While the output of scholarly articles published in peer-reviewed journals is increasing each year, ironically, the recognition of peer reviewing as an important contribution to research remains largely unacknowledged. Every researcher wants to get published in a peer reviewed journal since it provides credibility to the published research and helps in career advancement. However, researchers who can review papers are not supported adequately by funders and the institutions with they are affiliated to.
This issue has led a group of more than 40 Australian journal editors to submit an open letter entitled Journal Reviewing and Editing: Institutional Support is Essential to their universities, funders, and other research institutions and organizations in Australia, which states that “professional service contributions of academics to journal production, notably in the form of editing and reviewing, should be more explicitly recognized and rewarded within the professional service requirements of academics across Australian universities.” This letter submitted in September 2014 has gained wide attention of academia worldwide.
The letter highlights some relevant issues all journal editors face, such as:
1. Institutions and funders are not supportive of academic endeavors such as reviewing and editing that are not directly attributed to the institutions, and do not recognize the significance of these undertakings. The signatories mention that “without the work of editors and peer reviewers (not to mention the many other contributors), research papers would never see the light of day. Ironically, this is especially true of articles published in journals with high rejection rates – which also typically happen to be exactly those aforementioned “prestigious, high quality journals”.”
2. Australian institutions place excessive importance on a candidate’s ability to gain grants and publish in reputed journals, leaving them with little time to take up reviewing work. Therefore, senior researchers find it difficult to prioritize training the next generation of peer reviewers over their own need to publish or perish.
3. Journal editors are finding it difficult to find good reviewers since editors neither receive remuneration nor institutional support for evaluating research papers. The letter mentions that “This problem both increases the time spent by editors on such tasks and it often means that the reviewers selected are not those most qualified to judge the value and originality of a submission.”
The signatories of the letter have made two recommendations to address these issues:
1. Universities and institutions should recognize the professional service requirements of academics. Moreover, professional service targets should be set just as publication targets are set.
2. The reviewing and editing work of academics should be supported by universities. It should be included in the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) framework as this will provide an incentive to universities to develop and maintain these professional service requirements.
As Alice Meadows, Director of Communications for Wiley's Global Research, puts it, the implementation of these recommendations "can bring about a positive impact on scholarly communications, especially in countries with a centralized approach to the evaluation of institutions for funding purposes, such as Australia and the UK."
Peer review deserves recognition as it is central to scholarly publication and scientific advancement. The step taken by Australian editors could be the beginning of a positive change in academia.
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