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[ Industry trends ] November 14, 2022

Where are your next generation of peer reviewers coming from?

Peer reviewers are the cornerstone of scientific publishing. But with more and more research being published each year, are there enough people who are able and willing to commit to the time-consuming task of evaluating scholarly papers?

Why is there a shortage of reviewers?

Traditionally, the peer review process has followed the “what goes around comes around” philosophy. Scholars are motivated to review papers in a thorough and impartial manner with the hopes that someone will do the same for them when their turn arrives. Without this measure of quality control and evaluation, science is less trustworthy. But now, the satisfaction of fulfilling a scientific duty is not enough to encourage overworked and unpaid reviewers.

 

Lack of incentive

It takes a high level of expertise and understanding to accurately validate scholarly information. Yet, peer reviewers are rarely rewarded for the experience and critical eye that they bring to scientific papers, let alone the valuable time that they give to the activity. As a cost of living crisis rages on, many have suggested paying peer reviewers for their efforts, as seen in the 450 Movement. This movement can serve as a way for publishers to give back to the scientific community, as well as nudge unwilling individuals to review. One fact remains clear: without a motivating factor, it will become even harder to source reviewers in the future.

 

Lack of time

When the world needed it most, scientific research nearly came to a standstill. But during the pandemic, scholars across the globe stepped up to the plate to create and share life-saving findings. The unsung heroes of this moment were the reviewers who evaluated this work under immense pressure. The pandemic accelerated the speed at which peer review is conducted, but the rush and excessive workload often put a strain on reviewers and compromised peer review quality. Now, as we’re finding our feet again, we’re seeing a resurgence of the reviewer shortage that has plagued the scholarly community in recent years. Lockdown is over, and amidst careers, personal obligations, and more, the question remains: where would people find the time to peer review?

 

Bias

We’re growing more and more aware of the  persistence of bias within peer review. Recently, a study found that reviewers tend to award higher marks to papers when an author is famous. But amidst a shortage of peer reviewers, it’s become even harder to find individuals free of bias to evaluate scientific research. Reviewers cannot be affiliated with authors in any capacity, which can be impractical, especially within niche fields. Even in double-blind peer review, in which the identity of both the author and reviewer is hidden, it’s not difficult for reviewers to identify an author by their work if they are of the same discipline. If journals and publishers choose not to sacrifice objectivity, then embracing anti-bias principles can make the peer-reviewing pool even smaller.

 

What can be done?

Many are convinced that we cannot have research integrity without peer review. But we can’t have peer review without individuals who are willing and able to commit to the rigor of the process. Now that we’ve outlined the reasons for the shortage of reviewers, what steps can we implement to fill the gap?

 

Start early

Better research integrity starts with early-stage research.  When we begin using rigorous review earlier in the research process, it puts less burden on individuals at the end of the road, as research has been consistently evaluated. This saves time for reviewers who need to schedule research evaluation into their daily activities, thereby, allowing publishers to avoid costly retractions down the line.

 

Increase recognition

As stated previously, offering incentives stands to not only increase the number of reviewers but also encourage better and more thorough reviews. But when these incentives are monetary, as seen in the $450 proposal, journals can lose up to $14 million per year. 

While this model sounds ideal, the delicate balance of scholarly publishing would be put to extreme financial pressure. Instead, giving reviewers credit for their contributions is a cost-effective way to reward reviewers. Recognition allows scholars to keep track of their reviews and position themselves professionally. Through our partnership with ORCID, we help to provide a platform for individuals to both connect their scholarly outputs across the research lifecycle and get the recognition they deserve after serving as a peer reviewer.

 

Embrace new tools

Investing in innovative digital infrastructure can drastically shorten the amount of time spent reviewing while also accounting for human error and bias. We embed integrity checks in our peer review workflows, making it easier to detect potential issues in research content, like plagiarism, data fabrication, and more. It’s time to embrace the tools  that will help give time back to reviewers.

 

Identify reviewers early

How can you create opportunities for your community to step up to the peer-reviewing plate?

When you take advantage of the exciting world of early-stage research it becomes easier to identify your discipline’s future leaders and top contributors. On the Morressier platform, you can use our robust data analytics to find the individuals in your community that are sparking discussions and engaging with key findings, sharing impactful conference presentations, and more. Once you identify your leaders, you can encourage and nominate these individuals to contribute to scientific progress by serving as peer reviewers.

 

Conclusion

When the peer review process becomes less lengthy and cumbersome, it’ll also become easier to find individuals able and willing to commit to it. Changing traditional models and welcoming new practices can bring new value to the scientific community.

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