What about those who aren't asked to review very much? Jul 22. 2010 | Comments (9)
The most common concern voiced to us so far about PubCreds is that it might negatively impact students, postdocs, and others who aren't asked to review very much and so have little opportunity to earn PubCreds. So I thought I'd offer some further thoughts on what's clearly a very important issue. Believe me, the last thing Owen and I would want would be for PubCreds to hurt students and postdocs!
My most important comment is that I think that this issue can only fully be addressed after a period of data collection before the PubCred system goes live, as suggested in our article. It's essential to be able to put numbers on the problem. How often do students and postdocs submit, what fraction of those submissions have more senior co-authors (who are likely to be able to pay the submission fee), and how often are they asked to review?
Having good data would help choose among, and refine the details of, the many possible solutions to the problem. Besides the overdraft system we suggested in our article, we've heard many other suggestions, including:
-charging students and postdocs reduced submission fees
-giving new entrants to the system some free PubCreds to start them off
-allowing students and postdocs (or maybe everyone?) a small number of free submissions/year
-allowing submission for free if none of the authors has been asked to review in a while
It's also been suggested that the PubCred system could provide the means to reduce the scale of the problem. The PubCred system could be used as an ecology-wide reviewer database, which could include information on an individual's expertise and even a status button individuals could use to indicate their willingness to review right now. Editors at all journals would then have a powerful tool for steering review requests to reviewers who might not otherwise be asked, and who are sure to accept, rather than repeatedly asking for reviews from the 'usual suspects'.
Besides highlighting the importance of this issue, and summarizing the many suggestions we've received, I also want to make a couple of other points which either haven't been raised, or haven't been sufficiently emphasized.
One is that any proposed solution to the problem of students and postdocs not being asked for reviews has to avoid undermining the entire system or creating perverse incentives. Obviously, any system that's too generous (e.g., a huge overdraft limit) will undermine the system. But there are more subtle possibilities. For instance, imagine a lab in which students typically co-author papers with their supervisor. A supervisor could decline to do any reviews himself, and forbid his students from doing any reviews. The lab could continue to publish as usual by using the students' overdrafts (or the free PubCreds issued to new entrants to the PubCred system). Depending on the lab's submission rate, the overdraft limit, and the rate at which new students join the lab to replace graduating students, the lab could continue to operate this way indefinitely. This specific situation is merely one example of a broader point: relieving *any* author of the burden of earning enough PubCreds to support their writing activities undermines the entire system to *some* extent. Students and postdocs *absolutely* need to be treated fairly--but this needs to be done in such a way that the whole system isn't undermined to a *significant* extent.
Second is that it's not necessarily straightforward to distinguish those who lack PubCreds through no fault of their own from those who lack PubCreds due to their own actions. Obviously, someone who's never been asked to review at all has had no opportunity to earn PubCreds. And someone who receives but declines many requests to review is choosing not to earn many PubCreds. But less clear-cut cases are, I suspect, quite common. For instance, imagine someone who receives few requests to review, and agrees to those few requests, but who also 'wastes' the few PubCreds they earn by submitting least publishable units, submitting minor work to highly-selective journals in hopes of getting lucky, resubmits rejected mss without bothering to revise, etc. The point is that lack of PubCreds can be 'overdetermined'; the same individual can lack PubCreds for both good and bad (or less-good) reasons.
In summary, the ideal system will not prevent submissions from people who lack PubCreds through no fault of their own, and will prevent submissions from people who lack PubCreds due to their own actions. But there's not always a clear-cut difference between those two kinds of people, which makes the 'ideal' system a little tricky to design. I don't think the problem is insoluble (in fact, I'm confident there's at least one solution that's good enough), but it clearly will require data, careful thought, and discussion in order to solve it.