Charles Menzie, SETAC Global Executive Director

It is with pride that I announce that the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) is adopting a double-blind peer review process commencing 1 January 2019 for both Society publications, Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM) and Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ET&C). This change means that while the editorial boards of both journals will know author and reviewer names and affiliations, reviewers will no longer know the names of authors, affiliations and sources of funding. As before, the names and affiliations of reviewers will not be disclosed to authors.

‘‘Double-blind peer review focuses the evaluation squarely on the merits of the science and ensures a fair assessment of research regardless of gender, location, or professional affiliation.’’

Until this year, SETAC followed traditional peer review practices whereby papers were examined in a single-blind fashion—that is, the authors were known to reviewers, but not vice versa. In theory, that knowledge left open the possibility for reviewers to exercise a conscious or unconscious bias toward researchers on the basis of their institution, country, ethnicity, or gender. It also left open the possibility that some researchers might be examined less rigorously because of their reputation or professional standing.

After authors submit a paper to a journal, how important is it that the reviewers know who wrote it?

Several studies have examined this question. A 2008 study found that double-blind review increased the number of journal articles published by female authors (Budden et al. 2008). The majority of nearly 4,000 respondents to an international survey conducted in 2012 said peer review was essential to communication of scholarly research, and double-blind review was the most effective method (Mulligan et al. 2013). The results of several studies strongly suggest that the outcomes for acceptance and rejection of scholarly research differ between single- and double-blind peer review (Nature Chemical Biology 2015; Okike et al. 2016; Tomkins et al. 2017). The studies show that certain factors, including the reputation of the authors, standing of the academic or research institutions, country of origin and gender, can introduce bias into the review process, regardless of whether the bias is conscious or not. Double-blind peer review focuses the evaluation squarely on the merits of the science and ensures a fair assessment of research regardless of gender, location or professional affiliation.

Since its inception, SETAC has been vigilant to events and information that call into question the integrity of the science developed and communicated through SETAC publications. This emphasis is reflected in the Society’s Code of Ethics and technical sessions at annual meetings dedicated to understanding the pitfalls of conflicts of interest and normative science. The Society communicates regularly with members on science integrity, the potential consequences of gender bias and partisanship, and the importance of impartial scientific peer review (Forbes et al. 2016; Burton and Wenning 2017).

The Society strives to support and encourage all scientists engaged in environmental research worldwide. We are proud to be a diverse professional Society with more than 5,300 members from 83 countries in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America. We are also proud of our history of support to emerging science and both the development and application of new scientific methods and practices to environmental problem solving. Indeed, SETAC’s tripartite philosophy of bringing together scientists from academia, business and government grew from recognition that professional affiliations can influence how scientists develop and view information.

The different sectorial perspectives inherent in the application of scientific research should be heard, debated and even integrated. The Society is alarmed when science and scientists are disparaged and unduly pressured by politicians and advocacy groups when their information and communications do not fit certain political narratives or reflect the views of particular sectors. Equally concerning to the Society are criticisms that some researchers overstate the bounds of their work to capture public attention, to defend certain regulatory and legal positions, or to align with their funding sources.

While not perfect (Webb et al. 2008; De Ranieri et al. 2017), the double-blind peer review process aims to remove conscious and unconscious prejudices. We are doing our part to ensure that researchers—wherever they are located and with whomever they are employed—have the opportunity to present their work for consideration by impartial peers that focus on the merits of the technical work. Reducing bias and achieving a greater degree of impartiality in peer review are consistent with SETAC’s mission and initiative on science integrity, and we hope that members will join us in welcoming this positive step forward for SETAC and its journals.

Author’s contact information:

This editorial has been slightly modified from a version that originally published in Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, Volume 15, Number 1—pp. 4–5. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2019:4–5 DOI: 10.1002/ieam.4105

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Budden AE, Tregenza T, Aarssen LW, Koricheva J, Leimu R, Lortie CJ. 2008. Double-blind review favours increased representation of female authors. Trends Ecol Evol 23:4–6. Burton GA Jr, Wenning RJ. 2017. Fostering integrity in scientific research and publishing. Integr Environ Assess Manag 13:560–561.

De Ranieri E, McGillivray B, Swaminathan S, Samarasinghe M, Gruen L. 2017. Analysis of uptake and outcome in author-selected single-blind vs doubleblind peer review at nature journals. Presentation at the international congress on peer-review and scientific publication. [cited 2018 October 15].

Forbes V, Tilghman X, Suter G, Calow P, Cormier S, Brain R, Staveley J, Ortego L, Å gerstrand M, Elliott KC. 2016. The Challenge and responses: Bias is creeping into the science behind risk assessments and undermining its use and credibility. Environ Toxicol Chem 35: 1068–1074.

Mulligan A, Hall L, Raphael E. 2013. Peer review in a changing world: An international study measuring the attitudes of researchers. J Am Soc Inf Sci Technol 64:132–161.

Nature Chemical Biology. 2015. Double-blind peer review: Nature and Nature journals start offering anonymity to authors during the peer-review process. Nat Chem Biol 11:237.

Okike K, Hug KT, Kocher MS. 2016. Single-blind vs double-blind peer review in the setting of author prestige. JAMA 316:1315–1316.

[SETAC] Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. 2017. SETAC Code of Ethics. [cited 2018 October 15]. SETACEthics

Tomkins A, Zhang M, Heavlin WD. 2017. Reviewer bias in single- versus double-blind peer review. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 114:12708–12713.

Webb, TJ, O’Hara B, Freckleton RP. 2008. Does double-blind review benefit female authors? Trends Ecol Evol 23:351–353.