevant for those reviewing the submitted paper.

Remove references to funding sources

I will be fascinated to see what procedures they have in place to determine if the blinding is actually working.

Will reviewers asked for their top five guesses as to the identity of the group submitting the manuscript do better than chance?

Will identification depend on the fame and status (and productivity) of the group submitting the paper?

Will it correlate with relatedness of scientific expertise?

What fraction of authors are identified all the time versus never?

Somehow, I suspect the staff of eNeuro will not really be interested in testing their assumptions.

23 responses so far

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    This is totally ludicrous. Among vast numbers of other issues, how does this intersect with the goal of SfN to encourage people to present unpublished work at the annual meeting? Is that all now supposed to be anonymized, too? If a reviewer has heard someone present the work at a meeting and thus knows who the authors are, are they supposed to recuse themselves? I could go on and on and on.

  • another young FSP says:

    I love the assumption that most self-citations are inherently gratuitous and can be removed without damaging the quality of the reference section.

  • dr24hours says:

    I don't understand the obsession people have with figuring out who wrote a manuscript. Are your fields so small you know who writes everything? And even if you do, who cares?

    I recognize that personality and fame can result in bias, absolutely. But it seems to me that trying really hard to figure out who wrote a paper exacerbates that bias. The key to overcoming it is not giving a shit.

  • potnia theron says:

    The journal from my clinical society already does, and has for over 20 years. Its a pain in the ass. There are still lots of cues to authorship, such IACUC / IRB approval. And if you have a unique (not relatively, hahaha) model or method or piece of equipment, boom, you're known.

    In the end I'm not sure it is much of an advantage. But it does seem to have one impact - Big Dogs aren't so good at picking and choosing who 's paper they will review.

  • Grumble says:

    What a joke.

    If I ever submit anything to eNeuro, I'll probably ignore all the guidelines to ensure anonymity and just assume that the reviewers will guess who I am. Much less of a headache, and since I like to think I'm generally respected for putting out good quality shitte, it would also be to my advantage to practically advertise who I am by loading the references with every Grumble et al. paper ever published.

  • drugmonkey says:

    But it seems to me that trying really hard to figure out who wrote a paper exacerbates that bias. The key to overcoming it is not giving a shit.

    You are missing the point. It will happen automatically. Not universally, of course, but commonly enough. You don't have to try really hard, it will just sort of emerge.

    So THEN we have a sort of asymmetrical, chaotic situation of biases. Where sometimes the review is indeed successfully double blind and sometimes it isn't. The "isn't" is not likely to be random either....so the best known scientists will get to ride on their cred and the lesser known ones that have a smidge of cred won't get to benefit from that.

  • No one is "obsessed" with who authors are. It is just that--as DoucheMonkey pointed out--this attempt to blind the process introduces an uncontrollable bias whereby well-known labs with specific model systems, experimental styles, etc, will not be blind to the reviewers, while less well-known ones may remain blind to the reviewers.

  • […] I guess that SFN with their new journal has decided to go with a double-blind peer review system. I find this to be inexplicable since the disadvantages of such a system seem so obvious to me. […]

  • scienerdorkeekist says:

    As with application reviews people will probably think they know who the authors are, review with that bias and then they are wrong. Unless, as people mentioned before, they saw the work presented elsewhere or the methods are famous and unique to one lab.

  • And these fuckers couldn't even find a goddam American chief editor for an official journal of an American scientific society? All they could get is some french motherfucker????

  • drugmonkey says:

    If reviewers are selected on the basis of not being able to figure out the manuscript is from my lab....well their expertise isn't going to be that closely related to the topic at hand. This seems counter to what most of us expect peer review to be...."expert".

  • Jim Woodgett says:

    I hereby anonymize GSK-3 (a pair of genes my lab has been working on for over 20 years). It should forthwith be only referred to as the kinase with no name (alpha and beta).

    Seriously, obsessive-compulsive scientists (like me) who work in a field and use reagents we've generated over years will be as easy to pick out as a piranha in an apple-bobbing barrel.

    Double-blind is a nice idea in principle and supposedly reduces bias, increases gender balance, etc. But isn't it better to expect better as and of reviewers to squeeze out sleazy behaviour?

