The ‘boycott peer review’ hot takes are reappearing on social media. Long-time readers of my blog may remember my post on why I think boycotting peer review is unreasonable, written the last time this hot take was doing the rounds. In that post I mostly focused on the impacts on the system and the editors, which are important reasons not to boycott peer review.
But refusing to review papers also impacts the authors. This is obvious and should not have to be said, but it seems that it is often forgotten when academics shake their fists at Big Publishing.
I mostly see senior academics posting these statements, proudly proclaiming they refused to review for a ‘for profit’ journal. They are speaking from a position of privilege, and I worry what message this sends to the next generation of scientists.
Think about the early career authors trying to get their research published. For them, one paper can mean so much more to their career than it would to an established academic with hundreds of papers already under their belt.
We’re already seeing authors having to wait longer to receive a decision because of COVID-19, mostly due to an increasing number of declined or unanswered review invitations. As an editor, I’m working through more than double the number of invitations per paper than I was pre-COVID, before I find at least two reviewers who accept to review. I’m also finding that original reviewers are increasingly unavailable to review the revision, meaning I have to go through another round of invitations to find a second reviewer for the revision, or do the review myself. This hardly ever happened before COVID.
I’m also hearing of an increasing number of experiences where authors receive desk rejects purely on the grounds that the editor can’t find a reviewer who will accept the invitation to review. This is not a valid reason to reject a paper, but it’s happening nonetheless. Faced with over 20 failed invitations, each of which can take 1-2 weeks waiting for a response, the editor has to make a call at some point whether the author is better off trying their luck at another journal.
Declining a review invitation for genuine reasons is perfectly acceptable. But refusing to review because of a misguided belief that the publisher will suffer is inherently flawed and just increases the burden on the community. And it’s simply unethical to refuse to review papers for journals that you have published in yourself, even if you were a co-author with no control over where the paper was submitted.
Early career researchers, as authors and handling editors, will suffer disproportionately from these boycotts compared to established academics.
So please think before boycotting peer review. There are definitely predatory and dubious for profit publishing houses that don’t deserve our time or endorsement. But if your only reason for boycotting a reputable journal is because they make a profit from publishing, or belong to a publishing house that makes a profit, please think about who will actually suffer. And if you do decide not to review, please just respond to the invitation and suggest alternative reviewers to save the editor and author some time.
© Manu Saunders 2021