The Importance of Recognizing Reviewers

The Source
By: Penny Freedman, Thu Sep 24 2020
Penny Freedman

Author: Penny Freedman

Peer review is an important part of the publishing process. Journals would not be able to publish the research that they do without the dedication of peer reviewers. Serving as the checkpoint to academic credibility, reviewers provide crucial feedback for authors and editors that influences the future of a paper’s publication status. With the world facing an unprecedented time of crisis, the work of reviewers is more essential than ever. 

We asked researchers about their experience as peer reviewers. We hope their stories provide a sounding board for others, and offer insight into a process that almost all researchers will take part in during their career. 

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We spoke to Tudor Popescu, who is convinced about the need for more transparency in the work of reviewers. As a postdoc based at the University of Vienna, he has been reviewing for approximately five years, most frequently reviewing in experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience journals, at a rate of 5-10 papers per year. 

Why do you review?

I in fact often find I need to persuade myself to accept further review invitations after having accepted others not long ago. This is not at all because I don't enjoy it or think the effort worthwhile for my peers (as well as for my own education). It is because I feel academics are in some sense taken advantage of and insufficiently acknowledged in this process. I see no reason why this important and laborious work should go straight off the record, with no mention of (and liability for!) those involved.

I do, in the end, manage to persuade myself - but some civic sense of duty --of a service done to the profession, not to the journal -- has to intervene. I do it because I want to give back to the community, who peer-review my own papers despite likely having cognitive dissonances of their own about it. However, academics would ideally be motivated enough by the process itself, rather than having to talk themselves into what at times can be a rather thankless task.

Although "someone has to do it," to me this is not a good enough reason why to not reform (on the publishing industry's end) this heritage 'model', in the sense of opening up the information of how this work took place behind the scenes. Although I appreciate anonymous peer-review can be necessary at times, I think many academics would rather prefer their reviews to be open, in the spirit that science-making is moving towards anyway. Given the zeitgeist, they might be less and less disposed to offer their time towards a closed up, inscrutableness process. This is especially true of early career researchers, for whom this time comes right out of their efforts to secure a permanent position.

In my view, the system, as it currently stands, gives no impetus for potential reviewers with a healthy sense of community duty; and likewise no punishment for "free-loaders" (we all know them) who decline all or most review invitations, knowing there is no gain from it outside of one's own conscience; and no real cost to not doing it. More transparent peer-review makes the process less contingent on the 'sense of duty' (or lack thereof) of the individual academics who get asked to peer-review,

Being 'recognised' as a reviewer isn't about receiving praise for this integral part of an academic's job; but about transparency as to how the peer-review has been done. It need not be any more 'rewarding' for reviewers - or costly to journals - than a mere mention of the reviewers' names, assuming the latter do not opt for anonymity. Ideally, and something that happens of course more and more, is for the entire communication process - reviewer comments, author responses, and sets of revisions - to be made transparent. This is a good thing for all in my view. It provides not just acknowledgment of the (not at all negligible!) time the reviewer has put into improving the manuscript, but also, importantly, makes the reviewer accountable: you're less likely to be heavy-handed or extra-pedantic in your comments when you know the interaction won't just stay between you, the authors, and the editor.

Although this transparency-based 'recognition' would, in my view, be the biggest step to right this wrong, I would not think monetary compensation for reviewers inappropriate either. Public national and cross-national organisations, such as certain Education Ministries and the European Commission, have for a long time been paying their academic reviewers. To maintain a pro bono model for reviewers' work in the private sector (publishers) only, seems inconsistent and unjustified.

Dr. Popescu enjoys reviewing for the scientific and societal impact. When he reviews he knows that he is giving something back to the necessary community effort of peer review, and he enjoys the scientific exchange in itself. His proudest moments as a reviewer come when readers of a manuscript are able to assess on their own how much a reviewer's openly-accessible comments have improved (or not) the quality of a manuscript. 

“It feels good to know your extra pair of eyes have contributed to improving a to-be-published manuscript – and for the community to know who the actors have been who enabled, for what it's worth, the publication in its final form.”

If the process could be changed in any way in the future, he hopes that editors will spend more time on their approach to selecting reviewers beyond just the standard of ensuring that there aren’t conflicting interests. 

“Badly matched manuscript-reviewer combinations seem to me to lead to frustration for all: for the reviewer, as they realise they perhaps cannot understand and contribute enough despite being required to still say something; for the authors, to have to spend time responding to obligatory and perhaps unhelpful comments; and finally for the editor, who will know, if the process has not been done thoroughly, that they might need to look for a new reviewer all over again.”

Recognizing peer reviewers for their hard work committed to the task of reviewing the work of other researchers is incredibly important. We’ve partnered with ORCID to make getting recognition for your reviews as seamless as possible. For participating journals it is possible to transfer your review activity directly from our manuscript submission systems to ORCID. As of June 2020, 39% of our reviewers have opted-in through our systems with ORCID. You can also learn more about how Nature Research journals will be publishing peer review reports

While 86% of reviewers have reported their satisfaction reviewing for Springer Nature journals as “excellent” or “good,” we continue to strive to improve upon the experience. 

What would make your experience with review more enjoyable and meaningful? Let us know in the comments. 

Penny Freedman

Author: Penny Freedman

Penny Freedman is a Marketing Manager on the Author Experience & Services team based in the New York office. She works closely on sharing insight and guidance on the benefits and services available to our editors, reviewers, and authors.

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