Academic publishing remains one of the most mysterious industries to me even after being caught in its web for a while. I have found no better presentation of the idiocy of the whole system than this video:
Unfortunately, recent development (at least in social science journals) do not make me very hopeful about the future. Economic journal are abandoning double-blind review (see for example here) and Political Analysis, which prides itself to be the number one political science journal, recently announced that it will do the same (there does not seem to be an official announcement yet on the site of the journal). According to the new policy, the identity of authors would be revealed to the reviewers (who remain anonymous). The main argument for doing so is that in many cases the reviewers can guess the authors anyways. It is puzzling that economists and analytical political scientists of all people would fall for this argument – even if many reviewers can guess/google the identity of the authors, double-blind review is still a Pareto improvement over single-blind review: while it may not work in all cases, it doesn’t hurt in any.
I would rather encourage more accountability on the side of the reviewers. Anonymous or not, manuscript reviews should be public documents. Why not attach them to the digital copies of the articles when published (or even better, when rejected)? I can see no harm in making the reviews publicly available by default. Instead, after serving as a reviewer for a paper submitted to the Journal of Common Market Studies I was denied a request to see the other reviews after the editorial decision was made. I can see how concealment can be beneficial for the discretion of the editors, but I fail to see how it improves genuine academic discussion and the advancement of knowledge which, to my mind, is the objective of the entire system of academic publishing.
To end on a bright note, last month Princeton University decided to ban researchers from giving the copyright of scholarly articles to journal publishers. Hopefully, that would not remain an isolated incident.