Confidential comments to the editor

Via Action Potential:

The Neuroscience Peer-Review Consortium is an imaginative alliance of neuroscience journals whose goal is to “support efficient and thorough peer review of original research in neuroscience, speed the publication of research reports, and reduce the burden on peer reviewers.” Any journal that is indexed in Medline and that publishes neuroscience research is invited to join. From January 2008, If a manuscript is not accepted by one journal in the consortium, the authors can submit their manuscript to a second consortium journal and have the reviews from the first journal forwarded to the second journal. This system is similar to the manuscript transfer system operated by the journals of Nature Publishing Group, but is subject- rather than publisher-specific.

A list of the journals that are participating so far can be seen here; further details about the consortium are here.

In a post discussing this initiative, Noah Gray of Action Potential (the Nature Neuroscience blog) explains that “many journals provide the opportunity not only to include a review of the manuscript for the authors, but also to communicate any additional feelings or opinions directly to the editors with confidence that the authors will not see these comments.” To join the consortium, journals will have to stop using the “confidential comments to the editor” system. Noah asks his readers for their opinions as authors and reviewers of this proposal, and at time of writing this post, 30 people have replied.

One reviewer states: "I have consistently refused to place any information in the “confidential comments to the editors” review box. This is because I feel strongly that this means of communication is inherently suspect and open to abuse. In my opinion, every least communication between the editors and the reviewers should be available to the authors. Moreover, I feel that the authors must be given the right to respond to any criticism of their work. It is simply not fair to allow confidential comments to determine editorial decisions without this ability to respond."

Another reviewer, however, differs in finding a ‘confidential comments’ section “useful if you want to tell the editor that the paper is great, but would benefit greatly from a new analysis or new presentation style. In other words, if the author thinks you love the paper, they’re less likely to agree to work on changes.

Thinking about it more, it seems as if confidential comments might be very useful in the event the referee knows about a conflict of interest, knows about conflicting data from the same lab that exists but is not in the manuscript, or knows of similar work in another lab. I’ve never had this experience, but I imagine it will happen sooner or later.

Why does the consortium plan insist on the absence of confidential comments? Presumably, if the author determines whether or not old reviews are to be considered, he will make that decision based on whether the reviews were good or bad. I don’t see how he is helped or hurt by the exclusion of confidential comments.”

There is a very thoughtful discussion at Action Potential, including some explanation from the consortium’s working group, raising many pros and cons of confidential comments, to which we invite you to contribute.


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    Pedro Beltrao said:

    This sounds like a great initiative. I would expect however that the burden will shift even more to the journals with high rejection rates like the Nature family of journals. Is Nature Neuroscience joining this project?

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    Maxine said:

    Not sure, Pedro— Noah Gray, who runs Action Potential blog, is an editor at Nature Neuroscience, so if you go to the AP link at the start of my post here, you can ask him in the comments (or maybe someone already has).

    Nature Neuroscience wasn’t on the list at the consortium’s website when I looked there while writing this post.

    Best wishes


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