Academic research relies on the system of peer review. But the system is, in the words of R. Preston McAffee, new editor of Economic Inquiry, “broken“. It’s broken in a number of ways. McAffee’s point has to do with the growing tendency of reviewers to act like coauthors.
There’s also the problem of increasing pressure on reviewers themselves. People complain of too many submissions to journals, too many manuscripts to review.
I also think that there is a problem with many editors shifting responsibility onto reviewers. For one thing, editors – or at least some of them – send out every paper they receive to reviewers. In the past month I have reviewed two papers that should never have made it that far. It’s a waste of my time and, not least, a waste of the authors’ time. Instead the editors of these journals should have rejected the papers right away. I realise that editors themselves have limited resources and that it is probably unreasonable to expect them to read every submission. But there ought to be some gate keeping going on.
A few possible solutions:
Charge a fee for submitting papers. Some journals do this. Does it work?
The relatively new Quarterly Journal of Political Science explicitly states that their review process involves an “initial in-house review to filter out manuscripts….” The QJPS also has editors for different subfields. This seems sensible as those editors ought to be better equipped to make decisions about manuscripts and whether to discount reviewers’ comments.
The solution proposed by Economic Inquiry is also interesting. They are experimenting with a “no revisions” policy. You simply submit a paper and then one of the editors makes a decision to either reject of accept. That ought to provide a pretty strong incentive to submit polished work.
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