The following is a contribution from Todd May. (fwiw, as I've mentioned in comments to other posts, I generally agree with him on this issue. ML)
There have been several posts recently about the difficulties associated with refereeing manuscripts. The proposal offered here will, if anything, exacerbate them. But it is a matter of ethics, even simple decency. When I referee manuscripts, I insist that my name be appended to the review. I do this whether I recommend acceptance, revision, or rejection. This should become general practice.
We all have had experiences with referees who are snarky, callous, lazy, and/or just plain inept. We have all been confronted with reviews that recommend rejection without reason, that engage in snide asides, or that make us wonder how our manuscript must have gotten mixed up with another one before this referee received it. When I referee, any temptation to be sloppy or mean-spirited is blunted by my awareness that the manuscript’s author will know that it is I who wrote the review. With this in mind, I try to give a fair read to the manuscript, and to be clear on my reasons for recommending revision or rejection. It is, of course, not up to me to judge how well I succeed in this. But I am confident that, whatever my shortcomings as a referee, I do a better job knowing that my name is associated with the review.
One might worry that this practice would lead to more acceptances from referees who don’t want to be the object of a rejected author’s wrath. I don’t believe I have been swayed by such a worry, and I suspect most others would not be either. Instead, the thought that the author could be anybody but that I will become known to her seems to promote the kind of balance that yields the most objective approach in refereeing.
Others might be concerned that under my proposal there would be more tension in the field. There could be angry emails from authors or attempts to undercut referees in other venues. This might be a particular concern if the reviewed author turned out to be a powerful and vindictive figure. I have not experienced any blowback myself, but perhaps that is because I’ve been lucky. In any event, it does not seem too much to ask of our integrity that we stand by our views even at the cost of not being invited to particular conferences or to contribute to particular special issues. After all, it isn’t a matter of drinking hemlock. And, I suppose, if necessary there could be an exception made for referees who did not have tenure.
Finally, there could be a reasonable concern that, given how difficult it is to get reviewers in the first place, this would further diminish the population of those willing to review. I suspect this is true. My only defense is that adding professional decency seems worth the cost of the loss such an addition would incur. And I suspect that many of those who would drop out would be the ones whose reviews fit the description I cited at the outset. And those are referees well lost.