Two authors wrote to me to ask if they could publish a scientific paper anonymously. The authors work in a general practice that had switched its cervical cytology contract from one laboratory to another. Some time after the switch they noticed that the rate of abnormal smears had almost doubled. This has profound implications for the practice and particularly for the women whose smears were positive. The authors said that they wanted to publish their findings anonymously because: “We have no wish to blame or criticise anyone, even though some of our patients have been harmed by unnecessary distress and anxiety. We simply want to highlight the limitations of the test.” What does the committee think I should do?
The assumption is that everything should be signed and there is no adequate reason for anonymisation. Writing a paper is like signing a cheque and the authors must be prepared to take the responsibility. The laboratories concerned could be anonymised. The distinction is that this is a scientific paper and the authors have to be prepared to stand by what they report and therefore they must sign as authors (cf, a personal view). This case is not so different from the cases of results which did not agree with established dogma. The case epitomises a lack of confidence and must not be anonymised. All the case does is make the variability between laboratories explicit; it is not saying one laboratory is better than the other. Conclusion To refuse the authors their request of anonymity: the study is not novel anyway.
We declined to publish the paper anonymously.