Microbiology, Metagenomics and Bioinformatics

Johan Bengtsson-Palme, University of Gothenburg | Wisconsin Institute for Discovery

Browsing Posts tagged Peer review

I was recently invited to review a manuscript for a journal (1). After half the time to review deadline had passed, I received a mail stating that “In the interest of your time and the authors’ time, I am making a decision without the benefit of your input.” While I do understand that big journals receive many submissions and that the editor made this decision in the interest of time, I think that it should also be kept in mind that I had already spent approximately three hours scrutinizing the manuscript. Due to the decision of the editor, these are now three hours of work down the drain.

Furthermore, I was not informed what the decision was, and my access to the paper in the reviewing system was revoked. This means that I don’t even know if my opinions are concordant with the rest of the reviewers or not. Perhaps I had actually spotted crucial errors that the other reviewers had missed? Or maybe the paper was rejected, and my input was therefore no longer needed. I don’t know, because I was not informed.

These days, I receive many requests to perform manuscript reviews. A journal treating its reviewers like this causes me to lose all willingness to review for that journal again. To me, making a decision to dismiss reviewers without even asking them if they are about to submit comments, signals that a journal does not value its peer reviewers, and that I can spend my time better elsewhere. Similar to authors and editors, I do not want to waste my time on tasks that end up being of no use.

On the upside, this decision by the editor has freed some time for me to write up this rant, including the following advice: If you are an editor of a journal and you want to keep the reviewers (who, I remind you, work for free and are largely unrecognized for their work) happy, try to avoid pissing them off by dismissing their work. It does not hurt to ask them if they are about to submit their comments, or if they – given that a sufficient number of review reports have been submitted – would rather withdraw from the review process. This may add an extra day or two to the process, but I think that in the long run both authors, editors and reviewers would agree that the overall quality of the peer review process would benefit from those few extra days.

Footnotes

  1. I am not going to name the journal here, nor the identity of the editor, because that is not my point. I am not after singling out certain people here, but I want to address an overall behavior that annoys me. That said, the last three papers I have been a co-author on in this journal took five to seven weeks from the authors correction of the proofs until publication online. I find it stunning that with these delays, the journal dismisses the reviewers it has invited because they don’t produce peer reviews quicker than the deadline proposed by the journal. The real bottleneck in this process is not extensive review times, at least not in my experience.

I read an interesting note today in Nature regarding the willingness to be review papers. The author of the note (Dan Graur) claims that scientists that publish many papers contribute less to peer review, and proposes a system in which “journals should ask senior authors to provide evidence of their contribution to peer review as a condition for considering their manuscripts.” I think that this is a very interesting thought, however I see other problems coming with it. Let us for example assume that a senior author is neglecting peer review not to be evil, but simply due to an already monumental workload. If we force peer review on such a person, what kind of reviews do we expect to get back? Will this person be able to fulfill a proper, high-quality, peer review assignment? I doubt it.

On the other hand, I don’t have a good alternative either. If no one wants to do the peer reviewing, that system will inevitably break down. However, I think that there would be better to encourage peer review with positive bonuses, rather than pressure – maybe faster handling times, and higher priority, of papers with authors who have done their share of peer reviewing the last two years? Maybe cheaper publishing costs? In any case, I welcome that the subject is brought up for debate, since it is immensely important for the way we perform science today. Thanks Dan!