Peak publications? (Part 3 of 3)

Part 3

1)     The reviewers – pro bono ad bonum?

In the case of reviewers the situation is even worse in almost every respect. They get nothing but honor (and maybe a sneak preview on future papers) out of reviewing papers. Naturally, the authors they review might not only be their esteemed colleagues, but also their competitors. Still, in my experience most reviewers try to be objective and helpful, even in cases of rejections. But like with editors, some are not. Some can invest too little time into a review – which is why some reviewers may suggest adding an aspect to a paper, which in fact, is already dealt with in the manuscript. Some reviewers are overly emotional, and more than once I have felt insulted by aspects the reviewers raised. Still, most reviews I had were fair and competent. I suggest that, if objective criteria were violated by the reviewers, the authors should be allowed to note this, e.g. again in a database of the journal. This could be anonymous, and very useful. Editors would get better insights on reviewer performance, and the reviewers themselves would also learn and get some sort of benefit. If you have a 9/10 evaluation from a well-respected journal, you might even add this to your CV or homepage. It would be an important future challenge of the peer-review process to properly evaluate the performance of reviewers. 

2)     Time is irrelevant – or not

Some journals respond really quickly, others take their time. Rumor may help you, or some statistics on average turnaround times, yet I have often found these to be inaccurate. Some papers are not urgent. Others are, may it be because of the subject, or for personal reasons, e.g. the paper is needed to finish a PhD.  Therefore I suggest that we need some sort of a system to highlight manuscripts to be processed with priority. Some high impact journals already have this, yet this does not help some ‘unimportant’ PhD student who just ran out of funding. If authors abuse this system and always highlight their papers as important, this would surface. Journals should exchange their data, not only about authors, but also about reviewers. Care needs to be taken, that not the wrong info gets spread. For instance it would be surely wrong to pass info around whether manuscripts were rejected or not. But I bet some authors would always highlight their papers to be handled promptly, which should earn them the reputation they deserve.

3)     When less is more

We all want that Science or Nature paper, right? And we also want lots of papers, correct? Maybe that’s not how it will be forever: Some funders such as the German DFG already demand to reduce the numbers of self-citations in an application. Maybe in the future we are not evaluated by our impact points and citations, but also by the way we contribute to papers (first author, senior author etc.), how we review or edit papers, and how we communicate our science more broadly. I’d say the other two pillars of scientific work would benefit from this as well, namely gathering research funds, and what was the last pillar? Teaching? I almost forgot.

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