Science journal Nature and the stable of 17 Nature Research Journals are all to offer the system of peer review known as "double-blind" for article submissions from March, following a trial of the system with two of the journals.
Double-blind peer review anonymises both the authors of the article being reviewed and the reviewers themselves, as opposed to the currently offered single-blind system where reviewers are anonymous but know the authors' identities. For the Nature-branded journals, authors will now be able to choose whether single-blind or double-blind peer review is used on their submissions.
"Advocates of double-blind peer review argue that it removes biases that relate to the authors (for example those based on gender, seniority or organisation) that might otherwise impact the objectivity with which the review is carried out," Nature Publishing Group said.
NPG said it was introducing the system in response to author feedback and following trials with Nature Geoscience and Nature Climate Change. The two journals began offering double-blind peer review as an option in June 2013, and authors of 20% of submissions chose the option. NPG reported that "no substantive effects on the quality of reviews have been detected and support for the trial remains very high."
Veronique Kiermer's director of author and reviewer services, said: "This is part of Nature Publishing Group's ongoing commitment to providing outstanding service to our authors, and changing our practices in response to the research community's needs. It has become increasingly clear over the years that researchers think that double-blind peer review is an effective system. We want to act on that, offering this as an option and learning from the take-up and feedback." She added: "There are no perfect solutions to a process that is often characterised as involving multiple conflicting interests, but peer review is at the heart of the scientific process and we are committed to finding the best possible ways of facilitating it."
An editorial in this week's edition of Nature commented that the decision to offer double-blind review had been "much discussed", with Nature journal editors previously resisting it because they were sceptical of its efficacy, or saw it as their own responsibility to mitigate any biases. "But by definition, unconscious biases may be difficult to identify and to control," the editorial noted, although journal editors would continue to select reviewers carefully, as before.
Kiermer also said that NPG was continuing to consider open review – where the names of both authors and reviewers are known - as an option for the future. In a Nature editorial published in this week's issue, the journal noted: "Proponents of open peer review see its transparency as a way to encourage more civil and thoughtful reviewer comments – although others are concerned that it promotes a less critical attitude."