Peer review: Payback time for referee refusal

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
505,
Page:
483
Date published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/505483a
Published online

Through my current and past work as associate editor of several refereed journals, I have discovered a negative correlation between the number of papers that a scientist publishes per year and the number of times that that scientist is willing to accept manuscripts for review. In other words, the biggest consumers of peer review seem to contribute the least to the process.

There are two solutions to this situation. We could abolish peer review altogether, which would be tantamount to doing away with science as we know it. Alternatively, we can apply a well-known sociological principle, according to which no voluntary association can survive without incentives to increase compliance with its rules and penalties for disobedience. I therefore suggest that journals should ask senior authors to provide evidence of their contribution to peer review as a condition for considering their manuscripts. Such evidence should be easily verifiable in this age of data mining.

So, if you publish 10–20 research papers a year with the help of 30–60 referees, do your bit in return.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. University of Houston, Texas, USA.

    • Dan Graur

Corresponding author

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Comments

  1. Report this comment #62667

    Florian Stadler said:

    I also agree completely – something should be done about this problem

    Maybe a simple point system will solve the problem. For example, each scientist gets 5 review points as starting bonus from a publisher upon registration. Making a review gives him 1 point, submitting an article costs 1 point (including the first revision round), a second revision round costs another point. Rejections without refereeing are free or cost 0.25 points.

    As there are only a handful publishers in which scientist publishes in (in my case 6 publishers published 75% of my papers), a publisher wide system could suffice, although not being ideal.

    When it comes to multiple authorships, the distribution becomes more difficult. Probably, the best is that the authors can choose who "pays" the article with his/her points (non-corresponding authors have 0 points in the beginning).

  2. Report this comment #62671

    Bob O Hara said:

    As a fellow editor, I understand the frustration, but I wonder if scientists who publish more are also asked to review more, and thus even if they review as many manus cripts as everyone else, they will still appear to be less cooperative because they decline more manus cripts.

    I know one colleague who consistently refuses to review manus cripts for me, but I am sure she is getting a large number of review requests, and picks and choses what to review. Unfortunately for me the manus cripts I ask her to look at aren't interesting enough for her. Which is fair enough, even if from my limited point of view it looks like she's not pulling her weight.

  3. Report this comment #62677

    Andreas Weber said:

    Fully agreed but there is one point that you might want to consider – some of these senior authors serve the community by acting as editors of journals and in this function handle a large amount of manus cripts. Asking them to take on in addition a large number of peer review request might simply be too much. That said, yes, reviewing and publishing are two sides of the same coin.

  4. Report this comment #62785

    Yuri Zinn said:

    As associate editor to a journal and frequent referee for at least 10 others, I agree. In Brazil, if you ask the most well-known scientists to act as referee, you don´t even get an answer most of the time, so I don´t even invite them anymore. By the way, these are often the people who complain more about long reviewing times. I´ll add that the more papers you review, the more difficult is to find time to write your own, although you obviously become a smarter scientist when you review often. Solutions? Some journals, after you review for them, send you a gift such as free-of-charge color figures on print. I wonder someday they may give discounts on page charges, and hope more editors do things like these. If you´re an associate editor, I´ll suggest that graduate students that already published as first authors are perhaps the best option.

  5. Report this comment #62787

    Yuri Zinn said:

    As associate editor to a journal and frequent referee for at least 10 others, I agree. In Brazil, if you ask the most well-known scientists to act as referee, you don´t even get an answer most of the time, so I don´t even invite them anymore. By the way, these are often the people who complain more about long reviewing times. I´ll add that the more papers you review, the more difficult is to find time to write your own, although you obviously become a smarter scientist when you review often. Solutions? Some journals, after you review for them, send you a gift such as free-of-charge color figures on print. I wonder someday they may give discounts on page charges, and hope more editors do things like these. If you´re an associate editor, I´ll suggest that graduate students that already published as first authors are perhaps the best option.

  6. Report this comment #62803

    Web Admin said:

    Posted on behalf of *Paul Flicek*:

    Dan Graur calls for journals to ask senior authors to provide evidence of their own contribution to peer review as a condition of considering their manus cripts. This request is based on the anecdotal observation that those scientists who publish most often are more likely to turn down requests to review papers.

    While this correlation may hold for papers, it does not take into account that manus cript review represents only part of the total peer-review activities in which senior scientists participate. For example, scientists serving on grant panels may participate in the peer review of ten times as many grants in a given year than they submit. A similar situation exists for scientists who are members of institutional review panels, or who review tenure applications. In addition to publishing more papers in a given year, senior-level scientists are more likely to be asked to provide peer review for grants, individuals and institutions.

