Finding the way forward for peer review
- The systems for finding, training, and incentivising peer reviewers may need to change to meet current demand.
Peer review has developed as a means of establishing quality control in research, but can current processes keep up with rapidly increasing research volumes? In a recent Nature Career Feature article, Amber Dance reported on the difficulties and ideas for overhauling the system, drawing on the experiences of a range of stakeholders in the peer review process.
Several issues with current peer review processes were raised:
- It takes time. Aczel et al estimated that in 2020, reviewers worldwide spent over 130 million hours (nearly 15,000 years) reviewing articles.
- It is often unpaid work. While this might reduce the risk of bias, it makes peer reviewing unfeasible for some.
- Reviewers are becoming more selective about the work they are willing to take on. Some now only peer review for not-for-profit journals or preprints, where they focus on the science rather than suitability for a given journal.
- There is underrepresentation of junior researchers and those from countries with less well-established research infrastructure.
- It can be a slow process, sometimes resulting in delays to publication and the ability for research to shape policy, for example. In some cases, processes may even drive researchers to leave academia altogether.
Reviewers are becoming more selective about the work they are willing to take on. Some now only peer review for not-for-profit journals or preprints.
Dance explored opinions on how peer review could change, such as:
- Incentives for researchers’ time. This might vary from a free journal subscription to the more controversial issue of journals paying for reviews. Other incentives might include giving more recognition to named peer reviewers.
- Peer review training for early-career researchers and those in lower-income countries, to increase the pool and diversity of potential reviewers.
- Increasing the use of technology to check aspects of statistics or methods, for example.
- Reducing the number of reviews needed through increased screening of submissions prior to peer review, allowing authors to ‘recycle’ reviews for a related journal submission, or enabling submission of reviews collected before an initial submission (such as those from eLife reviewed preprints).
Drawing on these perspectives, many changes could be made to peer review – we look forward to seeing how processes may evolve in future.
It’s a shame the Nature article isn’t Open Access