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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 17-18

Challenges of peer review in scholarly publication: Is reviewer fatigue a growing concern in low income countries?

Department of Surgery, College of Health Sciences, Kaduna State University, Kaduna, Nigeria

Date of Web Publication20-Apr-2017

Correspondence Address:
Jerry Godfrey Makama
Department of Surgery, College of Health Sciences, Kaduna State University, Kaduna
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/archms.archms_24_17

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How to cite this article:
Makama JG. Challenges of peer review in scholarly publication: Is reviewer fatigue a growing concern in low income countries?. Arch Med Surg 2016;1:17-8

How to cite this URL:
Makama JG. Challenges of peer review in scholarly publication: Is reviewer fatigue a growing concern in low income countries?. Arch Med Surg [serial online] 2016 [cited 2019 Jun 19];1:17-8. Available from: http://www.archms.org/text.asp?2016/1/2/17/204799

The main job of an editor of a journal that engages in scholarly publication is to assess the suitability for publication or otherwise of each article that is sent to the journal. The suitability of an article to a journal entails among other things, novelty, appropriateness of content to readership; it also entails significance, appropriate length, clarity of writing and organisation; quality of figures and tables including a conclusion that is supported by good methodology and results. The process of determining suitability involves the use of reviewers.[1] These reviewers are considered experts in the field of the topic that the article is addressing. The reviewers may be internal or external. The internal reviewers in most cases are part of editorial members of the journal and/or advisors. In most instances, strong, viable, and long-standing journals do have such a pool of staff with different expertise as in-house reviewers who help to review the manuscript before it is sent out for external review if found appropriate. On the other hand, the external reviewers do not have any connection or are not members of the editorial board of the journal. They are usually solicited and invited to review the manuscript. Therefore, they have the liberty and singular right to accept or refuse to review the manuscript. Thus, double-blind, external peer review relies heavily on voluntary efforts of anonymous reviewers. Journals that are still in their developmental stage or are not so viable to have a pool of staff as internal reviewers often rely heavily on the use of external reviewers. Although this procedure started in early 17th century, it only became popular in the 20th century where almost all submissions must be considered and pass through peer-review process before an article is ethically acceptable and publishable in a reputable journal.[1],[2] Therefore, the peer-reviewed process which may be considered to be a form of quality assurance will continue to be a yardstick determining the suitability of an article in scholarly publications.

Recently, the interest to write has increased.[1],[3] A lot of authors have many reasons for writing manuscripts or engaging in scholarly publication. These reasons may include but not limited to academic promotion, attempt to find a niche, promotion of scientific product, and it may just be scientific communication. Therefore, there has been an explosion of a number of articles. Even though new journals are springing up, their rise seems not to be commensurate with the interest to write and/or a number of article submissions. The existing journals, therefore, usually experience an in-flood of manuscripts to cope with. Most journals are, therefore, not only looking at suitability but high-quality articles. Both the rise in interest to write as well as springing up of new journals have led to an increase in the demand for reviewers to help achieve this noble task.[2]

The Editor-in-chief (EIC) and/or editors are often mediators between the publisher(s), author(s), and reviewer(s). The editor ensures that appropriate and accepted articles are published timely. He ensures that manuscript sent in by author(s) is timely reviewed, and decision taken and sent back to the author(s) early. Furthermore, EIC or editor also ensures that appropriate expertise, as reviewer(s) is chosen solicited and the peer review is conducted within the shortest possible time. In the course of doing this work, there are a number of challenges the EIC or editor may encounter. One of these challenges is reviewer fatigue. This editorial intends to highlight reasons why reviewer fatigue may still be a concern in low-income countries.

