pay for review
March 27, 2015 10:24 PM   Subscribe

Editor quits journal over pay-for-expedited peer-review offer "With a tweet yesterday, an editor of Scientific Reports, one of Nature Publishing Group’s open-access journals, has resigned in a very public protest of NPG’s recent decision to allow authors to pay money to expedite peer review of their submitted papers. "
posted by dhruva (28 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is ridiculous. As it is, journals generally profit off of manuscripts describing research which is funded by taxpayers/donations, performed by underpaid grad students/postdocs, and reviewed by volunteers. OH, and (at least in biology) they come with a per figure publishing fee to the authors. But now, we get to pay for an "expedited" review.

More and more, the idea of live blogging scientific research is making sense to me. At least that way the results are more open access than NPG.
posted by nasayre at 10:42 PM on March 27, 2015 [18 favorites]




This is utterly reprehensible. This distorts the purpose of peer review (which allows for helpful suggestions from colleagues- as frustrating as it is, it's never made one of my papers worse), it allows labs to fundamentally pay for good reviews, and it's an additional charge by a fundamentally parasitic publishing group that offers very little to science.
posted by whm at 10:52 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's not just that authors are paying for a quicker peer review process. . .it's that they're paying for a private company to "recruit" reviewers. . .who get each paid $100 for each review, using a scorecard system for the review proper.

That's not peer review. That's finding a guy on the street, asking him for his soundbite opinion on a complex issue, and then handing him 5 dollars.

Peer review has problems but like people said, I've rarely had a peer review that didn't improve a paper. And being a peer reviewer also improves my own practice of science. I would find it extremely dishonest and dishonorable to either pay for or get paid to do a review, and I would never trust any scientist that did. Good on this editor for taking a stand.
posted by barchan at 11:06 PM on March 27, 2015 [31 favorites]


A Glaring Paradox
posted by kisch mokusch at 1:01 AM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


They should go to movie poster style quote editing next.

"A breakthrough.......incredible results"
- Dr. Jonas Fortinbras, Harvard University
posted by thelonius at 3:26 AM on March 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


Yes, I agree that asking authors to pay for expedited review is wrong. But given how many hours I spend every year on peer reviews, and the profits that Elsevier, Wiley, and Nature Press are making off of largely unpaid labor and government funded research, the idea of getting paid something for doing a review is appealing. It's sort of amazing to me how much time and money we as academics put into journal articles, knowing that the publisher makes money while we get only "prestige".

I know that I am not alone in struggling to figure out how to pay publication costs each time I publish. The grant that funded the research has run out by that time, and you can't pay to publish the last grant's research with this grant's funds. Many of us pay those publication costs out of pocket. The last one I paid was $250, marked down from $500 when I told the publisher (Wiley on behalf of the American Geophysical Union) that I and my co-authors had exhausted all sources of funds. Since publishing that paper, I have of course done 4 peer reviews for that journal for free.

Full disclosure: during the 2 months of the year that I am not a state employee (I'm a prof on a 10-month contract, currently without summer salary), I pick up some extra cash through work for the company now called Research Square, doing copy editing for their service for non-native English speakers (called American Journal Experts--I have recommended it a number of times on AskMeFi to academics looking to make some extra cash). They pay me decently and treat me well. A number of papers that I have edited for language have been published in decent journals and likely would not have been published without my services.

Research Square has for awhile now also offered a content review service, where for an additional fee they basically walk these authors through a private peer-review process, helping them improve the content as well as the language of their papers before submitting it for the publisher's peer review. I have edited plenty of papers that were not going to get accepted to a journal even after I fixed the language because there were also content issues. I know many of us in academia have peers who are also our friends who would be glad to read and offer content comments for us for free, but I imagine if most of your peers are also non-native English speakers that can make that part harder. And for various reasons, some people don't have friends who are peers. And of course, doing those friend reviews is also extra, unpaid work for all of us in academia.