  • […] posted about a journal attempting double-blind peer review; do read the comments. One thing that came up is that the BSDs (Big Swinging… Dongles) will […]

  • anonymous postdoc says:

    I understand the points in argument against this implementation of double-blind peer review - that it is difficult-to-impossible to meet all of these criteria, that people cannot help but guess at the identities of anonymous (or, cough, pseudynmous) authors, that, holding these two complaints to be true, it is a silly waste of time. Sure. Fine.

    However, this approach is a straightforward one to trying to address the problem of different outcomes for less-advantaged investigators, at an extremely low-stakes journal. It is an experiment aimed at reducing bias, and I cannot hate on people making a good faith effort to shake up an existing system to see if it reduces bias.

    I wonder if anyone has any alternative proposals on how to combat the problems of bias, unreasonable expectations on lesser-known authors, and reduced support for female authors, in the publication game?

    Not trying to be snarky (or not very snarky). I just think that all of this bitching and moaning about how stupid this idea is, from people who are unlikely to submit anything to this journal (CPP especially would consider it beneath him), might be cognitive energy better spent thinking of alternative, perhaps more workable solutions to the problem/s. Otherwise, it reads as a bit of a standard and reactionary "we fear change, new things are different and therefore bad" narrative.

  • qaz says:

    @anonymous postdoc - The question is whether a better structure would have actually made this journal into something more useful to the field.

  • halcyon says:

    Is there a way to quantitate bias or lack thereof in review? How will they know if the process is working?

  • drugmonkey says:

    ap, halcyon- did you actually read my post? just curious....

  • halcyon says:

    Oops! apparently not ... my bad.

    Evaluation is the rub. Both our med and grad school curricula have been undergoing extensive newification, which sounds great, right? Newer is obviously better. Its a ton of work for us to revamp our lectures, make online materials, etc. But when I ask at curriculum meetings how we know if its working ... crickets.

    The only evaluation we're using is student feedback - as if its our job to make them happier, not necessarily teach them better. Maybe that's what approaches like eNeuro will do for the downtrodden scientists among us - make us feel better ... like we're getting a fair shot.

  • Crystal Voodoo says:

    I get what they are trying to accomplish here, but as a manuscript editor this just makes me cringe. Scientists don't need any help making their writing convoluted. One of the easiest ways to shave off words and make things clearer is to use first person pronouns. The linguistic back flips needed to adequately anonymize manuscripts while keeping the content understandable would be a significant barrier to non-native English speakers. Admittedly that means more money in my pocket, but still. Think of the word counts. It's a few words here and there, but that crap adds up quickly.

  • Morgan Price says:

    Y'all are such conservative pessimists, wow. Double-blind review is common in lots of fields. It's not a big deal, and there is some evidence that it reduces gender bias, e.g.

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169534707002704

    Some other points:

    25% of the time, the reviewer figures out which PI's group the paper is from, but it's actually from a postdoc who's moved on. Who cares.

    You can use the first person in every sentence including the ones you cite yourself in. For example, "Although bunnies are reported to hop to a maximum height of 5 feet (Us et al, 2012), we will show that this requires extra oxygen."

  • drugmonkey says:

    CV- maybe they could allow a rewrite after acceptance?

  • Mike_F says:

    The double-blind will be an interesting experiment. Perhaps Drugmonkey and his loyal followers might consider the possibility that this will reduce gender/ethnic/minority group bias? Would that not be a good thing.

    As to Comrade PhysioProf's bigoted comment above, SfN is an international society with ~40% of the membership from outside the U.S.A. . Dr. Bernard was chosen from a pool of 19 applicants (one hopes that nationality, gender, ethnic origin or other irrelevant criteria were not considered by the committee...). The committee might have chosen him over other distinguished applicants due to his experience as a Reviewing Editor for Journal of Neuroscience, the fact that he is a Reviewing Editor for Science, and the fact that he has a vision and new ideas for this new journal.

  • Crystal Voodoo says:

    DM - If they are lucky enough to get reviewers that are willing to look past the crappy English and give them an acceptance with revision, maybe. Some reviewers aren't. It could push a lot of the borderline cases into the reject pile over non-scientific issues.

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