Self-Citation and Anonymous Review

How should you go about preparing an article for anonymous peer-review if you cite yourself in your article? There are a couple of issues here that suggest that mere redaction is not usually enough.

A full professor of philosophy who has published a lot and is associated with a few journals writes in with the following thoughts on the matter:

I believe manuscripts that are submitted for anonymous review should not make obvious references to the author’s own publications even when the details are redacted. In some cases, this already is enough to let the referee know exactly who the author is, which is obviously to be avoided in blind refereeing: “As I have argued in [redacted] there is what we might call a ‘naturalistic fallacy…’”

But, even when that is not so, the explicitly redacted citation indicates to the referee that this author is already published. This is a biasing piece of information, favoring published authors, that should be masked if doing so is not too costly. I don’t think it is too costly.

There are three ways to do so:

  • Cite: Just cite the piece without noting or signaling that it is the author’s (“As G. E. Moore argues in Principia Ethica,…”). This is not always possible, since a paper might want to build on one’s previous work, or one might be citing one’s own work with a frequency that strongly suggests authorship. But often it is perfectly possible.
  • Drop: Just drop those citations, without a trace, from the manuscript for purposes of refereeing, leaving out any signal such as “redacted.” In some cases, granted, this risks looking obtuse, failing to refer to work that a referee knows or might well believe should be cited. But often there is no such problem, and those citations can be easily and silently dropped.
  • Mix: A combination: avoid any reference at all unless this risks looking obtuse, in which case cite one’s own work very sparingly without any signal of authorship, just as if it were being cited by another author.

There are some ways of writing that might resist any of these techniques. But in that case they are not properly prepared for blind review. I suggest that editors return such manuscripts for better preparation rather than permit such an obvious loophole. The proscribed style can be reinstated after the paper is accepted and revised for final form.

Comments welcome.

Rebecca Ward, masking tape installation

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