All of that being said, I don't like the idea of the sort of boutique service, which Research Square has been offering as an option to people who need it before enter the publication process, now becoming a pay-to-publish part of Nature Publishing.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:49 AM on March 28, 2015 [18 favorites]


Wait, as a reviewer what's my cut of the upsell? I've got a college tuition to pay.
posted by spitbull at 4:40 AM on March 28, 2015


It's sort of amazing to me how much time and money we as academics put into journal articles, knowing that the publisher makes money while we get only "prestige".

It really is remarkable, isn't it? We all want to say that we've reviewed for Cell, Nature and Science. And we send our best work to them for review, and pay for all the costs. We also write Reviews and News and Views for them, gratis. And we're not talking about some backwater, low-profit industry here. The science-publishing industry generated $9.4 billion in revenue in 2011 with an average revenue per article of roughly $5,000. The top journals are making a good 20-30% profit on each of these articles.**

NPG has money, and a lot of it. Not only does this cheapen the peer review process, it reeks of corporate greed.

**Elsevier's reported margins are 37%, but financial analysts estimate them at 40–50% for the STM (scientific, technical and medical) publishing division before tax. NPG does not disclose information on it's profit margins. [source]
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:16 AM on March 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


For $5 I will read your FPP soon after it's posted and favorite it (if it meets my standards as being an excellent one, and you have paid your $5).

I stress that the $5 is just to get me to read the FPP ahead of time. It will not sway my unbiased opinion as to whether your post, which I have read of time because you have paid me $5 is excellent, witty, a wry observation on human nature, and I cannot favorite it enough!

Let me know about your choice to pay me $5 and get an early "favorite", which can be so important nowadays. No pressure. I stress that the $5 is only to advance your cleverly-constructed FPP to the front of my queue so that I can give it an early favorite.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:20 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is such intense pressure to publish that I am not surprised by this, or the companies that try to look like academic publishers but are really vanity publishers so you can get that book out before tenure. The incentives are all there for bad behavior and ethical compromises, and on top of that everyone knows how crazy even the reputable parts of the industry are, with high fees and volunteer labor.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:50 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I stress that the $5 is just to get me to read the FPP ahead of time. It will not sway my unbiased opinion as to whether your post, which I have read of time because you have paid me $5 is excellent, witty, a wry observation on human nature, and I cannot favorite it enough!

Heh.

Unfortunately, I must say up front that I will never disclose which of the FPPs I've viewed were paid FPPs, for reasons that I will also not disclose. This, unfortunately, means that you will not be able to assess whether I tend to favorite paid FPPs at a higher rate than unpaid FPPs. That's not the reason I'm not telling you. I'm not telling you for, um, other reasons. I'm totally fair and objective.
posted by kisch mokusch at 6:01 AM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


I can see this getting to be a very tempting proposition for researchers who need to get papers published ahead of significant cut offs. At the individual level this might mean ahead of reviews for tenure but in the UK the entire system for assessing research output has a sharp cut off every seven years and getting stuff with the right date on it can be hugely important to the individual author in that process. If you are at a big institution having 4 good papers in the right time frame can be huge in your performance review and for many, will make all the difference to their continued career development of even employment as a research academic.

I would like to see someone maybe look at credits for reviews going into expedited reviewing, or even in to whether you are allowed to submit to a particular journal at all. the problem with this would be that it would encourage people to knock out perfunctory reviews. Frankly there are enough perfunctory reviewers out there. I do think there is an increasing trend for people to submit reviews asking for their own papers to be added to the references without any other meaningful commentary. Leaving the author with a choice of adding in irrelevant references or get delayed/miss out on being published at all.
posted by biffa at 6:21 AM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes, I agree that asking authors to pay for expedited review is wrong. But given how many hours I spend every year on peer reviews, and the profits that Elsevier, Wiley, and Nature Press are making off of largely unpaid labor and government funded research, the idea of getting paid something for doing a review is appealing.

