Avoid submitting to for-profit journals seems a lost battle. What about avoid reviewing?

Academic publishing is a strange beast. The majority of scientists think it is, as a minimum, largely inefficient, and, after a few beers, most of them would consider it not far from an elaborate scam. On the other side, nobody – almost nobody – can afford not submitting to for-profit publishers. While, as the readers of this blog know, I am actively involved in the activities to establish a new journal, open-access and self-published, with the Cultural Evolution Society, I am of course in the same situation. If I’d feel any of the drafts I am working at the moment is good enough, I will run to submit it to Nature Human Behaviour or similar…

Is there any other way out of this?

Last week I discovered that Behavioral Ecology (the journal) gives to reviewers a lifetime 25% discount on Oxford University Press books. My first reaction was to think to stop reviewing for for-profit publishers that do not compensate reviewers, but the next step would be, in fact, to stop reviewing for for-profit publishers at all. I quickly tweeted about this, and I commented on the excellent post from Pascal Boyer in the International Cognition and Culture Institute’s blog, but, alas, I did not receive much feedback, so here it is again.

Contrary to avoid submitting, avoid reviewing would not be a cost for us (if anything, it would save some time), and, if enough people would do it, it would start to be also inconvenient to submit to those journals, as manuscripts would get stuck for a long(er) time. Also, scholars that would keep reviewing will possibly receive more and more articles, so that they may change their mind.

Notice I am not saying that peer-review is wrong or useless (I do not think so, and it is anyway irrelevant for my point) or that reviewers must be paid (I do not think so: in a fair system, reviewing should be one of the various activities of researchers, and we are clearly not paid singularly for each of them), but that this may be a way to break the vicious circle that makes scientists complain with one hand and submit with the other.

There may be something terribly wrong or naive in it, but this is why blog posts can be useful!


[La grève des mineurs du Pas-de-Calais (1906), from wikipedia]

2 thoughts on “Avoid submitting to for-profit journals seems a lost battle. What about avoid reviewing?

  1. Hi Alberto,
    It’s a good idea, but which journals would be ‘in’ and which ones ‘out’? For example, Oxford University Press generates profits, but these are returned to the University of Oxford, which is at least a good cause. And journals like PeerJ and PloS have done a lot of good for the field, but they are run by for-profit companies. Now I think of the various review requests I receive, more or less none are from completely scholar-run, not-for-profit organizations, so the proposal would amount to me doing basically no reviewing at all, which hardly seems helpful.

    1. Hi Daniel,
      Thank you very much for your comment! You are right, and I do not have myself an answer to that. I will try anyway to elaborate a bit. Where to set the threshold is a broader problem, that goes beyond my modest proposal of replacing an ineffective no-submitting policy with a no-reviewing policy. Surely there are many different views on that (which you quickly mention in your comment) and discussing them goes beyond my intention.
      However, if enough people would start to see not reviewing as a possible line of action, this could be discussed. Personally, I think that even starting only with the “very bad guys” (we know who they are) could generate a powerful momentum.

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