Anonymity versus author transparency
Case text (Anonymised)
An editor invited an author to submit a paper to his journal. Colleagues of the author suggested “unsubmission” because it could be damaging to the author’s career. The editor contacted the publisher and requested that the paper be withdrawn. The editor then contacted the author asking if he would consider publishing the paper anonymously (ie, with no identifying names). The editor did not consult with the publisher on this matter.
The publisher has placed the paper on hold, seeking guidance on author transparency. Publishing anonymously is typically not permitted by the publisher because of concerns about author transparency and because the publisher believes that they should publish in the highest ethical regard. There are no patient confidentiality or privacy issues associated with this case.
The publisher would like the Forum’s view on the balance between anonymity and author transparency. Should there be a set policy in place?
The Forum noted that this was an unusual case, and that the only examples of papers published anonymously that they were aware of were in a situation where an author is at risk of physical danger or is in fear for his/her life if his/her name were to be published or associated with specific criticism.
The Forum agreed this was an editorial decision and that it is up to the editor to weigh up the issues and decide on balance whether or not to publish anonymously. The Forum warned that the editor needs to be certain that the author is genuine and his concerns are valid, since if the claims are later found to be untrue, this could damage the credibility of the editor and the journal. Is the editor comfortable publishing anonymously solely because of possible damage to the author’s career? Is the editor confident that he is knowledgeable in this specific discipline that he can make an editorial judgement? Is he confident that the claims will not be subject to any legal disputes? The editor has a duty to ensure that he has taken appropriate steps to ensure that what he publishes is correct.
After discussion, the publisher was willing to publish the anonymous article under these exceptional circumstances, but the publisher would not support this in the future without a risk assessment of each case. The editor agreed and understood that if the transparency policy of the journal is called into question, the editor will stand by, prepare to explain and defend what has been the editor’s decision.