Objectives: To examine the effect on peer review of asking reviewers to have their identity revealed to the authors of the paper.
Design: Randomised trial. Consecutive eligible papers were sent to two reviewers who were randomised to have their identity revealed to the authors or to remain anonymous. Editors and authors were blind to the intervention.
Main outcome measures: The quality of the reviews was independently rated by two editors and the corresponding author using a validated instrument. Additional outcomes were the time taken to complete the review and the recommendation regarding publication. A questionnaire survey was undertaken of the authors of a cohort of manuscripts submitted for publication to find out their views on open peer review.
Results: Two editors' assessments were obtained for 113 out of 125 manuscripts, and the corresponding author's assessment was obtained for 105. Reviewers randomised to be asked to be identified were 12% (95% confidence interval 0.2% to 24%) more likely to decline to review than reviewers randomised to remain anonymous (35% v 23%). There was no significant difference in quality (scored on a scale of 1 to 5) between anonymous reviewers (3.06 (SD 0.72)) and identified reviewers (3.09 (0.68)) (P=0.68, 95% confidence interval for difference - 0.19 to 0.12), and no significant difference in the recommendation regarding publication or time taken to review the paper. The editors' quality score for reviews (3.05 (SD 0.70)) was significantly higher than that of authors (2.90 (0.87)) (P<0.005, 95%confidence interval for difference - 0.26 to - 0.03). Most authors were in favour of open peer review.
Conclusions: Asking reviewers to consent to being identified to the author had no important effect on the quality of the review, the recommendation regarding publication, or the time taken to review, but it significantly increased the likelihood of reviewers declining to review.