October 9, 2013

Thanks for the Rejection

My Peer Review Debt and Deficit

In a previous blog post I documented the number of manuscript reviews I have reviewed over the past few years.  The American Political Science Association also just circulated a survey about peer review, forcing me to count my reviews again.  I feel pretty exhausted by the number of papers I have to review.

Let me do so quick guess-accounting.  Over the past 12 or so years I probably averaged about 20 reviews a year for political science, economics, and management journals.  Fewer in the first few years of my career, and peaking just under 40 in some recent years.  That is about 240 reviews.

If I do one review a day and work five days a week, this is almost one year of reviewing alone.  I’m not sure if I am more depressed or proud.  Nobody can say I am shirking on my duties.

Except Jim Johnson.  In a previous blog post I talked about a paper that went to five different journals before getting submitting. In the comments secton Jim pointed out something that should have been obvious to me. If each journal had at least three reviewers then this paper alone generated 15 reviews. 

Let’s do some more quick accounting.  I’ve published roughly 25 papers, have a bunch of papers still working through the process, and a few that were killed by the review process.  Let’s say 40 papers, although this number is probably a bit low.  These papers probably have averaged going through three journals. 

360 reviews.  I have received at least 360 reviews over my career.

Ok, some of these papers were co-authored.  The papers they reviewed should also count towards my 240.  But some of my co-authors were grad students that shouldn’t be expect to review.  I’ve also send in more book reviews than I sent in.  Actually, no, I think I received more reviews.  I definitely received more reviews on NSF grants than I gave. 

Damn.  Really?  I’m probably in the hole for around 100 reviews. 

In recent years I have reviewed a lot more.  Maybe I am catching up?  The problem is that I’m also sending out more papers.  How do things look this year? 

I’m on parental leave and have declined a number of reviewer invitations that aren’t in my field (often in econ journals) so my number s for this year are actually pretty low.  Thus far I have reviewed only 17 papers. 

I also have made at least eight submissions to peer reviewed journals.  My deficit is at least seven reviews.  Damn.

Things look even worse if I look at the accounts of individual journals.  I review a lot of papers for journals that I rarely submit papers to.  But this year alone I think I have sent two papers to APSR.   I have not reviewed six pieces for any journals this year.  Or any year.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been chipping away at a tenure review.  Tenure reviews are a ton of work, requiring you to read all of the publish and much of the unpublished work and to write a letter with multiple audiences (departments, Deans, and tenure review committees).

Both of my boys (4 months and 2 years) aren’t sleeping very well during the night and then I am on full time day duty with the 4 month old this fall.  That means every time the little guy takes a nap, I quickly flip open my computer.  I answer work emails and read parts of this tenure case.  (I’m blogging again because I finally finished this tenure letter).

My wife often tells me I shouldn’t do this stuff while on leave.  I partially agree, but I know if I turn down the review a tenure review committee might see this turn down as an excuse so I don’t have to write a bad letter.  There are some things that are hard to avoid, even while on parental leave.  I will be a good citizen and do my part.

Well, it turns out that this is my seventh tenure letter I have written.  I think this is exactly the same number of tenure letters WashU received for my promotion case to associate professor a few years ago.  I am even.  Except that I will be starting at George Washington University next year, and they are running my tenure case.  I think I am now 6-8 letters in the hole.   God damn. 

Rather than trying to pull off some policy suggestion on how to reward service, limit submissions to journals, or more fairly share the burden of reviews across faculty, let me keep this personal.  This calendar year I have sent two papers to the American Political Science Review.  I received a total of seven very high quality reviews plus thoughtful comments from the editors. Seven scholars (and folks at the APSR) spent a lot of time reading and comments on my papers.  They might also have families to spend time with, graduate and undergraduate students to mentor, plus their own teaching and research.  For junior faculty, they are providing these reviews knowing that their fate (tenure) will have nothing to do with the hard work they are putting in to review my paper.

I didn’t like that both of these papers were rejected, but the reviewers did their job and my papers will be better because of it.  I don’t know who you are, but you deserve my thanks.  Thank you. 




I do about 2 reviews for journals a month. I am also an associate editor for a journal. I publish an average of 3 papers a year about half coauthored and on average go to 2 journals before being published. There are some desk rejects also in the process. About 2 equivalent single author papers * 2 *3 = 12 reviews a year. So based on that I do more reviewing than I get reviews each year.

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