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Is paid peer review a good idea?

Sneha Kulkarni | Sep 11, 2017 | 70,820 views

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2014 and has been refreshed for Peer Review Week 2017.  

The peer review system has been the cornerstone of scientific publishing for centuries. Most reputed journals use peer review as they believe it assures some form of quality control in the scientific literature.  

Moreover, even the general public may often hold academic papers in high regard because they know that the papers have been through some kind of objective check before getting published, even if they can’t describe the peer review process. Even though the purpose of peer review as a gatekeeper for research is undisputed, peer review is not without its own set of problems such as reviewers’ bias, plagiarism, personal or professional jealousy, etc. 

Peer review has many unseen costs directly related to publication of articles, even though there are usually no monetary transactions involved in the process. The main costs have to do with time: time spent by the journal editors in arranging peer review and of course the time devoted by the peer reviewers in reviewing articles. Reviewing a single article can take a day! The unpaid cost of peer review is estimated to be over £1.9 billion a year.

A vital, and often overlooked, aspect of peer review is that in the current system, peer reviewers are normally not paid for their work. They are, instead, rewarded non-financially by means of acknowledgment in journals, positions on editorial boards, free journal access, discounts on author fees, etc. Associating with reputed journals that include the names of reviewers as their ‘elite’ contributors is a major incentive for the reviewers. Moreover, the opportunity to be a part of intellectually enriching professional debates and acting as a gatekeeper of science is another motivational factor. Thus, social obligation, intellectual contribution, and reputation seem to be the motivational aspects of the traditional peer review mechanism. This is also rewarding for the reviewers in their career progression when their contribution to the academic community is considered.  

However, an increasing number of reviewers feel that unpaid peer review is rather unfair on the following grounds:

  • Reviewers are also researchers who take out time from their research work, teaching, etc. to go through scientific papers. They argue that journals should realize that their time has monetary value.
  • Journals earn money from subscriptions, article processing charges, etc. However, they do not pay anything to the peer reviewers.
  • Researchers are sometimes paid for reviewing books or other written work. However, they are usually not paid for reviewing scientific papers. They are dissatisfied with this discrepancy.

With the emergence of companies offering independent, paid peer review and also a few journals offering to pay reviewers for their work, the traditional model is at the brink of a change. Those in favor of paid peer review feel that this would motivate the reviewers to accept more papers for reviews. However, others question whether such independent pre-publishing peer reviews would be accepted by journals. Moreover, some researchers feel that paid reviews would, in fact, take away the focus from publishing good science to the monetary gains by peer reviewing. The overall cost of publishing would also increase since authors or journals might have to pay for peer reviews.

In the traditional model, reviewers are viewed as valued academicians who voluntarily provide their opinion for the advancement of science. Reviewing is seen as their duty toward the academic and scientific community. On the other hand, privatization of peer review provides researchers with the opportunity to get a monetary reward for the hard work they put in.

As an academician, do you think the traditional model of peer review is still the way forward or would you consider paid peer review? 

Sources:

Unpaid peer review is worth £1.9bn

The “Burden” of Peer Review

Wikipedia: Peer Review

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