Double blind peer review

Many journals, and a few conferences, operate with a so called “double blind” peer review policy. This means that the reviewers of the paper won’t get to know the identity of the author(s), and the author(s) won’t get to know the identity of the reviewer. The idea is that everyone should get a similar and unbiased review.

In my experience, though, both as a reviewer and author, I have found this to be quite puzzling. I often find it very difficult to create an anonymous version of my own manuscripts. If I am going to remove every trace that could identify myself and my coauthors there wouldn’t be much left of the paper. One thing is to remove your own citations from the reference list, but in many cases then you may also remove the basis of what your whole argument is based on.

Another problem is if you have to remove information about the equipment you work with. For example: when writing a paper about some motion capture results, it would make sense to name the brand and type of motion capture system being used, as this may be vital for evaluating the quality of the data. The problem, of course, is that there is probably just a handful of music research groups in the world having e.g. a Qualisys or Xsens motion capture system.

Even though we managed to remove all names of people, equipment, location, etc., I think it still is quite simple to figure out who wrote the paper. A few searches on Google Scholar on similar topics usually reveal at least the research group, if not also the main author. As a reviewer you are supposed to find out about the novelty of the manuscript, and that basically means that you will have to track down the author and the author’s publication list first.

All in all, I have a hard time seeing that double blind peer reviewing is a good thing. In my experience it just makes it more difficult to authors to finalize their manuscripts, and it makes the reviewer having to play detective for a few minutes. I guess it might work in some large fields with lots of researchers, but in the world of music cognition and technology I don’t really see the need for it.

For more arguments against double blind peer reviewing, check out this blog post by Luc Devroye, a discussion on Wikipedia and an editorial at Nature.

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Alexander Refsum Jensenius is a music researcher and research musician living in Oslo, Norway.