April 18, 2014

· journals

For a while, I have wondered just how many more peer reviews I have caused to be written than I have written myself. I suspect that this kind of journal review debt is more or less inevitable as an early-career scholar. So rather than write a review that is due today, I decided to go back through my records to figure this out before it became too overwhelming to do so. It ought to be easier to keep these records going forward than it was to find all those old rejections in my email.

The measures I am considering are pretty straightforward. The number of reviews I have written is the number of reviews I have written. The number of reviews I am culpable for causing to be written is the sum of the author adjusted number of reviews I have received for each of my journal submissions. I am calculating this simply as the number of reviews received for each submission divided by the number of authors on each of those submissions. By this metric, if my co-author and I receive four reviews on our joint paper, we are each only responsible for two of those. If everyone applied this metric, the number of reviews written and this author-adjusted number of reviews received would be equal, which suggests it is a sensible metric. One could also achieve this property if one instead specified contribution fractions for each author, but that seems like more effort than it is worth.

A few points on scope. I have limited my consideration to initial reviews, mostly because it was too difficult to find the R&Rs given the way I organize my files. These will be proportional for reviews written and received only if my papers are equally likely to get R&Rs as everyone else’s papers are. I decline to speculate. I have also limited my consideration to political science, which excludes papers I was involved with in other fields before I began my PhD as well as one paper on paramecium genetics since then (which is more or less negligible anyway, as it had 20 authors).

Plot of Journal Review Debt

Enough methodological details. The graphs more or less speak for themselves. I ran up a large debt in grad school and immediately thereafter, when no one was asking me to review and I was getting a lot of papers rejected because I had no idea what I was doing. Over the last two years I have been slowly clawing my way back towards solvency. Linear extrapolation here is obviously insane, but if we are so inclined, it looks like I can expect to get back in the black some time in the mid 2020s. However, if enough journal editors read this blog post, I may close the gap much sooner than that.

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