Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A system for paid reviews?

Some discussion on the internet about how slow reviews have gotten and how few reviewers respond, etc. The suggestion floated was paid review, something on the order of $100 per review. I have always found this idea weird, but I have to say that I think review times have gotten bad enough that perhaps we have to do something, and some economists have some research showing that paid reviews speed up review.

In practice, lots of hurdles. Perhaps the most obvious way to do this would be to have journals pay for reviews. The problem would be that it would make publishing even more expensive. Let's say a paper gets 6-9 reviews before getting accepted. Then in order for the journal to be made whole, they'd either take a hit on their crazy profits (haha!), or they'd pass that along in publication charges.

How about this instead? When you submit your paper, you (optionally) pay up front for timely reviews. Like, $300 extra for the reviews, on the assumption that you get a decision within 2 weeks (if not, you get a refund). Journal maybe can even keep a small cut of this for payment overhead. Perhaps a smaller fee for re-review. Would I pay $300 for a decision within 2 weeks instead of 2 months? Often times, I think the answer would be yes.

I think this would have the added benefit of people submitting fewer papers. Perhaps people would think a bit harder before submitting their work and try a bit harder to clean things up before submission. Right now, submitting a paper incurs an overhead on the community to read, understand and provide critical feedback for your paper at essentially no cost to the author, which is perhaps at least part of the reason the system is straining so badly.

One could imagine doing this on BioRxiv, even. Have a service where authors pay and someone commissions paid reviews, THEN the paper gets shopped to journals, maybe after revisions. Something was out there like this (Axios Review), but I guess it closed recently, so maybe not such a hot idea after all.



  1. I have been a paid reviewer, once, for Rubriq (http://www.rubriq.com/). got paid 100$
    I really liked their very structured reviewer form - you have to give a numerical value for each topic (e.g. hypothesis/rationale, methods, presentation etc...) with multiple criteria to check and of course space for free text.
    Anyway, there were not so many submissions, and almost none related to me fields of study. The only one close enough - that I reviewed, was about RNA in forensic biology.
    Having a financial system that will reward reviewers, as well as prompt them to do it quickly will be great.
    The thing is - some PIs (many? only the old PIs?) give their students/postdocs to do the review. On the one hand - its great practice for the students. On the other hand - who will get paid?

    1. Cool! Good question about trainees. I almost always have someone in my lab help with the review. Hmm. Split it?

  2. My buddy Owen Petchey and I had the idea to charge authors a submission fee and use the money to pay reviewers, with the idea that you break even so long as you review in appropriate proportion to how much you submit. (and I'm sure we're far from the first or only ones to think of this). That was the basic idea, but in practice there were lots of key details that would be difficult to work out. Which led us to suggest basing the system on a fake "currency" instead of real money. (https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/an-oikos-editor-and-a-former-editor-are-fixing-the-peer-review-system/). The key idea was that it would oblige authors to either write fewer papers, or else review more to compensate for the demands their many papers were placing on the "peer review commons".

    Our idea was to make the payments mandatory, not optional. I predict that a large chunk of science Twitter will absolutely slam you for proposing that to allow authors with sufficient funding to pay for faster reviews. It will be seen as allowing authors with money to purchase an unfair advantage over those without money.

    1. Yes, I figured a lot of folks had already thought of this!

      So a couple thoughts: one thing is that I’m not sure that we necessarily *need* a system in which you review proportionate to how much you submit. Yes, that’s one way to “balance” things, but some people may want to review more, some less, and I’m kinda like whatever. The nice thing about actual money is that even if you don’t “pull your weight”, you’re no longer a freeloader: to the contrary, now you’re a paying customer! The problem with fake currency is that it’s sort of easy to ignore. What the right amount of friction to add in here is unclear, but somehow $100 seems about right.

      I haven’t gotten much feedback on this post, but I did get some people who said that they were worried about a two-tier system. To which I say, meh. The advantages that well funded investigators have are numerous, and this is just a small fraction of that, I think. The other thing is that, well, the “slow lane” doesn’t really have to be slow if everyone just got their act together! If there was a community effort to make the slow lane faster as a matter of competition, then I would view that as a win all around. :)

    2. " The problem with fake currency is that it’s sort of easy to ignore."

      To clarify, our idea was that the fake "PubCreds" currency was that it would be mandatory to have it in order to submit a paper. So you wouldn't be able to ignore it except at the cost of not being able to submit papers (well, unless you had co-authors with PubCreds). Obviously, you'd somehow need to build in exceptions (e.g., for people who haven't ever been asked to review). But that was the basic idea. So in a sense, the "fake money" aspect was just a device to enforce the rule that you have to review in appropriate proportion to how much you submit.

      And yes, one potential problem with our proposal was that if some people get asked to review a lot, and say yes a lot, they accumulate lots of PubCreds that never get spent. Whereas others might not get asked to do as many reviews as they would be willing to do, possibly leaving them with insufficient PubCreds to "pay" for all the mss they want to submit.

  3. Do journals offer discounts for printing in color if you review for them? That would seem easy. I'm writing because a journal offered me a 30% discount on Wiley books by reviewing their paper.

    1. Hmm, I have not seen that. I have seen like $10 credit on some CD catalog for classical music, which was so cheap (not to mention annoying to collect) that it was pretty much just insulting. If they offering discounts, that could be good, but sort of ties your submissions and reviews, which need not be the same sets of journals.