I see this very often in social media, and also in conversation with other academic editors: it’s getting harder and harder to get find people who agree to review manuscripts.
I have no idea whether this reflects the general experience, or if it’s borne out by data. I of course believe the lived experience of my peers, and their accounts make sense given the steady (and absurd) increase in publication rates, with so many people working the manuscript ladder chasing prestige, all compounded by the difficulties of the pandemic. I imagine that some journals have tracked the invitation acceptance rate and how it’s changed over time and perhaps shared this — or maybe it’s in the bibliometric literature — though over the span of a couple minutes my searching powers came up short.
That said, I have to admit that getting reviewers to say yes hasn’t been a problem for me in the course of editorial duties. Even in the depths of this pandemic, I usually haven’t had to ask more than three to five people in order to land two reviewers. Each year, I’ve been handling dozens of manuscripts, so I can’t credibly pin this on the luck of the draw. I don’t know why I don’t have much trouble finding peer reviewers. It presumably is a complex function of the function of manuscripts themselves, the society affiliation of the journal, how and who I choose to invite, the financial model of the journal, maybe if people are more likely to say yes to me as a human being (?), and who knows what else. If you ask people why they say no, I’m sure everybody just thinks it’s because they’re too busy. But if you ask people why they say yes, then that where it might get interesting.
The title of this post is off because I clearly don’t know why I don’t have trouble finding reviewers, but it might be informative because I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing, and that might help y’all come to your own conclusions about the Why. I’ve just stepped down from all of my editorial roles, so I thought now is a good time to step back and reflect on how have I identified potential reviewers, and make an attempt at some generalized take-lessons from this experience.
I think one of the sillier rituals in academia is composing cover letters to accompany our manuscripts when we submit them to a journal.
We stopped submitting manuscripts by post about 20 years ago. You’d put three copies of your manuscript into a manila folder, and cover these manuscripts with a letter, as a form of explanation. “Hi, I’m sending you these manuscripts because you’re the editor and I’m submitting it to your journal.” And while you’re at it, it doesn’t hurt to write few lines why you think the paper is exciting and relevant for the audience of the journal.
But now that we’re not doing manuscript reviews by post, why are we still doing cover letters?
If you’re not one of those folks who pays close attention to social media and the lil’ blogosphere of ecology and evolution, it’s possible you haven’t heard about this, yet. But I imagine you will, soon enough. Before this ends up in the pages of Nature and Science and the New York Times, I have some thoughts I’d like to share (though not in any particular order), but first, I’ll give you the lowdown.
I sat down to my laptop this morning and was looking forward to getting to work. But then I looked at the news.
And I saw this:
“It is apparent that the gender gap manifests at every stage of the publishing process — choice of journal, editorial decisions, referees’ decisions and even citations…This suggests something is systematically wrong.” https://t.co/dwv3wD12GY
Have you heard of the newly published misogynist paper in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine? Here’s the start of the abstract:
It is unknown whether female physicians can perform equivalently to male physicians with respect to emergency procedures. Endotracheal intubation is one of the most critical procedures performed in the emergency department (ED). We hypothesized that female physicians are not inferior to male physicians in first-pass success rate for this endotracheal intubation.
Apparently, there are some editors of academic journals who will readily send manuscripts out to “non-preferred reviewers” — the specific people that authors specify who they don’t want to receive the paper for review.
Can we improve peer review? Yes. The review process takes longer than some people like. And yes, editors can have a hard time finding reviewers. And there are conflicts of interest and bias baked into the process. So, yes, we can make peer review better.
As a scientific community, we don’t even agree on a single model of peer review. Some journals are doing it differently than others. I’ll briefly describe some peer review models, and then I’ll give you my take.Continue reading →
Science has a thousand problems, but the time it takes for our manuscripts to be peer reviewed ain’t one. At least, that’s how I feel. How about you?
I hear folks griping about the slow editorial process all the time. Then I ask, “how long has it been?” And I get an answer, like, oh almost two whole months. Can you believe it? Two months?!”Continue reading →