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Paying for Journal Peer Review

Academic journal publishing is big business. More
journals are popping up in almost every field especially with the open access
movement dominating academic publishing. While editors of some high impact journals
might reject papers outright, editors of most journals, especially open access
journals, might be willing to send the paper out for peer review so long as it
isn’t methodologically flawed (Arns, 2014). Some predatory open access journals
 likely provide far less scrutiny and may send seriously flawed or poorly
written papers to reviewers – I can personally vouch for this happening for one
open access journal in my field. With the rise of journals and the increased
pressure for scientists to publish, the demand and strain on peer reviewers and
the peer review system is growing.

There are certainly signs that peer review is placing
demands on researchers. For example, my previous supervisor who is an expert in
bioethics and health law once told me he receives a request to peer review an
article every couple of days. Another researcher at Mt. Sinai Hospital at the
University of Toronto in Canada mentioned that he receives 300 requests to
review papers a year, each of which takes him 3-4 hours to complete (Diamandis,
2015). Many of my colleagues who are prolific researchers turn down peer
reviews, trying to do only a few a year or pass it off to junior researchers. In
a recent column of the journal
Martijn Arns explains that the increased pressure to review and the reluctance
of researchers to undertake peer review might mean that editors will assign
papers to reviewers who might not have the appropriate expertise in a
particular area. Peer reviewers who are not experts on the topic should not
accept articles to review, or declare to editors what areas they can
appropriately review. Certainly junior researchers or doctoral students may not
be international experts on a topic, but junior researchers might do a better
job of reviewing manuscripts by investing more time and giving fair consideration
to an article. However, given the time involved and the sense of obligation to
conduct peer review, some reviewers might cut corners and perform mediocre

It is important for researchers to take part in the peer
review of articles. Peer review helps ensure the quality of research and serves
to improve publications. Yet, we are not rewarded for the peer review of
journal articles beyond the self-gratification of knowing you are contributing
to academia and the production of new knowledge, and the satisfaction of
knowing what is (or is not) about to be published. On the other hand, there
seems more reward for the peer review of grant proposals as reviewers may be
paid for their labor, be kept abreast of cutting-edge research proposals, and
be part of national or state panels. Certainly the latter is recognized during
promotion and tenure while the peer review of publications offers less reward
to researchers.

Editors, who mostly are volunteers, are also having to do
more work managing peer reviews. Lax reviewing practices may have promoted 60
retractions in the SAGE publication
of Vibration and Control
due possibly to a single researcher reviewing his
own papers because he recommended the names of fake reviewers or took the
identity of legitimate researchers and used fake Gmail accounts (Bohannon,
2014). While it is common practice for authors to recommend potential reviewers
for a paper, journal editors are expected to vet the names to ensure the
recommended reviewers are qualified and do not have any conflicts of interests
with authors. Moreover, editors shouldn’t rely solely on recommendations of
peer reviewers from authors. A similar peer review fiasco also occurred with
Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and
Medicinal Chemistry
where one author recommended reviewer names, sometimes
of real scientists and other times providing pseudonyms with fake email addresses
and the reviews were returned within 24 hours (Ferguson
et al., 2014). In this case, the author admitted to providing
favorable reviews for his own manuscripts, making minor suggestions on improving
papers. These cases are not meant to blame editors for lax standards, but to
show that the strain on the peer review system is felt by both editors and peer

In Eleftherios Diamandis’ correspondence, he suggested
paying peer reviewers, especially of open access journals which have
publications costs of $1,000 to $3,000. And most recently,
Collabra, a new open access journal did just that, agreeing to pay
peer reviewers and editors (Chawla, 2015). The journal charges authors $875 for
publication of an article, of which $250 will be placed into a community fund
used to pay editors and reviewers based on a point system for handling or
reviewing articles. Reviewers and editors can keep the money or donate it to a
fund permitting other scientists who cannot afford the open access publication
fees. Moreover, the journal will pay reviewers and editors regardless of
whether the paper is published with the aim of ensuring integrity in the peer
review process.

If more widely adopted by open access publishers, this
unique business model may alleviate considerable strain on the peer review
system for academic publications. It will incentivize researchers providing moderate
compensation for their time and efforts, and may also make them more
responsible, encouraging reviewers to spend more time and be more conscientious
resulting in robust reviews. Similarly, editors may also be rewarded for
managing an article and will be more diligent to ensure reviewers are chosen
appropriately. Paying reviewers and editors can increase accountability and
reward academic volunteers for their efforts; certainly not a panacea, but a
recognition that the old model of peer-review needs to change.

[Cross posted at the Research Ethics & Integrity Group]


Arns, M. 2014. Open access is tiring out peer reviewers. Nature 515:467.

Bohannon J. 2014. Lax reviewing practice prompts 60
retractions at SAGE journal.
Science Insider

Chawla, D.S. 2015. New open-access journal plans to pay
peer reviewers.
Science Insider

Diamandis, E.P. 2015.Publishing costs: peer review as a
business transaction.
Nature 517:145.

Ferguson, C., Marcus, A. and Oransky, I. 2014. The
peer-review scam.
Nature 515:480-482.


The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website. 

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