Post prepared by Milan Chytrý, Valério Pillar, Jodi Price and Viktoria Wagner
Charles Fox and colleagues recently published a study that raised concerns about the fairness of the peer-review process in scientific journals (Fox et al., 2023). They conducted an extensive experiment in Functional Ecology, in which each manuscript submitted to this journal was randomly assigned to be reviewed with author identities anonymized vs. author identities known to the reviewers. They found that manuscripts written by authors from richer or English-speaking countries got significantly better ratings, but only if the reviewers knew the identity and country of the authors. This means that reviewers tend to give an advantage to such authors.
The Journal of Vegetation Science and Applied Vegetation Science have always promoted equity and inclusivity in scientific publishing. Therefore, we were concerned about the convincing evidence provided by Fox et al. (2023) that factors such as authors’ country and language affect the peer rating of manuscripts in an ecological journal that publishes many articles thematically close to JVS and AVS. Therefore, after a discussion at the Editorial Board meeting in Coffs Harbour (September 2023), we decided to change the review procedure in our journals from single-blind to double-blind. Single-blind (single-anonymized) review means that reviewers’ identities are unknown to the authors, but authors’ identities are known to the reviewers. Double-blind (double-anonymized) review means that the authors do not know the identity of the reviewers, and conversely, the reviewers do not know the identity of the authors.
From February 2024, all the manuscripts newly submitted to JVS or AVS have to be divided into two files: title page file and text file. The title page file contains the authors’ names, affiliations, acknowledgements, the funding statement, and the author contribution statement. The main text file contains the anonymized scientific part of the manuscript. Both files will be available to the editors, but reviewers will receive only the anonymized main text file.
There are concerns that editors can also be biased (Srivastava et al. 2024). However, our journals are operated by a global community of vegetation scientists, and following the principles of equity and inclusivity fostered by the International Association for Vegetation Science, our editors often provide more support to colleagues from poorer countries to help them develop their manuscripts. Also, editors must check for the potential conflict of interest between authors and reviewers. For these reasons, editors need to know the identity of the authors.
Fox, C. W., Meyer, J., & Aimé, E. (2023). Double-blind peer review affects reviewer ratings and editor decisions at an ecology journal. Functional Ecology, 37, 1144–1157. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.14259
Srivastava, D. S., Bernardino, J., Marques, A. T., Proença-Ferreira, A., Filipe, A. F., Borda-de-Água, L., & Gameiro, J. (2024). Editors are biased too: An extension of Fox et al. (2023)’s analysis makes the case for triple-blind review. Functional Ecology, 38, 278–283. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.14483