But this is largely at the feet of professional and scholarly societies. There's nothing that requires people to use for-profit journals owned by for-profit companies. And I don't mean open-access journals. In my own discipline, just about every major journal is owned by one of the nonprofit scholarly/professional societies. They use one or another of the large publishers, typically Cambridge or Sage, as a printer and marketer under contract but that's pretty much it. Much of the "profits" from library subscriptions go to the society, and there aren't much in the way of profits from individual subscriptions because they're either typically included with society or subsection membership.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:24 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I signed up for Rubriq as a reviewer about a year ago, figuring I'd see what all the hype was about. As it was explained to me, their business model was to offer pre-submission peer review. In other words, people who aren't vey good at writing could pay to get some feedback on their publication and experiments from someone in the field. In this sense, it's just like a paid editing or consulting gig. This seems totally fine to me.

I also don't have a problem with the idea of standardization of peer review. Their checklist isn't that dissimilar from what a lot of journals use now (rank the quality of the research from 1-10, rank the quality of the writing from 1-10, etc) and includes plenty of space for long-form text critiques of the paper. If they could get all publishers to use this, so that submitting to a new journal after a rejection didn't necessarily mean getting all-new reviews, that would be a good thing.

I'm not sure that I'm comfortable with this next step, though. Payment for peer review that will actually be used by the journal raises some uncomfortable questions. While I currently have no evidence that paid reviewers would feel obligated to give good reviews, it certainly doesn't look good. Even that appearance is something that needs to be guarded against carefully.

For what it's worth, I've only been given one paper to review by Rubriq, (well before this deal was announced) and I pretty well ripped it to shreds (politely) before collecting my 100 dollars. I honestly hope that those authors learned something, went back, and tried some of the experiments I suggested. If not, then I feel like their money was wasted, and my consulting fee wasn't a useful expense for them.
posted by chrisamiller at 6:43 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


While I currently have no evidence that paid reviewers would feel obligated to give good reviews, it certainly doesn't look good.

I am pretty certain I have had papers that the journal was happy for me to say no to (old school reviews not paid for). A few months ago I reviewed the reviews I had written (20 or so) for a particular journal and I tend to be pretty tough (ie the quality is poor) compared to another journal I review for. I agree appearance of impartiality is important but there is so much that doesn't work well within the system I'm not sure this is such a big issue. It would be easy to see how paid for reviews line up against freebies.

The general trend is that journals are getting lots more papers than they did even a few years ago and need to get them through the system (and a lot of the new stuff is very ropey). I was reading a few weeks ago that editors are approaching an average of 9 reviewers per paper now as they get so many refusals.
posted by biffa at 7:00 AM on March 28, 2015


Nature would not be getting 5-6 refusals to review per paper.
posted by kisch mokusch at 7:05 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


That doesn't seem too difficult - just ask your local oil company for help to pay the fees!
posted by oceanjesse at 7:14 AM on March 28, 2015


Sure, but Nature ia one journal amongst many. I would imagine Nature's problem is wading through mountains of submissions and finding enough reviewers for them.
posted by biffa at 7:42 AM on March 28, 2015


This is a natural result of tying promotions, and in some places even pay, to publications in peer reviewed journals. Of course more people submit, then the journals have more iffy papers to send to us volunteer reviewers. Publish publish publish indeed (even if it is crap.. How depressing).
posted by nat at 8:14 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


My BA advisor was a full professor at a prestigious college who'd ever, in his entire career, published one book- his dissertation- and one, count it, ONE, book review. That was his entire history of publication. At a reunion I had a drink with another full professor, a pillar of the institution, who in his academic career had ever published exactly nothing. No book, not one research article, not even one book review, nada, nothing. He was hired to teach undergrads and that was that.

Jump forward to today. If I don't publish in peer-reviewed outlets, I don't get a raise since our recent COL component has been zero (for the last two years and perhaps for the next two as well). If I get a "zero" merit component for not publishing (or not attempting to, since thank God effort does count for some consideration at my uni), I can lose my job. We have the expectation that MA candidates will have published. We see UNDERGRADS publishing now.

And in this world I've now been waiting for 25 MONTHS to get word on if a "publish pending revision" decision at a non-open-access journal has been finalized.

