Referee calls foul
Tue 01 Jul 2014 08:43 AM
In discussions of peer review, somebody always mentions referees searching the internet to suss out who the author is. There is disagreement about how common this is. Inevitably, somebody recounts rumours about scholars who do this before even reading a paper they've been asked to review, and everybody involved in the conversation mumbles and swears that they never do it.
I do not know how common the search-before-reading approach to refereeing is. I also don't know how pernicious it really is, although the phenomenon of implicit bias suggests that it's probably more pernicious than one would think.
Regardless, it is clearly a perversion of blind peer review. The process is constructed precisely so that the referee can read the paper without knowing the identity of the author.*
So imagine my surprise when I was invited to referee a paper, I logged into Editorial Manager, and one of the Action Links was to do a Google Scholar Title Search. This was the option right below View Submission, which is what I had to select to download a PDF of the paper. So the submission management website gave me a quick link for the search-before-reading approach and made it salient by putting it somewhere I was likely to see it.**
* Sometimes anonymity breaks down, because the referee already knows the work (from a conference, say) or has a good guess who the author is (because the work extends the author's earlier work or is written in a distinctive style). I think that a referee has an obligation to let the editor know about the breakdown in anonymity, and the editor can decide how to proceed. Sometimes it makes sense to use the referee's report anyway.
** Actually I had already downloaded the PDF, because there was also a direct link in the invitation to referee the paper. But I only followed that link first, rather than the link to Editorial Manager, because I wanted to take a look at the paper before agreeing to referee it. In a different mood, I might have followed the agree link first.