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Why Peer Review Recognition Matters to Universities

2nd February 2016
 | Guest Author

daniel johnstonThis guest post was authored by Daniel Johnston, cofounder of Publons. 

A decade ago a discussion on peer review would have been completely out of place at a Research Profiles Conference.  There was no way for a research institution to reliably track and verify the peer review activities of their researchers, and nothing visible to profile!  But the landscape has changed, and now 50,000+ researchers are using services like Publons to keep a verified record of their peer review contributions.  Universities now have an opportunity to lead the charge in making use of this newly-uncovered research output, to the benefit of the university, their researchers, and to academic research on a whole.

The amount of time individual researchers spend on peer review varies significantly; some spend upwards of 120 hours a year peer reviewing, without much in the way of recognition by their research institution.  A university should be proud of the peer review contributions of their researchers — having researchers that are repeatedly asked to review by academic editors is great external validation of expertise and standing.  Highlighting these contributions plays an important part in showcasing the quality of an institution’s researchers.

Including peer review in research profiles opens up the ability to gather insights from peer review — for instance, which journals their researchers are reviewing for, and how their peer reviewing activity compares to other universities — and to include evidence of peer review in promotion applications.  The University of Queensland Library recently became the first to begin work on importing peer review data into their research output management system for these purposes.

Beyond the value to universities and their peer reviewing researchers, universities taking peer review contributions into account has the potential to improve the performance of the peer review process for everyone.

Peer review today is incredibly slow — while a single peer review takes about four hours, the process of organising two such reviews takes on average four months or more.

The main issues slowing down the peer review process — an indifference to review invitations, inconsistent quality of reviews, and long delays in returning reviews — are all typical characteristics of a task where people have no incentives to do it, or to do it well.  Improving those incentives, even marginally, will have an enormous flow-on effect on the advancement of science.

The more that universities acknowledge the peer review contributions of their researchers, the more the activity of peer reviewing will be respected.  Researchers will be more willing to perform prompt and comprehensive peer review when they know doing so will count for something next time they’re up for promotion.  Universities are in a unique position to incentivise a faster publication cycle, to the benefit of all stakeholders in the industry.

The research profiles landscape has changed a lot with respect to peer review in just a few short years.  It is now possible to measure peer review, and the rapid growth of services like Publons is evidence that researchers value having a profile of their reviewing contributions.  It is now up to universities to decide whether to match these developments in their own research profiles.