Peer review is slow, inefficient, and prone to bias. It doesn’t always detect important work, is unable to identify errors and intentional fraud, and can be abused by editors and reviewers. Peer review is an expensive and imperfect process although it remains a highly desirable component of formal scholarly communication.
Preliminary findings of the Sense About Science 2009 Peer Review Survey were released earlier this month with some reaffirming results:
- 91% of authors felt that peer review improved their last paper, with the discussion section receiving the greatest improvement
- 84% felt that without peer review, there would be no control in scientific communication
- Only 15% felt that formal peer review could be replaced by usage statistics
Still, the process is far from being perfect.
- Only one-third believed that the current peer-review system is the best that could be achieved
- One-fifth believed that the current system is unsustainable, chiefly because of too few willing reviewers
Anyone who reviews articles shouldn’t find these results surprising. There is little training for reviewers, and they often receive little or no compensation for their work. While there are benefits to knowing what your peers are working on and being able to influence the gatekeeping process, much of the time spent reviewing manuscript could be put into activities that result in greater rewards, like authorship. Moreover, one often feels that providing a timely and comprehensive review is often rewarded with yet another request for review.
Improving participation in peer review is key. Just over half (52%) of survey respondents felt that some form of payment (e.g. a subscription or a waiver of their own publication costs) would make them more likely to review (41% even suggesting monetary compensation), although support for this option dropped to 2.5% if the author had to cover the cost. Sound familiar? Being acknowledged by the journal or receiving accreditation points (e.g., continuing medical education) were the most popular in-kind options.
The 2009 survey, based upon upon an earlier 2007 survey by Mark Ware and commissioned by the Publishing Research Consortium presents the results of 4,000 authors randomly selected from the ISI author database. The results are statistically accurate within 1.5%.