Treats for Reviewers and Editors

(January 27th, 2015) Undue incentive or overdue reward? The not-for-profit, multidisciplinary journal Collabra, belonging to the University of California Open Press, plans to remunerate its reviewers and editors with some pocket money.

"Payment to reviewers addresses the often-raised criticism within scholarly publishing that all value and revenue flows only to publishers," University of California (UC) Open Press declared on its website. In a new peer review model, Collabra's reviewers and editors, examining a manuscript’s scientific, methodological and ethical soundness, will receive points per acceptance or rejection, in which they are involved. The journal will put a $250 (ca. €225) share of the $875 (ca. €790) Article Processing Charge into a Research Community Fund, from which editors and reviewers can elect to be paid, based on the number of points they have accumulated in a given period. They can expect $50 (ca. €45) to $60 on average per handled article. As an alternative to receiving direct payment, they can choose to put this sum into either the journal's waiver fund that benefits other authors or into their institutional and library open access fund.

With more and more open access publishers producing more and more papers, the peer review system is reaching its limit. A small compensation for the task to examine and improve other scientists' publications or to manage the review process of an ever increasing number of manuscripts might be an incentive for already busy scientists to function as reviewers or editors. Considering that it may take several hours or even days to thoroughly review a manuscript, especially if extensive and detailed changes are required, the small sum paid by Collabra will hardly exert any undue influence on the reviewers' and editors' judgements.

Collabra will accept manuscripts from March 2015 in the life and biomedical sciences, in ecology and environmental science as well as in the social and behavioural sciences. "We will be adding more disciplines in the next couple of years, including health and medical sciences, computer sciences, humanities, and physical sciences," Neil Christensen, the journal’s Director of Digital Business Development said. All articles will be published with a CC-BY license and authors will retain full copyright. The journal aims ultimately to publish thousands of articles and is still seeking editors and reviewers from across the life sciences. Interested scientists should contact Dan Morgan, the journal's Digital Science Publisher.

Editors and reviewers participated in the peer review process for the spirit of scientific inquiry and the culture of scholarship, said David Knutson, a representative of the open access publisher PLoS. Among journal editors, receiving early access to cutting edge research and the sense of shaping and defining the field were also primary motivators, he added.

"Direct payments to referees are indeed rare from journals, although they are more common for grant and institutional evaluations," commented Bernd Pulverer, Head of Scientific Publications at EMBO, Heidelberg, Germany. However, some journals do offer discounts on author or subscription fees. "EMBO Press journals will offer discounted page or open access charges to referees who evaluate multiple papers per year," Pulverer said.

Nature journals reward scientists who referee three or more papers in a given year with a free subscription of one of the journals and Elsevier's reviewers are entitled to various discounts for the publisher's services. PLoS recognised its editors by publishing their names alongside each accepted paper on its website, and by organising various meet-ups at conferences around the world, Knutson told us.

"It is essential that referee compensation does not lead to any biases and it should, in my view, certainly not be so significant as to attract referees for the rewards alone," Pulverer noted. "I hope that in the future good refereeing will be acknowledged in the evaluation of those researchers who generously give their time to peer review - this would, in my view, be a more meaningful benefit than what amounts to a token financial compensation," he added.

“There are many pros and cons of paying editors and reviewers as well as mixed opinions within the scientific community. PLoS looks forward to seeing how UC Press’ offering is received,” Knutson remarked.

To ensure a transparent review process, EMBO Press journals started publishing the anonymous referees' comments alongside the respective papers five years ago. Collabra lets its authors choose whether reviewer reports should be published and reviewers may remain anonymous or not. Thus, an article can be published without reviewer reports, with anonymous reviewer reports, or with signed reviewer reports.

Considering the wide range of open access publishing fees, Pulverer remarked: "These fees very much depend on the level of investment into the publication process the journal offers and the acceptance rate of the journal. Fees of several hundred US Dollars may suffice for some journals. They would not cover the costs of the editorial and production process at the EMBO Press journals."

Bettina Dupont

Photo: Langova

Last Changes: 03.06.2015