We know it, the system is saturated, but what are we doing? Here are some numbers from 4 recent Journals I reviewed and published (or tried to publish) recently.
|Time given to me to complete the review||Time to take a 1st decision in my ms|
|PNAS||10 days||> 3 months|
|PLoSOne||10 days||2 months|
|EcolLett||20 days||2 months|
|GCB||30 days||2 months|
I think most reviewers do handle the ms on time (or almost on time), and that editors handle ms’s as fast as possible, so where are we losing the time? On finding the reviewers! In my limited experience in J Ecol I have to invite 6-10 reviewers to get two to accept, and that imply at least 15 days delay at best. And note that all the above are leading journals, so I don’t want to know how much it take for a low-tier Journal.
However, the positive line is: There are people willing to review all this papers. Seriously, there is a lot of potential reviewers that like to read an interesting paper on their topic, specially if they get some reward other than being the first on knowing about that paper. So I see two problems, which rewards can we offer and how to find the people who is interested in reviewing that paper efficiently.
1) Rewards: Yes, I love reviewing, I learn and I feel engaged with the community, but it also takes a lot of time. However, a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down. I don’t want money, I want to feel appreciated. For example, Ecol Lett offers you a free subscription for 3 months or GCB a free color figure in your next accepted ms (given that you manage to get one accepted). I am sure other options are out there, including some fun rewards, like for example “the person with more reviews in a year wins a dinner at next ESA/Intecol meeting with the chief editor” to put a silly example. Recognition is another powerful reward, but more on that line in the next item.
2) Interests matching: Rather than a blind guess from the editor of who will be interested in reviewing a paper, we should be able maximize interests. Can we adapt an internet dating system for finding a suitable partner to find a suitable reviewer? As an editor, I would love to see which reviewers with “my interests” are “single” (i.e. available) at this moment. Why sing in as a reviewer? May be because you want the free subscription to Ecol Lett or you die for this dinner with Dr. X. Also, by making your profile and activity public is easy to track your reputation as a reviewer (and of course you can put your reputation-score in your CV). Identify cheaters in the system (which submit papers but don’t review) will be also easy, and new PhD students can enter the game faster. Any entrepreneur wants to develop it?
While there is still also a lot of bad advice out there which contribute to saturate the system, other models to de-saturate the system are possible (PubCreds are an other awesome idea). I am looking forward to see how all it evolves.