Paying for Peer Review?


“Peer Review” by AJCann is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

A recent article in Times Higher Education reports that a new British publisher, Veruscript, plans to pay authors for their peer review work. Although paying for peer review is not a new idea, it is only recently that scholarly journals have begun to experiment with the practice.

Perhaps the most prominent mega-journal that pays for peer review is Collabra, which is published open access by the University of California Press. Launched in 2015, Collabra publishes scholarship on life and biomedical sciences, ecology and environmental sciences, and social and behavioral sciences. To cover the costs of making articles freely available, Collabra charges authors an article processing charge (or APC) of $875. Collabra then takes a portion of that money ($250) and places it in a fund to pay editors and reviewers. Reviewers are offered money no matter whether they accept or reject a manuscript. Reviewers can choose to take the money outright, donate it to the Collabra APC waiver fund, or donate it to their own intitution’s open access publishing fund. The amount is low enough that scholars are not motivated to review just because of the money, yet it’s a small way to reward the academic labor that goes into reviewing articles.

Still, the practice of paying for peer review remains controversial within the academy. Many academics feel that peer review is a community service that should not be monetized. Serving as a peer reviewer, they argue, is simply part of one’s job as a scholar. Others point out that there are ways to reward peer reviewers without actually paying them. The Molecular Ecologist, for example, publishes a yearly list of its best reviewers. The open access mega-journal PeerJ offers another kind of incentive for peer reviewers. Under their economic model, individuals pay a flat fee for membership. Membership allows authors to submit papers and preprints. However, in order for authors to keep their membership from lapsing, they must submit one “review” a year. This can be an informal review, such as a comment on an article, or a formally requested peer review (which is by invitation only). Finally, the for-profit company Publons showcases the work of peer reviewers by making it possible for scholars to create Publons-verified profiles in which they list all the journals they have reviewed for. Publons claims that their model will help scholars get credit for what is usually invisible work, as well as give them another way to demonstrate their subject expertise.

What do you think? Should reviewers be compensated for their work?

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