Friday, December 11, 2015

On the difficulty of finding peer-reviewers

I have recently become an Associate Editor at PeerJ. I had several motivations for this:
  • I strongly believe in their mission, and am very happy with my three publishing experiences with them.
  • I mostly work alone and therefore my papers, in the long run, will not be a profitable for them. I felt that I should give them some extra support in exchange for their extremely low number-of-authors-based APC.
  • As a mid-career researcher at a little-known teaching-based institution, I reasoned that this opportunity might increase my visibility and improve my CV.

I am enjoying my run as an editor. So far, I have shepherded seven papers through the publishing process: one of them was published a week ago, I rejected one "on arrival",  and five of them are undergoing review.  I target my peer-review invitations to people who have recently published work using the same methods, or studied the same question, both for the obvious expertise and hoping that they will find the paper interesting. Still, I was quite surprised with how hard it is to get people to accept reviewing papers: for two papers, I managed to get two reviewers with around 6-8 invitations, but my latest assignments required more than 15 invitations each!  I understand that everybody is busy researching, writing papers, applying for funding, etc., but I never thought that the acceptance rate for peer-review requests would be < 15%. I do not get many peer-review request myself, but I do believe I have an obligation of accepting as many requests as possible (and reviewing them promptly), and I thought this was the "common" mindset... Maybe the people I target for my invitations are simply too senior and are therefore swamped with review requests, but the emails of "non-senior" members of a Lab are too often hard to find, due to the common practice of including only the the lab leader "corresponding author".

Any thoughts/suggestions/gripes?



6 comments:

  1. Having known/worked near publishing editors at more conventional journals, this doesn't surprise me at all. It's a lot of work, though that doesn't necessarily justify what they charge for it.

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    1. "It's a lot of work, though that doesn't necessarily justify what they charge for it. " ... especialy when one considers that many (if not most) academic editors perform their duties pro bono and are not adequately compensated for their time.

      In my case, I do not mind the work, as I simply consider I am "paying in sweat" for the difference between the actual costs incurred by PeerJ in publishing my papers ( a few hundred dollars per paper) vs. the 299 USD my lifetime-membership in PeerJ cost me. I do wonder, though, how the response-rate of review requests might be improved. I have found that, even when I try to aim at "not-so-senior" people, it is hard to get the emails as many labs do not list the addresses of their post-docs, even when they have >5 yr "independent" research experience.

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  2. Happy to hear you have become a PeerJ editor and even happier to see that you are blogging about it. In fact you are the only editor that I know to do that. Keep it up!

    Can you say more about why you out-right rejected the one paper?

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    1. That paper was described a program which performed the merging of the coordinates of three molecules into a single coordinate file. It was (to my mind) a trivial change to a program the same authors published last year. I suggested that they submitted it to a journal which published software notes.

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    2. BTW, the Editor interface at PeerJ does not facilitate outright rejection. Editors need to present their case to the Editor-in-Chief (Pete Binfield), who then enables the possibility of "rejecting wothout review". I think this is a good model, as that additional encumbrance likely prevents us from being too prone to reject without review, unlike ACS (and other) journals.

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    3. That's sounds like a great idea.

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