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The Golden Rule of Reviewing

March 29, 2013 Filed under Blog, Featured, Reviewing 


The Golden Rule

If you submit N papers per year, you should perform 2N to 3N per year.

It is only the right thing to do. If you impose a submission onto the peer-reviewing system, then you owe it to the system to perform two or three reviews to make up for it. The peer-reviewing system only works through the goodwill of volunteers.

If all papers were single-authored papers, then the ratio would work out perfectly. You write a paper, the editor needs to find 3 reviewers for each, and so you owe the system 3 reviews to make up for the imposition you put on the system. In reality, papers have more than one author in general, so you have a greater “author” pool to pull reviewers from. Also, less experienced authors are less likely to get review requests, so there is a greater burden on the more senior authors.

At some point, you become so senior that you only handle *the* most relevant papers to your interests. For example, as Editor, I only bother senior people in our field for reviews very rarely, and then only with papers I know that they are uniquely qualified to handle. On the other hand, there is a good pool of early career researchers who benefit from doing reviews and have more time to do them. Unfortunately, they get many of the lower-quality manuscripts. This approach has a good side because these reviewers are more likely to take the time to work with the author to improve the paper.

In my early career days, I would do 20-25 reviews a year. I did that consistently for about 5 years until I became Editor and started turning away all but the most relevant papers to me. Couple that with the more than 700 manuscripts that I’ve handled as Editor for different journals, the number of reviews I wrote for manuscripts that I was editing, and the number of informal reviews I’ve given to people, I think I’ve built up a pretty good backlog of reviewing karma now, even with my 100 published papers. ;-)

I mentioned the Golden Rule of Reviewing on p. 231 of Eloquent Science. We also mention the Golden Rule in a paper I coauthored with Mary Golden, the former Chief Editorial Assistant for Monthly Weather Review (p. 339).

Golden, M., and D. M. Schultz, 2012: Quantifying the volunteer effort of scientific peer reviewing. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 93, 337-345. [AMS][PDF]

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