Traditional journals are drowning under submissions. What does anybody expect was going to happen? We HAVE to publish.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:13 AM on March 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


It feels like paying peer reviewers would be bad for everyone except the publishers. The money has to come from somewhere. Who's going to have to pay the reviewers? The person publishing. So that'll be a zero-sum game. Assuming everyone publishes and reviews in roughly equal proportion to each other, it won't make money for anyone. Well, except the publisher, who will presumably take a cut of it and rent-seek.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:57 AM on March 28, 2015


ethnomethodologist: Jump forward to today. If I don't publish in peer-reviewed outlets, I don't get a raise since our recent COL component has been zero (for the last two years and perhaps for the next two as well). If I get a "zero" merit component for not publishing (or not attempting to, since thank God effort does count for some consideration at my uni), I can lose my job. We have the expectation that MA candidates will have published. We see UNDERGRADS publishing now.

The upside of this is that a MA candidate who has published is a valid candidate for being a reviewer. I was asked to review a couple of manuscripts during my time as a graduate student (I only did one since I only felt qualified to review one of manuscripts I saw).
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:04 AM on March 28, 2015


The web is a Darwin test for publishing organisms. Peer reviews are like classified ads. The rolling-in-bucks journals are seeing visions of a scientific Craigslist.

Paying reviewers is a desperate break with tradition. An attempt to hold onto relevance (and billions) in the face of the writing on the wall. They're facing what unraveled the newspaper and music businesses ... the revolt of the masses. Their terrible hour has come.
posted by Twang at 12:43 PM on March 28, 2015


Paying reviewers is a great idea, as I'm sure it speeds up the review process quite a bit, but charging extra for expediting the review process to begin with is problematic for the reasons Maslin stated (i.e., it sets up a two-tier publishing system). I wonder if there's another way to fund reviewer incentives? Oh right, the massive revenue already generated by ordinary pay-for-peer-review.
posted by tybeet at 10:55 AM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mitrovarr: "that'll be a zero-sum game. Assuming everyone publishes and reviews in roughly equal proportion to each other, it won't make money for anyone."

From a purely economic perspective, it would be better than getting paid nothing. While you may not gain anything, you would stand to lose less. Unless, of course, fees are increased proportionally. I'm not an economist, but I suspect if you look closely at where the academic publishers' revenues are going, you would find that reviewer incentives could be funded without these added "expedited" fees.
posted by tybeet at 11:03 AM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's nothing that requires people to use for-profit journals owned by for-profit companies. And I don't mean open-access journals. In my own discipline, just about every major journal is owned by one of the nonprofit scholarly/professional societies. They use one or another of the large publishers, typically Cambridge or Sage, as a printer and marketer under contract but that's pretty much it. Much of the "profits" from library subscriptions go to the society, and there aren't much in the way of profits from individual subscriptions because they're either typically included with society or subsection membership.

Just last week, the Ecological Society of America, the last hold-out among my professional societies announced that it, too, would turn over publication of its journals to a "larger scientific publisher". One of my societies, the Society for Freshwater Science, went with University of Chicago press, and it has worked out has you detail above. The American Geophysical Union went with Wiley, and it has been an unmitigated disaster for those of us who work at smaller colleges without big library or research budgets. I can't afford to publish in their journals and that's okay because our library can't afford to subscribe to them. It will be interesting to see which direction ESA takes and whether I and my students will continue to have access to their journals.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:47 AM on March 30, 2015


tybeet: From a purely economic perspective, it would be better than getting paid nothing. While you may not gain anything, you would stand to lose less. Unless, of course, fees are increased proportionally. I'm not an economist, but I suspect if you look closely at where the academic publishers' revenues are going, you would find that reviewer incentives could be funded without these added "expedited" fees.

Are you saying that if you could convince publishers to take less profit, you could pay reviewers without paying additional fees? Well, sure. And if I could convince the sun to rise in the west and set in the east, it wouldn't shine in my bedroom window in the morning and wake me up.

Of course publishers would just pass the fees on to the person publishing. And then some. Because that's what middlemen and rent-seekers do.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:17 PM on March 30, 2015


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