Supply and demand: Apply market forces to peer review

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Dan Graur suggests that journals should devise a system to tie in the number of papers they publish from senior researchers with the reviewing record of those authors (Nature 505, 483; 2014). This is comparable to linking the amount of milk you drink to the number of cows you milked.

In a market economy, the monetary value of services is determined by the laws of supply and demand. When it comes to the highly skilled service of peer reviewing, the supply is sufficiently high to keep the monetary value at zero.

If, at a constant level of demand, the supply is reduced, then this price would go up. With an increased price, people could become professional reviewers to supplement their salary. Instead of making it harder for scientists to decline their reviewing requests, journals should be allowing market forces to exert their natural effect.

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  1. University of Warwick, UK.

    • Sascha Ott &
    • Daniel Hebenstreit

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  1. Report this comment #62849

    Thomas Dent said:

    The authors have evidently never considered whether the refereeing of scientific papers is actually a 'market economy', or should ever be one.

    Just on the facts they are wrong: as a referee for a physics journal I have received compensation in the form of a book voucher – evidently the 'monetary value' of refereeing was not. As a referee of hundreds of papers I can also include the fact on my CV, which has a potential future monetary value.

    Some scientists might even be motivated by non-monetary values. I doubt the authors made any money by writing this note; then, why did they bother?

    'Allowing market forces to exert their natural effect' - meaning, apparently, offering considerable payments to referees – would not even begin to address the problem that senior scientists are free-riding the system by publishing but refusing to review. Tenured professors don't need to supplement their salaries, the result of financial incentives would be to shift refereeing work even further towards young postdocs or non-tenured faculty.

    This would have two undesirable effects: the referees would be on average less experienced, and they would be hindered in their future career by spending disproportionate amounts of time refereeing rather than doing research. The cow analogy is fatally flawed because, unlike dairy farming, being a 'professional referee' is not a viable career: the more (fewer) papers you write the better (worse) a referee you are likely to be. Everyone who publishes should referee, and vice versa.

    Rather than flows of money (or milk), how about paying attention to flows of knowledge and expertise?

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