07 October 2013

Should you review for a journal that would never publish your work?

Dr. 24 Hours tweeted:

Asked to review for the #1 theory journal in my field! A journal that will NEVER publish my work.

DrugMonkey said:

Now there’s an interesting issue for discussion.

So I’m taking the bait. Should you review for a journal that would never publish your work?

Reading cynically, these tweets suggest a “What’s in it for me?” way of thinking. The main reason to review a paper (the argument might be) is if you hope to publish there. Maybe by doing a thorough review, the editor will look more favourably on your manuscript than otherwise. This presumes that editors are easily manipulated, and actually remember who you are. Neither is a safe bet.

But a more optimistic reading is that these tweets are not quite about such a blatant “tit for tat”approach. Instead, it raises the question of who you feel an professional obligation to help. You might only feel obliged to those people in your immediate field of research. This draws a tight circle around a small tribe.

One problem is that you never know what your “immediate field of research” will be. For example, if you suggested to me not that long ago that I would have a paper in a parasite journal, I would have given you a very puzzled look, because I had no plans of working in that field. Now, I’m co-organizing a symposium on the subject. Refusing reviews because “They’ll never publish my work” suggests a very limited imagination about where your work might lead you.

Personally, I take a more “social” than “individual” approach. I see peer review as a professional expectation in general. It’s not quite an obligation, because it is still voluntary work. But when you get into this profession, you do so knowing that this is something you’re expected to do in general, not just for your field.

I would say yes, with a few qualifiers. First, and hopefully obvious, you honestly think you have the sufficient expertise in the area the paper is about and that you can detect issues that might arise in the paper.

Second, that you are not so overburdened with reviews or other tasks that you can’t get the job done. I don’t get that many review requests. I reviewed six papers in the last academic year, which is high for me.

As an aside, I sometimes wonder if those who are quick to whinge about the “poor peer review” of journals and how there are all these “low quality papers cluttering up the scientific record” are also the first to say they won’t review a paper.

Related posts

Peer review pariah
Pressuring journals you dislike
Read, white and review

Artwork by Gideon Burton on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.


Mike Taylor said...

This is a simple decision for me -- it comes down to three questions. 1, am I qualified? 2, do I have the time? 3, is it open access? If all three answers are yes, I take it.

Mike Taylor said...

(Ignore this -- I just left it so I could check the Email Followup Comments box. For some reason, that box doesn't appear on the comment area of a main post page.)