Science’s unsung heroes – the reviewers – are finally getting a bit of recognition (even the dreaded reviewer number three). The dedicated researchers that spend their evenings and weekends reviewing manuscripts are highlighted in a report looking at the state of peer review. The report found that the system is under pressure like never before and that the reviewers – the backbone of this system – are not getting the credit they so richly deserve.
The survey took in the responses of more than 11,000 researchers, as well as crunching data from a number of databases. It acknowledges that peer review is at a tricky stage, with the number of manuscripts submitted jumping by 2.6% each year since 2013. Editors are finding it ever harder to find reviewers too – it is predicted that by 2025 editors will need to invite, on average, 3.6 people for each review, up from 1.9 in 2013.
This is actually a success story. Emerging countries such as India and China have massively increased their research output. However, the burden of this is falling on academics in the established research powerhouses, who are slaving away reviewing more than two papers for every one they submit. Chinese researchers, by contrast, only review 0.8 papers for every one they submit. The system is creaking but there are bright spots. Academics in emerging countries reviewed 193% more papers in 2017 than they did in 2013, although admittedly they’re starting from a low baseline.
What can be done to shore-up the literature’s foundations? Properly recognise peer review as a vital part of every academic’s duties. Often, recognition is tucked away in some dusty annual thank you note to reviewers. It’s not enough. Without peer review the whole scientific edifice starts to crumble. Given that it takes around five hours to review every paper, it needs to be recognised as an important part of every researcher’s work.
Greater recognition of this pro bono work is not only a way to aid a struggling but vital part of academia – it’s the right thing to do. Universities could demonstrate their support for refereeing by making it an integral part of career progression. If funders recognised reviewing as evidence of expertise on grant applications that would be a massive boost too – something that could help junior researchers without a long publication list. Registries such as Orcid and Publons can record a researcher’s review history, but journals can help by making it easy to certify and transfer this data.
Being invited to review a paper is a mark of respect – an acknowledgement that you’re an expert in your field. It’s a measure of your standing in the community. It’s time it was recognised as such.