The arguments over peer review and whether we are obliged to do it generally fall on two sides – either it is or isn’t an implicit part of your job. Stephen Heard falls into the former group, arguing that there are many things which are implicitly part of our jobs as academics, and which don’t make it into our job description.
I agree wholeheartedly with Stephen that peer-reviewing is not in my job description. In fact it is nowhere to be seen. It’s not in my employment contract either, nor has it ever been in any of my lists of annual objectives, after 16 years in academia. In fact, I don’t think it’s ever been discussed, either in annual appraisal meetings or in my annual meetings with the institute director. It doesn’t make it on to my CV either.
Here is a key point: I could never write another peer review for the rest of my career and my career would not suffer. Not one bit.
It is not part of my job and I am not paid to do it.
(for the record, I do peer reviews! For free!)
In an increasingly pressurised environment where the only factors that influence my career progression are papers published and grants won; with over 6500 e-mails in my inbox which I have lost control of; and with a to-do list I have no chance of ever finishing, prioritisation is essential. The key for any task is to be important enough to get into the “action” zone on my to do list. Does peer review manage that? Occasionally, but not often.
Would it get there more often if I was paid to do it? Absolutely. Why? Because I have bills to pay and a small family and every little helps. I imagine this is even more true for post-docs and early career researchers. Why should they do something for free, often for profit-making organisations, when it doesn’t affect their career prospects one tiny bit? The answer is simple: they shouldn’t.
A common argument is this: if everyone stopped peer reviewing, science would grind to a halt. Well unfortunately that ignores reality. If delivery drivers stopped driving, would there be no food on the shelves? No. Because we wouldn’t and couldn’t let that happen. We’d find whatever incentive needed to be found, and make sure the drivers still drove. The same is true of peer review. If you are struggling to find people, there is a simple solution, one that is as old as money itself: pay them.
(note: I do many peer reviews and I will continue to do so; free. However, I believe it is time to re-think incentives, and yes, it is time to pay people for peer reviews)