    It is critical that everyone contributes to scientific peer review, but we must view this system in its entirety when we assess the balance.

  7. Report this comment #62805

    Web Admin said:

    Posted on behalf of *S.S. Tushara and S. Sudarsan*:

    Graur suggests providing evidence from senior authors of their contribution to peer review as a condition for considering their manus cripts. Review of a research paper is critical in publishing life cycle. Researchers make efforts to get their work published in high Scientific Impact Factor journals. Park et.al accentuated that peer review acts as gatekeeper (Nature 4 December 2013, doi: 10.1038/nature12786).

    However, reviewing a research paper is voluntary and editors can have difficulty finding a good reviewer. How can we account for the reviews carried out for unpublished manus cripts because of rejection, obsoleteness, and author relocation or shifted to another niche area? We reasonably agree with Graur, as researchers will tend balance their submissions to contribution to review process. In such case, results of good piece of work will be waiting till such prerequisite is fulfilled.

    Rather, we suggest considering 5-10% of Impact Factor (IF) to reviewers through publishing details of reviewers at end of each paper. Every researcher will now add another column with ?IF through Reviews? to his bio-data. This will generate a pool of experts for the review process and helps in the issues related to funding agencies/performance evaluation authorities of the reviewers.

  8. Report this comment #62807

    Web Admin said:

    Posted on behalf of *S. A. Luis, M. Madadin and R. G. Menezes*:

    Current peer review processes offer neither incentives nor obligate authors to be involved in the peer review process. Whilst authors frequently spend numerous hours preparing their manus cripts, reviewers too must spend considerable time reviewing manus cripts. In contrast to authors, however, reviewers conduct this process on a purely voluntary basis, without any potential personal benefit including prospects of academic advancement.

    Whilst the suggestion of obligating senior authors to review articles in order to publish current work is a valuable one, defining and identifying such authors can pose significant difficulties. Defining seniority can provide challenges whether defined by age, number of years since graduation, or number of published manus cripts. Additionally, multiple senior authors frequently contribute to a single piece of work, leading to questions as to how this requirement be divided fairly across all authors. This necessity to provide proof of peer review, may also stymie the publication of valuable clinically relevant research and progression of medicine as a whole.

    Offering a nominal financial incentive to the reviewer may provide a viable alternative solution to this issue. Open access journals generally charge for publications, with standard journals frequently offering open access for publications at a fee. Additionally, standard journal publications frequently charge individuals and institutions subs cription fees to view published articles. Such funds could be pooled to offer nominal financial incentives to peer reviewers. Financial incentives may provide the necessary motivation for authors to peer review articles when requested.

    Current difficulties with obtaining peer review for submitted manus cripts poses significant challenges to editorial boards. An ideal solution may be multifactorial including obligating authors to peer review as previously suggested: together with nominal financial incentives and mandating involvement with peer review as a prerequisite for academic promotion.

  9. Report this comment #62809

    Web Admin said:

    Posted on behalf of *S. E. J. Golzari*:

    If journals ask senior authors to provide evidence of their contribution to peer review as a condition for considering their manus cripts, one might question whether the journals will refuse to publish the work of senior scientists on the assumption that they either are unwilling to perform peer-review or have not accomplished enough number of reviews in order to be qualified for having their work published in a journal. Furthermore, the quality of mandatory peer reviews might not be the same as those performed voluntarily which in turns would only increase the number yet decrease the quality of the performed peer reviews.

  10. Report this comment #62837

    Ali Samadikuchaksaraei said:

    I believe that a senior author?s service to the science community should be comprehensively taken into consideration. Most senior authors are senior scientists with multiple functionalities. They review not only manus cripts for journals, but also proposals for granting bodies. Examination of postgraduate students theses; review of academic research projects proposals; writing their own articles; writing textbooks and textbook chapters; preparation of national and institutional codes of practice; serving on advisory panels of several national, institutional, governmental or NGO organizations; organizing of scientific congresses and reviewing the conference abstracts are only a few other activities to be named. So, generally speaking, expectations of help from senior scientists are high. The reason that these scientists decline a lot of requests is, mainly, their time limitation.

    Mandating a certain number of peer reviews as a pre-requisite for publication, may work for the journals reviewing process but, it will decrease the quality of other functions of senior scientists. I suggest not interfering with a process that is naturally developing. This will keep the overall activities in the scientific community well balanced.

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