Publishing a research paper anonymously: A case study

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Publishing a research paper anonymously: A case study

Case: An author had submitted a paper to a journal and the paper was under peer review for some time. At this stage, some of his colleagues advised him to withdraw the paper as it was on a sensitive topic and could be damaging to his career. The author sent a withdrawal request to the editor, but the editor replied that the peer review for the paper was almost complete and withdrawal at this stage would mean wasting the time and resources of the journal as well as peer reviewers. This would go against publication best practices. The author then approached Editage Insights asking whether it was possible to publish the paper anonymously.

Action: We asked the author why he felt the topic was sensitive and how much it could damage his career. The author replied that the paper highlighted negative side effects of a drug manufactured by the pharmaceutical company he worked for. Although the side effects were not potentially life threatening, these results would definitely affect the sales of the product. The company might not like that and might take action against him. In an extreme situation, he might even lose his job. On the other hand, the author felt morally responsible to communicate these findings to current and potential users of the drug.

We explained to the author that most publishers and editors do not allow anonymous publication. However, in a few exceptional cases, anonymous publication may be allowed. We asked the author to explain the situation clearly to the editor of the journal, mentioning that publication of the paper could lead to loss of employment, and request the editor to either allow him to withdraw the paper or publish it anonymously.

The editor understood the problem and said that he would discuss the possibility of anonymous publication with the publisher. He also assured the author that in case the publisher did not agree to anonymous publication, a confirmation of withdrawal of the paper would be provided.

Summary: Publishing a research paper anonymously is generally not acceptable as it goes against the norm of transparency in authorship and academic publishing. An author is expected to be responsible and accountable for any work that he or she has published.

Most editors and publishers would not allow anonymous publication. However, in a few extreme and exceptional situations, anonymous publication may be allowed. These include situations where revealing the identity of the author could pose a threat to his or her life, lead to loss of employment, or where the content of the paper contains extremely personal details of the author, such as medical problems or social issues faced by the author.

According to the Council of Science Editors (CSE) http://www.councilscienceeditors...

In extremely rare cases, when the author can make a credible claim that attaching his or her name to the document could cause serious hardship (e.g., threat to personal safety or loss of employment), a journal editor may decide to publish anonymous content.


If an author has any such genuine reason to publish anonymously, they should write to the editor explaining the issue and the threat it may pose to the author. The editor will use his/her discretion to decide whether anonymity is permissible keeping the gravity of the situation in mind.

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Published on: Jan 22, 2016

Senior Editor, Editage Insights. Researcher coach since 2015
See more from Kakoli Majumder


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