Reviewer fatigue is popularly defined as statements indicating scholar's decline to review probably because they have other reviews to conduct and cannot take additional ones from other journals.[1],[2],[3] Many journals are now witnessing an increasing substantial amount of manuscript submissions in their manuscript management system probably due to the fact that many people have been motivated and are into scholarly publication in the recent times.[1],[3] This has led to an increase in the number of review requests flowing into reviewer's e-mail box. The immediate consequence of this is that reviewers increasingly feel overburdened by such requests. This phenomenon, often called reviewer fatigue, is not only persistent over the years but also increasing in scope and intensity in some parts of the world. However, in other parts of the world such as developed countries, internet service has changed the process of peer review in so many ways.[1] The availability of internet service in developed countries appears to have revolutionized peer-review process and is considered to be a significant solution to the problem of reviewer fatigue. With the internet services, distance is no longer an issue. Reviewers could be solicited anywhere in the world; this has increased the capacity of reviewers for peer review. With internet services, editors of scholarly publication do not have to know the reviewer, his location or address before they could solicit for his help. With internet services, editors do not have to post manuscripts to reviewers which in effect could delay the process of peer review. With internet services, many reviewers could be solicited to review a particular manuscript at a time, the first 2-3 reviews that return could easily allow the editor take a decision. These factors often facilitate fast, quality review process and/or publication. However, in low income countries, editors appear to have cases of reviewer fatigue due to many reasons as highlighted below.

  Internet Service-Related Problems Top

Lack of website/internet-based domain for Journals

Many journals in low-income countries do not have journal websites. Hence, they still rely on local reviewers who, in most cases, are extremely few known ones.

Expensive internet services

Internet services are still pretty expensive in most settings, thereby making it difficult for most journals to have internet-based domain.

Erratic internet supply

In the few countries or places where internet services are available or exist, supply is often erratic probably due to lack of power or many other reasons that preclude continuous supply.

Weak quality internet services

Similarly, in some places, the internet services may be available but too weak to allow editors solicit for reviewers as it is done by their counterparts in developed countries.

Low coverage

Low coverage of internet services limits editors' scope of time and place of work. Once an editor moves to a place that does not have internet service, his work will be hampered and delayed.

  Lack of Subspecializations Top

Lack of subspecializations in low-income countries is another factor that may limit the number of reviewers. The few specialized experts are being overburdened with such peer-review demands.

  Lack of Willingness And/or Basic Understanding of Peer-Review Process Top

In some reviewers, there is no reason but just lack of willingness and/or basic understanding of peer-review process.

  Demand for Incentive Top

An attempt to avoid reviewers that demand for financial incentives/tips will force editors to overburdened the few that often agree to carry out the peer review without a demand for incentive. It is important to note that peer review should be viewed as a professional duty and treated as such without recourse to financial gains.

However, the validity of the definition of “Reviewer fatigue” is being questioned currently, as it has been discovered that many reviewers have different reasons for declining to review. This is supported by a recent study by Breuning et al.,[1] on why scholars decline to review their peers' work. Their findings showed that only 14.2%–38.9% are actually due to review fatigue (Overburdened with reviews). Other reasons for declining to review may range from haven previously review the same paper from a different journal, conflict of interest, travel commitments, assumption of new/administrative duties, paper has little substance or interest, personal or family illness, and retirement from academia. Furthermore, factors such as personal leave, maternity or paternity leave, or sabbatical may be additional reasons. These findings which further questioned the reliability of tales of reviewers' fatigue has led to some conclusion that, perhaps, tales of reviewers fatigue may have been somewhat exaggerated in the past.

It is being proposed that sending a relevant, readable, and interesting or novelty paper to a reviewer remains a strong and best way to increase reviewer's acceptance. However, different ways by which editors could explore so as to avoid “reviewer fatigue” may include the use of first-time reviewers who have been identified to be more likely to accept invitations. Expanding search includes reviewers in databases of conferences and dissertations. Other factors include rewarding a reviewer by simply acknowledging and giving feedbacks, leveraging on a personal relationship, and using the prestige of the journal may go a long way to prevent reviewer's fatigue.

In conclusion, reviewer fatigue is still a major concern in low-income countries due to so many reasons. Hence, there is still room to further elucidate real issues associated with reviewer fatigue, its causes, and the effect it could have on peer-review process as well as quality of scholarly publication in low-income countries.

  References Top

Breuning M, Backstrom J, Brannon J, Gross BI, Widmeier M. Reviewer fatigue? Why scholars decline to review their peers' work. PS Polit Sci Polit 2015;48:595-600.  Back to cited text no. 1
Goldman HV. The Scarce Peer Reviewer and Challenges Journal Editors Face; 2015. Available from: http://www.editage.com/insights/the-scarce-peer-reviewer-and-challenges-journal-editors-face. [Last accessed on 2016 Apr 03].  Back to cited text no. 2
Lajtha K, Baveye PC. How should we deal with the growing peer-review problem? Biogeochemistry 2010;101:1-3.  Back to cited text no. 3


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