Benefits and drawbacks of single-blind peer review

In our recent posts, we have discussed both what’s involved in both double-blind peer review and open reviewing. The third, and so far most common, form of reviewing is the single-blind peer review. A single-blind peer review keeps the identity of the reviewer anonymous, but the authors name and affiliation are on the paper. Like the other forms of reviewing, there are advantages and disadvantages to single-blind.

Advantages

Similar to double-blind, the reviewers’ identity is kept anonymous. This allows the reviewer to critique an abstract or paper without any influence being exerted on them from authors. Authors can’t make any contact with the reviewer since they don’t know who they are.

Sometimes if a reviewer knows their comments will be made public with their name attached, they will be more conservative in the review they give. No-one wants to be associated with controversy or put themselves “in the firing line”. While no-one specifically sets out be overly critical of another persons’ work, if a critical review has to be given it should, regardless if the reviewers name appears beside it or not. Single-blind peer review eliminates this as a problem.

Disadvantages

In a study carried out by the Publishing Research Consortium, the fact that the researchers rate the effectiveness of single-blind significantly below double-blind peer review is a concern. While single-blind peer review was the most predominant form of reviewing used (with 85% of respondents claiming to have used this system), respondents preferred other methods. In fact, only 52% of researchers would label single-blind reviewing as effective (whereas 71% chose double-blind). It is worrying to think that almost half of the people who are supposed to benefit from the system have little confidence in it.

The ethics of the single-blind peer review is still a topic of discussion. While the reviewers’ identity is kept anonymous, they can still see the author. Gender bias is still prevalent to an extent in reviewing (we have discovered this here). Single-blind peer review does not protect the author against gender bias, or any sort of bias for that matter.

Like all types of reviewing, a case can be made both for and against single-blind. Afterall, it is not the most used reviewing format for no reason. What has to be taken into consideration is what is best for your conference, whether that is open, single or blind.

Happy Conferencing!

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