Ever wondered you are given weeks for reviewing but it takes rather months to get the decision for your own submissions and whether there’s something amiss with the reviewing process? In this essay, Michael Hochberg and others, all journal editors, point out two habits of authors that lead to overexploitation of the resource ‘reviewer’.
Firstly, authors tend to initially submit their manuscripts to high-ranking journals for that they aren’t really suited. Of course, it’s tempting to send a manuscript to Nature, Science or PNAS just on the off-chance they like it but this means that a manuscript is reviewed more often than necessary. This problem isn’t eased by the fact that not all scientists are equally willing to review manuscripts (some of them rather prefer to spend writing even more). In this context a proposal by Hauser and Fehr to punish authors for late and sloppy reviews or refusing to review at all is interesting. Basically, if a reviewer turns in his/her review, say, one week late than the decision on his/her submission will be delayed by twice the time, i.e. two weeks, on purpose.
The secondly issue identified by Hochberg et al. Is that authors do not always take the previous reviewers’ into account and just submit more or less the same version to another journal. Here, they propose a possible solution: asking the authors to sign that they “… confirm that should our study have been previously submitted to another journal, [they] have taken all reviewers comments into account in revising our manuscript for submission to…,” (Page 3, 3rd paragraph). I wonder whether this would help much because it’s hardly possible to check on this and hence the temptation to cheat is big. If ignoring previous reviewers’ comments really is a problem then a more serious approach is necessary and it could look as follows: after final rejection the authors are given the opportunity to reply to the reviewers’ (and editor’s) comments. After submission to another journal all this will be forwarded to it and be made accessible to the editor (of course, this would require that journal exchange information about submissions but this should be a minor problem in the ‘age of the internet’). If the editor wants, he can check whether and how the manuscript has changed and may base his decision to send it out for review on this information. Because this information is not made accessible to the new set of reviewers they won’t be biased in their judgements. Of course, the editor’s decision can be biased by the earlier rejection but if authors clearly ignored important, earlier comments he can save ‘his/her’ reviewers time by rejecting it straight away. Many journals nowadays do this anyway and these rejections (without review) are not always well justified…
ME Hochberg, JM Chase, NJ Gotelli, A Hastings & S Naeem (2009) The tragedy of the reviewer commons. Ecology Letters 12, 2-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2008.01276.x
M Hauser & E Fehr (2007) An incentive solution to the peer review problem. PLoS Biology 5, e107. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050107