My personal reviewing policy: No more billion-dollar donations

I get more requests to review scientific papers than I can reasonably handle [1]. Hence, I have to decide which requests I accept and which I decline.

I want to invest my reviewing work in research that is worth to be reviewed. Furthermore, I do not want to further increase the billion dollar donations to premium publishers any more.

When deciding whether to accept or reject a review, I apply the following heuristics:

Input filter: I decline to review manuscripts that fail these checks

  • (A) As a signatory of the Peer Reviewer’s Openness (PRO) initiative and the Commitment to Research Transparency, I expect open data and open material in each paper that I am supposed to review, or a public justification why it is not possible. I do not review manuscripts that fail this check.
  • (B) I signed the The Cost of Knowledge pledge, which means that I do not review for (or submit to) Elsevier journals.
  • (C) I reject, if the topic is not within my area of expertise (at least partially).


After these initial eligibility checks, I apply the following weights:

  1. Reviews for funders. This is the category where I probably can have the strongest impact on research quality. Furthermore, often the funding of ECRs depends on a timely review, so I very rarely reject these.
  2. The most useful (and rewarding) manuscript reviews for me are Registered Reports (RRs), as my review can have the most constructive impact. Even better is the PCI Registered Reports initiative, as reviews are always published upon acceptance, and submitting authors are not tied to a specific journal.
  3. Next, I’ll allocate my reviewing and editorial work primarily to Fair Open Access journals, such as Meta-Psychology or Personality Science. I have no interest of devoting my publicly paid working time (or even unpaid evening hours) to boost the “premium” publisher’s ridiculous profit margin even more.
  4. I want reviews to be open, also as way to reduce redundancy. So much intellectual work goes into reviews, just to get hidden and often ignored. I prioritize journals that have an open peer review policy (such as Meta-Psychology or Collabra). As products of scholarly activity, open reviews should be citable with a doi, as, for example, Meta-Psychology does.
  5. Although I increasingly aim to publish my own papers in fair OA journals, there sometimes is no good thematic match for my papers (yet). Therefore, I will still submit some of my work to „traditional“ journals (except Elsevier). For fairness and „paying back“, I will do at least 3 reviews for each paper that I submit to such a journal. Hopefully, more and more diamond OA journals will be established that allow choosing one with a thematic fit.

I anticipate that my criteria will gradually shift more and more to the top categories.

I realize that this personal policy has some side effects. For example, I really appreciate the good work of the editorial team from Nature Human Behavior. They did a lot to improve standards and policies at a Nature journal. So, while I’d be happy to support that specific team, I do not want to support SpringerNature as a profit organization; even more as they now test a scheme where they take a „a non-refundable fee of €2,190 to cover an editorial assessment and the peer-review process“ (Nature journals reveal terms of landmark open-access option). Wait – reviewers now get paid for their work? No, of course not. Researchers still do the reviews for free, as always. Nature now wants to get paid for your reviews.

I hope that with that reviewing policy I can make a small change towards a more open, more credible, and more efficient academic system. At least I feel much better with these priorities and have more fun reviewing.

[1] I employ the following heuristic: To keep the current academic system going, I have to review three papers for each paper that I submit as first author (including all revisions, as they usually require additional reviews). I clearly exceed this heuristic a lot.

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