Nature’s newest secrets

The academic journal Nature is introducing double-blind peer review. This means that when a paper is being checked for accuracy, the reviewers won’t know who wrote it.

Papers are the main way researchers tell everyone about their work, and peer review is the process by which the journal chooses if the paper should be published. The reviewers are chosen by the journal, and are usually other scientists who do similar work to the stuff in the paper.

The reviewers read the paper over, check that it’s not blatantly full of lies and will recommend to the editor to either publish it or reject it based on whether or not the work is good enough.

The identity of the reviewers is kept secret from the authors of the paper; however the reviewers know the names of the authors. There are concerns that some reviewers can be biased again women, ethnic minorities, and authors from un-prestigious institutions. By doing peer review “double blinded,” where both the reviewers and the authors are mutually anonymised, it is hoped that some of this discrimination may be removed.

Nature is one of the most important journals in scientific publishing. If you can get your work published in it, it’s a sign your research is important and your science is goodAfter a successful trial on some of their smaller journals, Nature are now also offering authors the chance to submit papers for double blind reviews.

As with anything that ever happens in academic publishing: everyone is angry and upset about everything. Some commenters think that Nature have got it wrong, and NOTHING should be anonymous, whilst others think that EVERYTHING should be anonymous, and by only making double blind opt-in, Nature might as well not bother.

Double blind reviewing is already common in humanities journals, and whatever Nature do, other science journals are likely to watch closely.  It will be interesting to see if this will result in more diversity in high-level science publishing.

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