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Anonymization policy

LCO seeks for all applications for observing time to be treated fairly. One aspect of LCO's drive for fairness is for proposals to be reviewed by independent review committees, composed of members of the astronomical community who are not affiliated with LCO. Another aspect of that fairness is for the scientific and technical merits of a proposed observing program to be evaluated without being influenced by the reputations, affiliations or experience of the program's authors. Accordingly, proposals for observing time are divided into two parts. The first part of a proposal contains three elements: the Science Justification, the Experimental Design, and a description of complementary programs at other observatories. These elements must be anonymous, i.e. the sections must not include information that reveals the identities or affiliations of the authors. The second part of a proposal also contains three elements: a list of the publications referenced in the Science Justification section, a report on past (or current) programs that used LCO observations, and a list of publications by the proposal's authors that relate to the science program. These sections of a proposal reveal the identities of the proposal's authors.

Proposal review is conducted in two stages. In the first stage, the first (anonymous) part of each proposal is sent to the members of the review committee, who evaluate it for its scientific, technical, and educational merits. Based on their reviews, the committee members assign grades to the proposals, and the mean grades are used to rank the proposals from highest priority to lowest priority. In the second stage, the LCO Director and Operations Scientist decide on which proposals to accept (and how many hours to award) and which proposals to reject. During the second stage, the second (non-anonymous) parts of proposals may be used to resolve ties or to adjust the cutoff for awarding hours. In addition, members of the review committee may request information from the second part of a proposal (e.g. a progress report on an ongoing science program) after grades/rankings have been submitted.

Proposal authors are responsible for ensuring that information revealing their identities is omitted from the first part of their proposal. Before the 2025A semester, authors who violated this anonymization policy were invited to rewrite their proposal and resubmit it. Beginning with the 2025A semester, proposals that violate the policy will be disqualified from review and will not be awarded observing hours.

Rigor in maintaining anonymity

The requirement to anonymize the first part of an observing proposal extends beyond merely suppressing the identities of the proposal's authors. Other information that must be suppressed includes:

  • References to the authors' publications or past work with LCO or other observatories. (This information should be included in the second part of the proposal.)
  • Identities of collaborators or their institutions.
  • Identities of competitors or their institutions.
  • Identities of grant-awarding institutions or other funding sources.

In all of the above cases, it is not the mention of a collaborator/competitor/etc itself that violates the anonymity requirement. Instead, the violation is the disclosure of the collaborator's/competitor's/etc connection to the proposal. Typically, the connection can be removed by writing the proposal in third person rather than in first person. When referencing past work, the authors should avoid using the pronouns "I" or "we" and avoid using the possessives "my" or "our". Here's an example:

  • First person: "Our past observations of NGC 5266 revealed multiple emitting components (Beeble, et al. 2018). Based on this result, we revised our model of the galaxy's dust distribution (Fritz, et al. 2019)." In this case, the text reveals that at least some of the authors of the Beeble, et al. 2018 and Fritz, et al. 2019 papers are co-investigators on the proposal.
  • Converted to third person: "The observations of NGC 5266 by Beeble, et al. (2018) revealed multiple components, which convinced Fritz, et al. (2019) to revise their model of the galaxy's dust distribution."

Guidance on writing proposals

LCO maintains a Writing Proposals page that describes the various sections of a proposal in detail, and provides other information relevant for preparing a proposal's instrument and time requests. The NOIRLab maintains a document of Anonymization Instructions for PIs. The document is intended specifically for authors of NOIRLab proposals, but the examples provided in the appendices are useful for all proposal authors.