Debunking the Myth of Reviewer Shortage: Insights from Journal Analysis

Myths and facts about peer review in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A
Debunking the Myth of Reviewer Shortage: Insights from Journal Analysis
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“It is becoming increasingly difficult to find reviewers”—myths and facts about peer review - Journal of Comparative Physiology A

A frequent complaint of editors of scientific journals is that it has become increasingly difficult to find reviewers for evaluating submitted manuscripts. Such claims are, most commonly, based on anecdotal evidence. To gain more insight grounded on empirical evidence, editorial data of manuscripts submitted for publication to the Journal of Comparative Physiology A between 2014 and 2021 were analyzed. No evidence was found that more invitations were necessary over time to get manuscripts reviewed; that the reviewer’s response time after invitation increased; that the number of reviewers who completed their reports, relative to the number of reviewers who had agreed to review a manuscript, decreased; and that the recommendation behavior of reviewers changed. The only significant trend observed was among reviewers who completed their reports later than agreed. The average number of days that these reviewers submitted their evaluations roughly doubled over the period analyzed. By contrast, neither the proportion of late vs. early reviews, nor the time for completing the reviews among the punctual reviewers, changed. Comparison with editorial data from other journals suggests that journals that serve a smaller community of readers and authors, and whose editors themselves contact potential reviewers, perform better in terms of reviewer recruitment and performance than journals that receive large numbers of submissions and use editorial assistants for sending invitations to potential reviewers.

Introduction

As an editor of a scientific journal, one frequently hears complaints about the challenges of finding reviewers for manuscripts. These claims are often backed by anecdotal evidence, but what does the data say? To shed light on this topic, the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Comparative Physiology A, Günther K. H. Zupanc, conducted an analysis of editorial data on the journal spanning the years 2014 to 2021. The goal was to examine whether the difficulties in finding reviewers were substantiated by empirical evidence.

 The study focused on various aspects of reviewer recruitment and performance. Contrary to popular belief, the findings challenged the perceived difficulties:

  1.  Increasing Number of Invitations: The average number of invitations per submission remained steady.
  2. Lengthy Response Times: The mean response time remained consistent throughout the analyzed period.
  3. Decreasing Completion Rates: The fraction of reviewers who completed their review reports remained consistently high and did not decrease over time.
  4. Delayed Submission of Reports: While some reviewers submitted their reports later than agreed, the proportion of late reviews did not change significantly. Interestingly, the average number of days late reviewers submitted their reports did increase, but early reviewers remained consistently punctual.
  5. Changing Recommendation Behavior: Reviewers' recommendation behavior, including rejection, major revision, minor revision, and acceptance, did not exhibit significant changes over the analyzed period.

     

    Insights and Implications

    The analysis challenges the widely held belief that finding reviewers for manuscripts has become increasingly difficult. The data from the Journal of Comparative Physiology A suggests stability in reviewer recruitment and performance. The findings indicate that hasty generalizations based on a few instances of reviewer shortage may not accurately represent the overall situation.

     Factors Affecting Reviewer Recruitment

    The analysis also highlights potential factors influencing reviewer recruitment and performance. Journals that serve smaller communities and have editors personally contacting potential reviewers tend to fare better in terms of reviewer engagement compared to those with large submission volumes and reliance on editorial assistants for invitations.

     Conclusion

    The insights provided by this analysis contribute to a better understanding of the peer review process. Authors and readers can gain a clearer understanding of the evaluation journey manuscripts undergo after submission to a scientific journal. Additionally, it encourages a more nuanced perspective when discussing reviewer shortage and emphasizes the importance of empirical evidence over anecdotal claims.

    About the Journal

    The Journal of Comparative Physiology A, which is celebrating 100 years in 2024, publishes studies focused on the understanding of physiological mechanisms that relate to the evolution and/or natural behavior of the animal.

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