Academic journal publishing is big business. More journals are popping up in almost every field especially with the open access movement dominating academic publishing. While editors of some high impact journals might reject papers outright, editors of most journals, especially open access journals, might be willing to send the paper out for peer review so long as it isn’t methodologically flawed (Arns, 2014). Some predatory open access journals likely provide far less scrutiny and may send seriously flawed or poorly written papers to reviewers – I can personally vouch for this happening for one open access journal in my field. With the rise of journals and the increased pressure for scientists to publish, the demand and strain on peer reviewers and the peer review system is growing.
There are certainly signs that peer review is placing demands on researchers. For example, my previous supervisor who is an expert in bioethics and health law once told me he receives a request to peer review an article every couple of days. Another researcher at Mt. Sinai Hospital at the University of Toronto in Canada mentioned that he receives 300 requests to review papers a year, each of which takes him 3-4 hours to complete (Diamandis, 2015). Many of my colleagues who are prolific researchers turn down peer reviews, trying to do only a few a year or pass it off to junior researchers. In a recent column of the journal Nature, Martijn Arns explains that the increased pressure to review and the reluctance of researchers to undertake peer review might mean that editors will assign papers to reviewers who might not have the appropriate expertise in a particular area. Peer reviewers who are not experts on the topic should not accept articles to review, or declare to editors what areas they can appropriately review. Certainly junior researchers or doctoral students may not be international experts on a topic, but junior researchers might do a better job of reviewing manuscripts by investing more time and giving fair consideration to an article. However, given the time involved and the sense of obligation to conduct peer review, some reviewers might cut corners and perform mediocre reviews.
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