About 2 months ago I asked all those willing and interested to participate in a survey about peer-review. As a refresher, peer-review is that activity that many of us undertake a few times per year where we anonymously evaluate the work of our peers. This typically happens in the setting of an author or collection of authors submitting a manuscript for a journal to publish. If peer-review (eventually) gives the thumbs up, it gets published, if not, it gets tossed or goes back to the drawing board.
The original post with the survey can be found here.
The survey had great interest, and very diligent responses—45 people in all responded! For some written answers, survey takers really provided descriptive responses regarding their feelings about peer-review. I though it would only be fair to share those responses, so that you can see how you stacked up against your peers, or to just generally gain more understanding of the attitudes about this activity which is so critical to the advancement of science.
- The survey first asked if the survey taker participated in peer-review, and greater than 95% of those surveyed indicated they do. This is good, and tells us that the rest of the questions will be responded to largely by people active in peer-review.
- We next asked how many peer reviews you typically do in a year. Between 1–4 reviews were almost uniformly equal in their response, with a good number of those indicating they do 4 or more peer reviews each year.
- We next wanted to know if respondents adhered to the unwritten rule that you should review a paper for each paper you submit. About 2/3 of responders indicated YES, which is great news, although it should be noted that a response of NO could also mean that someone does MORE reviews than submissions.
- Although peer-review is supposed to be anonymous, some journals permit author names to be shared. We wanted to understand desired behind knowing names, and responses looked like this.
- Next is a tough topic—how much time is fair to review? This is one of the top complaints of reviewers, which is they don’t have enough time to do reviews, even thought they may want to. So what do reviewers think is fair…surprisingly, the shortest amount of time we offered was voted most reasonable. Maybe this is motivated by the fact that reviewers are also authors and would like their work reviewed in a timely manner!
- Peer reviewing is not an exact science, so next we wanted to know whether reviewers still reviewed manuscripts they were not familiar with. Most did not, which is a good sign that reviewers are sticking to their areas of expertise—only 7% indicated they reviewed papers outside of their expertise.
- Similar to question 5, this one also had to do with time—how much time do you spend on a review? It’s hard to know what is good or bad, as an expert reviewer might not take that long to review something. Or, the amount of time could also largely be a function of the quality of the manuscript, not just the reviewer. Regardless, it is good to see that reviewers are putting in lots of time to fairly critique your work!
- Peer-reviewing is not often taught, and so it was of interest to us how reviewers learned to review. Although the most common answer was self-taught, combining advisor and lab-taught, it is clear that a majority of reviewers do learn from others.
- Next was the question of which journal provided the best review experience, however defined. Surprisingly, no single journal(s) stood out. A number of responders listed an AFS journal, but there may also be a bias toward AFS members taking the survey and also reviewing more for AFS. But even without that bias, we heard everything from Biology Letters, to Journal of Great Lakes Research, to Fisheries Research, and Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science!
- Finally, we asked the big one: what is most frustrating about peer-reviewing? As with the last question, there was no clear winner and responses were all over the board. I’ve tried to group them together below
- Poor writing/formatting takes away from the science (probably the No.1 frustration)
- Everyone (authors, reviewers, editors) work really hard and yet the only person making money is the publisher
- Not enough time in my day to do more reviews
- The entire review process is very slow
- The decision framework (reject, revise, or accept) varies by journal, but can also be too constraining
- Lack of follow up with the manuscript—were changes made?
- Lack of reviewer recognition
Thanks to everyone who participated! And thanks to everyone who peer-reviews!