Opinion 3: The Demise of the `Anonymous' Referee

By: Doron Zeilberger

Written: May 2, 1995.

The Iron Curtain has been lifted, and with it, the KGB with its legion of anonymous informers, that made life in the fSU, before it got the f, a living hell, where you could not trust your friends, and even spouse, since they were all potential (or actual) informers.

It is about time to abolish the immoral institution of `Anonymous Referee'. Even in the paper era, with its paper-mentality elitism, it was superfluous. A paper is either worth publishing or not. If it is not, you should have the guts to say it out loud, and if you are right, the author should thank you for saving him or her embarrassment. However, granted that you want to save the rain forest, there was some ecological justification for being picky, and if you are picky, sometimes you must reject papers on arbitrary, or at best subjective, grounds. In this case, you may be embarrassed by your arbitrary decision, and may wish to remain anonymous.

But paper is out. With it, the establishment of paper publishers, paper editors, and paper referees, who, as Mao used to say, are but Paper Tigers. Authors are no longer at the mercy of editors, since they can be their own editors, in their ftp and/or http directories, and they can appoint their own referees. Anybody can read their paper, and send them comments, that the author may want to add to the end of her or his paper. In exceptional cases, of long and involved proofs, like in my paper `Proof of the Alternating Sign Matrix', the author can appoint many checkers, and entrust each with a small part.

Next time you receive a paper to referee, refuse to referee it unless the editor agrees to reveal your identity. If you agree to referee it, staying anonymous, and reject the paper, you are no better than a KGB informer.

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