Breaking the review system

We hear that it’s increasingly difficult to find reviewers for journal articles. Peer review is probably a hallmark of science, but the incentives are not exactly working out. Despite efforts to counter this (e.g., DORA, slow science), we still have plenty of incentives to publish articles other than the desire to share our findings with the research community (e.g., job applications when we are asked to count the number of publications, reputation drawn from publishing in a certain journal).

While open access is undoubtedly a good thing, I’ve always had some reservations about so-called gold-access: research teams pay publishers to have an article published. Obviously the idea is that we keep rigorous peer review in place, but the incentives are staked differently. We’ve seen the incredible growth of open-access publishers like Frontiers and MDPI, at times with questionable efforts like spamming researchers in a way that fraudulent journals do. It’s a grey area.

Even though publishers like MDPI engage in peer review, we frequently hear about questionable papers getting published. To be fair, that’s something that can happen to all publishers. MDPI are incredibly fast — but a pre-print will still be faster! — and they are actively unpleasant from the perspective of a reviewer. They put a lot of time pressure, which increases the chances of a rushed review.

But having reviewed for one of their journals once, now they keep spamming me with invitations to review. I use ‘spamming’ because of the frequency, and the fact that these invitations to reviews are all about work that has absolutely nothing to do with the work I do. This is not what a serious publisher does, irrespective of what we might think of article ‘processing’ charges and commercial profits. So definitely a dark shade of grey this.

We’ve seen great work in terms of diamond or platinum open access, but for it to catch on, we also need senior colleagues to come aboard (e.g., by clearly defining how junior colleagues are selected and evaluated, by submitting their work there) — ideally before commercial interests break the system completely… (German, paywalled)


I’ve had one of the worst papers in peer review today, but who cares — new PhD researchers and a great intern have started today, and their motivation and curiosity more than compensates for the frustration! One’s forgotten in 10 minutes, the others are the beginning of new journeys!

Reviewing activities on a 2-page CV

I’m a big fan of 2-page CV, but in the most recent template I have received from a funder, they also ask to list reviewing activities. On the one hand, I appreciate that they try to acknowledge reviewing activities, on the other hand, I wonder what selection criteria would be appropriate — listing everything would fill most of the 2 pages (and still not tell us much about the quality of the reviews); only listing activities for “prestigious” work kind of defeats the point of trying to acknowledge the less glorious parts of what we do.

I declare that I don’t own a goldfish…

Yes, I totally understand conflicts of interests, and I also understand that journals have an incentive to indemnify themselves in cases of conflict of interest. At the same time, we’re not getting paid any extra for doing reviews; I could be doing something else. I guess this is why they ask me every time whether I want “recognition” on Publons (no, I still don’t get it), and perhaps on ORCID… but seriously, who comes up with this?

Please complete a declaration of competing interests, considering the following questions:

1. Have you in the past five years received reimbursements, fees, funding, or salary from an organisation that may in any way gain or lose financially from the publication of this manuscript, either now or in the future?

2. Do you hold any stocks or shares in an organisation that may in any way gain or lose financially from the publication of this manuscript, either now or in the future?

3. Do you hold or are you currently applying for any patents relating to the content of the manuscript?

4. Have you received reimbursements, fees, funding, or salary from an organization that holds or has applied for patents relating to the content of the manuscript?

5. Do you have any other financial competing interests?

6. Do you have any non-financial competing interests in relation to this paper?

OK, I guess it’s sometimes worth spelling out what a conflict of interest actually means. (I also guess that most of these points are not really adapted to the social sciences.) Obviously I should not do the review in the first place in the case of a conflict of interest, but the best part comes at the end!

If you can answer no to all of the above, write ‘I declare that I have no competing interests’ below. If your reply is yes to any, please give details below.

That’s right, a tick box is not enough in this case. So please, I want to declare that I don’t own a goldfish — I mean, it could be relevant?