The article “How to write a helpful peer review” (News, 22 February) skips quickly over the most important responsibility of academics in contributing to journal peer review: “Only accept if you have time to do so.”
After a decade in the role of editor-in-chief of a journal, it still amazes me how difficult most academics find it to communicate professionally about this process. Yes, peer-reviewing is mostly unpaid labour; and yes, we probably all get far more requests to review than we would like. But is it really so difficult to decide whether to accept or refuse a reviewing request? And then, once accepted, to do the review if not on time (for many things may justly intervene), then at least within a renegotiated window?
Based on my experience, I would estimate that 25 per cent of invited peer reviewers never bother to respond at all (even though all it requires is a single click). And of those who do accept, about a third either never deliver or never deliver to a renegotiated deadline.
The first rule of peer-reviewing should be: “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.” It’s not hard.
Professor of human geography
University of Cambridge