The reasons for keeping the names of reviewers hidden from authors (single-blind reviews) are pretty clear. I am more willing to be critical of the manuscripts of friends and colleagues, or of prominent scholars, if I know that my identity will not be revealed to them. There are criticisms of blind reviewing: reviewers can be petty and nasty and hiding behind anonymity does not help the overall process. But single-blind reviewing is a standard procedure in archaeology. Some journals today give reviewers the choice of remaining anonymous or revealing their name. I usually sign my reviews with my name. But sometimes (maybe 20% of the time) I don’t want to do this. I feel it is my duty to be rigorous and critical in my reviews, and sometimes friends and colleagues submit shoddy papers that I must criticize. Keeping anonymity can help avoid unpleasant personal repercussions, while maintaining professional standards.
I am less enthusiastic about trying to hide the names of authors from reviewers. There are both logistical and professional reasons for this. On the practical side, I have never reviewed a “blind” manuscript without knowing exactly who wrote it. I typically know who is doing what in my field, and even if that isn’t clear, there are usually telltale signs in the text that the journal editors overlook. Both of these factors were present in a manuscript I recently reviewed using the double-blind method.
But there is a larger professional and scientific reason to question double-blind reviewing. Manuscripts do not exist in a professional vacuum. Published papers are almost always part of a body of work (by an author or authors, or by a project or a group), and part of the evaluation of a paper focuses on its role within that body of work. If one really doesn’t know the identity of the author, then it is difficult or impossible to place the paper in its context.
Suppose I am reviewing a boring and not particularly rigorous or enlightening paper on obsidian production at a Mesoamerican site. If that paper were authored by an important obsidian analyst (say, Ken Hirth or John Clark), my reaction as a reviewer would be to tell the author to go back and improve the paper. There is no reason to accept shoddy work by these people (in point of fact, I don’t know of any shoddy papers by John or Ken, whose work is very good). On the other hand if the paper is by someone of questionable ability with a poor record of publication who happened to excavate an important obsidian assemblage years ago and is on the point of retiring, then perhaps a shoddy manuscript should be published. It would be much better for the discipline to have a low-quality publication from such a person than to have no publication at all.There is a nice new British report on peer review: British Academy (2007) Peer Review: The Challenges for the Humanities and Social Sciences. The British Academy, London.