Who’s asked me to review recently, and how I’ve responded

In case anyone’s interested, here’s a list of the journals and funding agencies that have asked me for reviews since July 2011, and how I’ve responded. I don’t count reviews of invited revisions, because that’s really just a matter of completing the review of the initial ms. Nor do I count papers I handled as an editor before I resigned from the editorial board of Oikos. In agreeing to serve on an editorial board, you’re agreeing to handle any mss you’re assigned to handle; you can’t pick and choose the way you can as a peer reviewer.

I’m starting in July 2011 because I track these data for my university’s biennial performance review; the next one is this summer. I’m putting the data up now because I’m short on time to write real posts at the moment.

Journal or funding agency, # of reviews requested, # agreed to

Ecology Letters, 11, 3

American Naturalist, 7, 2

Plos One, 6, 0

Nature Communications, 5, 3

Ecology, 3, 2

Ecography, 2, 0

Theoretical Population Biology, 2, 0

Journal of Theoretical Biology, 2, 0

Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 2, 0

Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B, 2, 0

Journal of Ecology, 1, 1

Oikos, 1, 1

Ideas in Ecology and Evolution, 1, 1

Frontiers in Microbiology, 1, 1

Journal of Applied Phycology, 1, 0

Applied Vegetation Science, 1, 0

Global Ecology and Biogeography, 1, 0

BMC Biology, 1, 0

Plant Ecology, 1, 0

Functional Ecology, 1, 0

Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews, 1, 0

Landscape Ecology, 1, 0

Ecosphere, 1, 0

Oecologia, 1, 0

Frontiers in Biogeography, 1, 0

Trends in Ecology and Evolution (book review request), 1, 0

National Science Foundation (USA), 2, 1

Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (Canada), 2, 2

Marsden Fund (New Zealand), 1, 0

Some comments:

  • If you’re scoring at home, that’s a total of 60 requests to review, of which I accepted 17.
  • I’ve done over twice as many reviews as papers I’ve submitted or co-authored since July 2011, and that’s without counting the editorial duties I had during that time. In the past, I used to do reviewing at something like four times the rate I submit papers. My PubCred balance is very positive and growing, albeit growing slower than it once was. I’m lucky to get as many requests to review as I do, as it means I can pick and choose without worrying about whether I’m doing my fair share of reviewing.
  • In only a few cases have I turned down reviews that I really wanted to do but just didn’t feel like I had the time to do. More often, I decline because the paper sounds boring, bad, or too far from my area of expertise. Of course, being busy and thinking the paper sounds boring or bad aren’t mutually exclusive. Again, I’m always busy, and I get lots of requests to review, so a paper needs to sound interesting for me to agree to review it. Note that I don’t just assume that anything submitted to a leading ecology journal like Ecology Letters or Am Nat will be interesting. I judge by reading the abstract. More than once (including just the other week…), I’ve declined reviews because it’s pretty obvious from the abstract that the authors should’ve submitted to a highly-specialized or unselective journal, but for whatever reason decided to take a shot at a journal like Am Nat.
  • Speaking of far from my area of expertise…several of these review requests came from journals I don’t read, including some that came from journals I’d never heard of before receiving the request to review. I’ll let you guess which ones those were. 😉 I declined them all, because none of those papers were anywhere near my area of expertise. This illustrates why you should always suggest reviewers in the cover letter accompanying your submission. Editors often are obliged to handle mss far from their area of expertise, and so may have a hard time identifying potential reviewers. Which sometimes leads them to send papers to reviewers who aren’t really appropriate. This also illustrates why you need to put a bit of thought into which names you suggest. I’m far from the only established ecologist who gets far more requests to review than I will ever agree to. So before you suggest me, or any established ecologist, as a reviewer, try to honestly consider whether I’m likely to do it. In general, people are very reluctant to review papers that they wouldn’t be interested in reading. So in suggesting referees for your paper, think about the audience of the journal to which you’re submitting, and whether the referees you’re suggesting are likely to be part of that audience. Someone who’s never published in the journal to which you’re submitting, or in any closely-allied journal, is probably not part of the audience for your paper, and so isn’t a good person to suggest as a reviewer.
  • Yes, I do sometimes do reviews for granting agencies to which I am ineligible to apply. Basically, if I think the grant sounds interesting, I’ll review it.
  • No, I don’t have anything against open access journals. I decide whether to review for Plos One, Ecosphere, and other open access journals on the same basis I decide whether to review for any journal. If Plos One ever sends me a paper that sounds sufficiently interesting, I’ll review it.
  • A few of these review requests came to me at least in part because of my blogging, specifically concerning the intermediate disturbance hypothesis. Judging from the abstracts of these papers, let’s just say that there are clearly many ecologists out there who don’t read this blog.
  • In the past, I’ve reviewed for a number of journals and funding bodies not on this list, and for various journals on this list for which I haven’t reviewed since July 2011.

4 thoughts on “Who’s asked me to review recently, and how I’ve responded

  1. As an new editor, I’m always a bit skeptical of the reviewers suggested by submitting authors. In my limited experience, author’s suggestions often include established researchers, who as you suggest, are very particular in what they will reviews. I’ve also seen a lot of suggestions for people at the other end of the spectrum, those without publications in an area related to the manuscript. This leaves me guessing – is this person working on similar problems, and hasn’t published yet? I can’t form an opinion of their appropriateness without having some evidence of their expertise.

    But the suggestions that really trouble me are people who have recently co-authored papers with the submitters. Granted, if your topic is narrow enough, you might not have many choices. Still, this seems a bit sketchy. How close is too close when it comes to relationships between author and reviewer?

  2. I wish I was better at saying no. Just looking at how many I have actually done makes me wince – 2011 – 38, 2012-42 and so far for 2013-14 and three on my desk waiting ;-( I don’t actually keep a record of how many I turn down, but I do turn down quite a few based on conflicts of interest, subject area and how boring they sound 😉 and of course anything from journals I have never heard of before.

    As an Editor I am also sceptical about using suggested and peferred reviewers. I use the journal data-base and my own head space as it were.

  3. Pingback: Friday coffee break: Honeycombs, peer review, and better state birds « Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!

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