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Letter to the Editor

The Importance of the Anonymous Voice in Postpublication Peer Review

Dear Sir, I wish to address the issue of anonymity within the context of science publishing. The anonymous persona is already an established player in traditional peer review (TPR), more so in double-blind than in single-blind peer review, in which the identity of the so-called “peer reviewer” remains concealed. Yet, the function and impor- tance of anonymity within the context of postpublication peer review (PPPR) is a gray zone in science, technology, and medicine (STM). The PPPR movement has gained considerable traction and has been fortified by sites such as PubPeer (www.pubpeer.com) and Retraction Watch (www.retractionwatch.com) that allow for anonymous comments or criticism of the scientific literature, a function that has traditionally been performed by the editors of STM journals. Thus, platforms that allow for open and anonymous discussion of science-related issues, including the literature, can be debated relatively freely without having traditional editorial tethers attached. Actual or per- ceived biases in TPR, as well as its insufficiencies and weaknesses, also have further fueled the rise of the anony- mous scientific voice, a section of which is discontent with papers that have appeared in their final published form. The anonymous voice, which has allowed scientific papers that contain scientific flaws, plagiarism, or duplication to be detected, questioned, and criticized, has stimulated greater discussion about the merits or demerits of TPR and is now cementing itself as an integral part of PPPR. Even so, overall, the STM community still feels reticent and ambiguous about its function and importance. On the other side of the fence, readers also need to grasp the personal and professional risks to the person behind the anonymous mask when publicizing criticisms. Papers with serious errors are more likely to be retracted when discussed in public (Van Noorden, 2014). To better cultivate a culture of anonymity that is not associated with mistrust, the scientific community needs guidance on how that voice can or should be heard and used. Currently, no STM publishers have guidelines in place as

part of their author instructions that recognize or incorporate the importance of the anonymous voice into TPR, but that gap will surely change as more and more cases of miscon-

duct, or errors in the literature, appear registered in public as

a direct result of these anonymous voices. As one example,

I have set out a road map for how PPPR can be achieved

(Teixeira da Silva, 2015), cementing the need for and impor- tance of anonymity in STM publishing.

For the PPPR road map to work, and for the anonymous voice to become acceptable and commonplace in STM pub-

lishing, serving as a correcting factor to TPR, there has to be

a change in the mind-set of the core players. This includes

authors and their research institutes, editors and their jour- nals, and the publishers that represent them, all of whom would need to be receptive to anonymous complaints and comments and be willing to act swiftly upon such com- plaints. The current TPR infrastructure might not easily accommodate anonymous claims in the short term, given the current stress that already exists within the peer pool. However, rudimentary mechanisms dealing with such anonymous voices are developing, as can be seen with the white paper published by the Committee on Publication Ethics on whistle-blowing (Barbour, 2013).


Barbour, V. (2013) Responding to anonymous whistle blowers: COPE Discussion Document. Retrieved from http://publicationethics.org/files/ Whistleblowers_document_Final.pdf Teixeira da Silva, J.A. (2015). A PPPR road-map for the plant sciences:

Cementing a road-worthy action plan. Journal of Educational and Social Research, 5(2), 15–21. Van Noorden, R. (2014). Publicly questioned papers more likely to be retracted. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2014.14979

Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva P.O. Box 7, Miki-cho post office Ikenobe 3011-2, Kagawa-ken


Japan E-mail: jaimetex@yahoo.com

Published online in Wiley Online Library


DOI: 10.1002/asi.23588

Published online 28 July 2015 in Wiley

Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com).

DOI: 10.1002/asi.23588

© 2015 ASIS&T