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The editors wisely remind us that medical authorities have suppressed important findings by lesser known authors, using the notable example of Semmelweis. Even today, critical new information remains vulnerable to suppression by authorities, medical or otherwise. Perhaps the most memorable rejection was that of Novotny and Alvis, whose seminal work on fluorescein angiography was rejected by the American Journal of Ophthalmology in 1960.3
We agree with the editors that publication of an article should be based on its scientific merit, not on its authors’ qualifications or eminence. We would emphasise that publication is an editorial prerogative based on advice from reviewers, who are a select group, rather than from a journal’s readership. In our modern age, the editorial decision to publish an article in a Medline indexed journal equates to enduring worldwide dissemination. Therefore, we agree with the proposal that authors’ names and qualifications should be masked from reviewers. We would go even further to suggest that this information, and the authors’ institutional affiliations, should also be masked from the editorial board, until a preliminary decision is made regarding publication. This would ensure the primacy of the article’s scientific content, making it more likely that first rate articles from unfamiliar and little known authors are published at the expense of second rate articles from eminent authors.
In contrast with the function of a reviewer, the task of the reader is, in our opinion, facilitated by a journal providing information about the authors, including their qualifications. We, as readers, seek information on the authors’ educational background and professional experience (using their qualifications as a proxy), and also previous publications. We do this in order to understand their perspective, and to help us put their interpretations of results into context. This information is perhaps most important when the writing involves opinion and speculation, which includes the discussion of results. In any event, in the age of internet search engines, the qualifications and background of many authors are not hidden.
On another point, we do not begrudge the trolley boy’s scholarly aspirations. We agree with the editors that he may be well positioned to write about his first hand observations in the hospital. As readers, we would prefer to know when it was the trolley boy’s work, in order to understand his perspective and the context of his writing. We may have interpreted the same article differently had it been written by the professor of infectious diseases, the senior lecturer in surgery, or the newly graduated trainee in dermatology.
Finally, we commend Ivan Schwab for his fascinating BJO articles. We warmly welcome him to our country, and we hope he enjoys studying our fauna.