An anonymity problem

November 20, 2014

I write in response to the article on whether post-publication peer review can endure the legal action launched by a US scientist who claims that anonymous comments posted on Pub Peer cost him a job offer (“The thin line between libel and criticism”, Research intelligence, 13 November).

When scientists’ livelihoods are at stake because of competition for funding and jobs, a process that allows anonymity would seem to provide an open invitation for inappropriate behaviour by some. Similar issues occur in the traditional peer review process in biomedical journals.

There is good evidence – from a 2010 study in the British Medical Journal and from others that have employed open peer review for many years – that an open peer review process does not decrease the quality of the referee report but does make the report more constructive on all sides (author, editor – if there is one – and reader). This is supported by what we have found on F1000Research, an open science publishing platform, where we use a transparent process with immediate publication, fully transparent post-publication peer review, and open data. We have had no legal difficulties with any of our invited peer review reports or with comments.

Our referees are formally invited, on behalf of the authors, and their reports are published alongside the article with their full name and affiliation (and are also citable, as Philip Moriarty suggests in the article).

These referees have their own reputations and careers to maintain; being named means that they have to stand by what they say. Contrary to Dave Fernig’s concern that discussion forums that lack anonymity contain “a lot of hagiography”, we have found that this has not stopped many of our referees being critical of others’ work, but it usually makes them justify their criticisms with facts. Like most journals, we allow general commenting on articles, but this is clearly differentiated from the peer review.

It would seem that non-anonymous comments and post-publication peer review can provide a perfectly good process for criticism, debate and the discussion of new research without the unnecessary complications that Pub Peer has found itself embroiled in.

Rebecca Lawrence
Managing director, F1000 Research Ltd

 

The article on post-publication peer review prompted me to explore Pub Peer. It seems to have got a lot right in terms of its guidance on the type of commentary that will be accepted. However, it is hardly equitable (or conducive to good intellectual debate) to allow anonymous reviewers to comment in public on works by identifiable authors, and in the few cases where damaged reputations might result, not surprising that legal action follows.

Would there not be value in offering a pre-publication or “quarantine” stage where authors and reviewers both can be anonymous, followed by open publication where authors agree, subject to protocols established by the site, to open discussion where all contributors are named?

Stan Lester
Stan Lester Developments

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Reader's comments (1)

I have responded to Rebecca Lawrence critique at my blog (with additional comments by Mathias Brust, Dave Fernig, Andy Tattersall and Nanonymous): http://raphazlab.wordpress.com/2014/11/30/an-accountability-problem/

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