New Report Highlights the Challenges With Peer Review

In the world of scholarly publishing, September 10-15, 2018, is Peer Review Week, “a global event celebrating the essential role that peer review plays in maintaining scientific quality.”

Interesting posts about peer review and the many challenges associated with it have dominated the scholarly publishing blogs this week, but a report released on September 7 provides solid data that back up what many of us already know anecdotally.

The 2018 Global State of Peer Review  is based on survey responses from 11,000 researchers and on data culled from three Clarivate Analytics platforms: Publons (a database of peer reviewers), ScholarOne (a manuscript submission and peer review platform), and Web of Science (a scientific citation indexing service).

Peer review is universally acknowledged as absolutely necessary to safeguard the integrity of research literature and to ensure that only sound work is published. In fact, 98% of survey respondents rated peer review as important or extremely important. However, finding competent, engaged, and thorough reviewers for a submission—particularly for long or complicated papers—is often difficult. The Global State of Peer Review report provides some insight into why:

  • Published article volume has increased 2.6% per year since 2013. Submissions have increased by 6.1% per year.
  • While researchers receive incentives to publish peer-reviewed articles, there is no reward or incentive for peer review; 84.8% of survey respondents indicated that institutions should explicitly require and recognize peer review contributions.
  • Approximately 50% of researchers in physics, mathematics, neuroscience, and space science cited “reviewing is part of my job” as the reason they review, while only 30% of respondents in clinical medicine gave priority to this response.
  • Clinical medicine is the largest research area by publication output; however, this field produces the fourth lowest number of reviews per submission.
  • The United States dominates contributions to peer review, contributing 32.9% of all reviews compared to 25.4% of published article output.

When these factors are taken together—an increase in submission volume, lack of incentives, a field (clinical medicine) that does not consider peer review to be part of the job, and overreliance on a specific region (the United States) for reviewers—the problems that impede obtaining quality reviews loom large.

The report includes suggestions for improving the landscape. We’ll look at those next week.