Recognizing and Rewarding Peer Review

September 28, 2015

By Michael Donaldson

In honour of the inaugural Peer Review Week (#peerrevwk15), we’re discussing the ways in which peer reviewers can be recognized and rewarded and we want to hear from you! Share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section or with us on Twitter or Facebook

Each year, researchers spend many hours conducting scholarly peer review, typically on an entirely voluntary basis. Reviewers devote a great deal of their time and effort to not just simply reading the submitted manuscript, but also consulting additional sources of information (e.g., reading additional papers, reviewing alternative statistical methods) and providing thoughtful and constructive critique. For the reviewer, this activity has a considerable ‘opportunity cost’, as this time could be spent doing other research-related tasks. Furthermore, while this process serves as the foundation for evaluating and vetting scientific research, typically no (or little) compensation is offered in exchange for their efforts. Below, we discuss the motivations behind peer review and some potential ideas for recognizing and rewarding peer reviewers.

Why conduct peer review?

Researchers review for many different professional and personal reasons. Below we’ve listed a few of the main reasons that researchers review. Do you have any to add? Let us know in the comments. 

1. To ensure scientific integrity

Since the formal implementation of the peer-review process by the Royal Society of London in 1665 for the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, the process has depended on the efforts of experts to work. Although the process has its flaws, peer review remains the foundation of modern science and is still the primary means by which science is vetted prior to dissemination. Participation in this activity helps to ensure that the process continues and is sustainable, particularly as the need for reviewers is continuously increasing

2. As a professional duty

With such a rich history of peer review and scholarly research, there is an inherent sense of duty among researchers to ensure that the process is maintained. In other cases, some may feel a particular obligation to conduct a review, either to ‘pay it forward’ or even as a favour to an Editorial Board member who is a colleague.

3. To stay current with the literature

With more and more papers being published each year, it can be challenging to remain current with the literature. Serving as a peer reviewer requires the reviewer to become highly engaged with the material, providing unparalleled scrutiny. This enables researchers to remain current with the most recent research, even before it is published. 

4. For career advancement

For early career researchers, listing peer review activity on your C.V. can be beneficial, in principle. However, many institutions do not assign much value to peer review activity when making decisions about hiring or tenure. Likewise, funding agencies give little credence to the quantity (or quality) of peer reviews that an applicant conducts. Yet a greater recognition of review activity by both funding bodies and research institutions is warranted and new tools are being implemented to facilitate that process.

5. For the incentives

Some might scoff at incentives since peer review is typically voluntary, but peer review incentive programs have been discussed for years and some programs to track reviewer activity and provide incentives have already been implemented. Interestingly, although perhaps not surprising to some, incentivized peer review has been suggested to decrease the quality and efficacy of the peer review process and may shift the dynamics of the process, potentially leading to problems in the future.  

How should reviewers be recognized and rewarded for their efforts?

In terms of recognition, many journals, including our own NRC Research Press journals, publish annual reports that acknowledge the contributions of their reviewers throughout the year. Some journals feature notable reviewers, as identified by their editorial boards, on their websites or in print, sometimes also sending certificates and letters of appreciation to top reviewers. 

Perhaps a shift in attitudes of research institutions and funding bodies is in order; where a greater emphasis is placed on peer review as an integral component of a researcher’s activity and involvement within the scholarly community. In terms of rewards, there are of course financial incentives but non-financial rewards are also an option (e.g., gift cards). 

How do you think reviewers should be recognized and rewarded?

Below we’ve included some ideas for recognizing and rewarding reviewers. At CSP we’re actively experimenting with different rewards and recognition models but we want to hear from the reviewers out there. Let us know in the comment section or on social media. 
  • Journals should publish lists of referees on an annual basis
  • Journals should send certificates and letters of appreciation to acknowledge top reviewers
  • Journals should feature top reviewers on their websites or in print
  • Institutions and funders should value peer review activity more when making decisions about hiring or funding
  • Publishers should provide financial rewards
  • Publishers should provide non-financial awards (e.g., discounted subscription, book store coupons, other services)
  • Reviewers should not be rewarded or recognized for their efforts, as the process is inherently rewarding

Michael Donaldson

About Michael
Michael R. Donaldson (@EcolEvol) is the Content Development Manager at Canadian Science Publishing. His lifelong passion for nature led to a B.Sc. and M.Sc. at Carleton University and a Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia, studying the effects of climate change and fisheries on Pacific Salmon. His more recent work has investigated methods for preventing the spread of invasive Asian Carp into the Great Lakes. He has also written on the peer-review process and ideas for enhancing scientific communication. A passionate communicator of science, Michael has participated in a number of academic conferences and continues to do so in his role with Canadian Science Publishing. Michael volunteers on a number of academic society committees, many related to scholarly publishing and science communication.

Filed Under: Scholarly Publishing Michael Donaldson

Post a Comment

Rebecca Ross

We’ve had some great feedback on this via social media that I wanted to share with our blog readers. We’ve heard various opinions including:

“Why do we need to be rewarded? If you publish in scientific journals, you should review for them. Simple as that.”

“Reviewers should get free access to the journal for a while for each paper they review.”

“Reviewers should get paid a small amount by for-profit journals.”

We want to hear from our readers. Tell us what you think. How do you want to be rewarded for your contribution.

- Rebecca Ross, Manager, Communications, Canadian Science Publishing


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