This is from the article, with additional info added by me in brackets:
Dr. Andersen [one of the co-authors who didn't know he was a co-author until the paper was published], curious about what Dr. Kuklo [the first author] had actually submitted, asked Dr. Heckman [a journal editor] for copies of those reviews. But the editor turned him down, even though Dr. Andersen was supposedly one of the study’s authors. In a recent interview, Dr. Heckman said that his journal, like many others, considered such reviews confidential and shared them only with a study’s lead author.
“It is all confidential information,” Dr. Heckman said, when asked by a reporter for the reviews. “It is protected by the peer-review process.”I can see why a random person couldn't write to a journal editor and request to see so-and-so's reviews, but why is this information confidential with respect to co-authors?
This general issue reminded me of a conversation I had at a conference last spring with a colleague. He hates the fact that he almost never gets to see the reviews and editor comments for manuscripts to which he has contributed as a co-author. Some of his first-author colleagues won't send him the reviews even when he asks. He had never tried asking an editor if he could see the reviews as well, but perhaps it wouldn't have mattered.
Is Dr. Heckman right? I am not sure he is, but if he is, why can't co-authors see review materials? If co-authors are responsible for the content of papers, shouldn't they have the right to see the reviews?
In a few instances, I (in my role as first author) have not wanted to share review and editorial correspondence with co-authors, for reasons I will outline below, but if any of these co-authors had asked me directly if they could see the reviews, I would have complied with their request. And if a journal had a policy of giving co-authors access to reviews, I would not object.
The exceptions I can think of at the moment occurred when:
(1) the co-author was a somewhat junior student and the reviews were 'not constructive' (= hostile and unprofessional, possibly including insulting comments). Eventually students should see reviews in their raw form and learn how to deal with negative comments displaying various magnitudes of rudeness; I expect senior grad students to participate fully in reading and responding to reviews. However, I have seen the crippling effects of harsh first-reviews on students, and would prefer to ease them into the experience of being attacked for no obvious good reason.
(2) I hated my co-author. I can think of one case in which I ended up not having much choice but to co-author a paper with someone who was not only hated by me but by most of the rest of the world. My other option was not submitting the manuscript, but I had a lot of time and effort (and $$) invested in this project and was unwilling to drop it without at least attempting to publish one paper. Communicating with my odious co-author about anything, however benign a topic, tended to unleash paranoid rantings about all the people he hated (they were wrong about everything, he was right), and I didn't want to know what his response would be to reviewer comments, even though they were mostly mild and constructive. I took care of all the revisions myself and presented the finished manuscript to him as a fait accompli.
Despite my aberrant and hypocritical behavior in these cases, my general opinion is that co-authors have a right to see reviews and be fully informed of the review process and editor decisions.
I realize that some manuscripts have 57 authors and it might not be practical to involve everyone, but perhaps in these cases the corresponding author could indicate the 5 or 10 co-authors who should have access, if they so choose, to information related to the review process.
Or am I missing something? Is there a downside to allowing some or all co-authors to have access to reviews?