Reviewers and recompense

June 12, 2008

Steve Fuller (Letters, 5 June) misunderstands what the Research Information Network report on the costs of the scholarly communications system says about peer review. We calculate that the time spent by academics and others in performing the essential task of peer review represents a non-cash contribution to the worldwide system of publishing and providing access to scholarly journal articles of some £1.9 billion. The main beneficiaries of that system are those who read and make use of the findings reported in journals, and they come from within and beyond academia.

Neither the Research Information Network nor Cambridge Economic Policy Associates, which made the calculation, has suggested that payments should be made to peer reviewers. It is worth noting, however, that a recent report commissioned by the Publishing Research Consortium (Peer Review: Benefits, Perceptions and Alternatives) shows that a substantial minority of peer reviewers do want payment.

There are many arguments for and against such a move. We point out in the report that if payments were made to meet the full costs of peer review, subscription prices would have to rise by more than 40 per cent. What is not in question, however, is that there are real costs involved in performing this essential function and that the UK bears a substantial proportion of them. Now that we know the scale of the costs, we can have a sensible debate about how they should best be met.

Michael Jubb, Director, Research Information Network.

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