When can I decline peer reviewing a manuscript?

by Elina Mäntylä


Examples of emails I have received from journals requesting a peer review.

Peer reviewing manuscripts for journals is one part of the job as an (academic) researcher. Your own manuscripts will be peer reviewed, so you should return the favour. But sometimes you have to decline peer reviewing. I have listed here some examples when it is understandable or acceptable to decline reviewing a manuscript:

– Many researchers complain that they get too many requests from journals for peer review. Of course, receiving requests too often can be too much. And then it is understandable that you can’t review all of them. You can pick the ones that are most interesting, the ones where your comments would be most useful, etc.

– When the manuscript is not of your field of research. This is a bit blurry area. For example, I study terrestrial tritrophic interactions but I have also peer reviewed a couple of manuscripts of aquatic tritrophic interactions. Of course, I then told both the editor and the authors that I can’t say if the authors have cited all the important literature but otherwise it was not a problem for me. I told the authors that they could see my comments as a way to widen the audience of their paper.

– You have already reviewed the same manuscript for another journal. This is another blurry area. If the authors have revised the earlier version (according to your comments) then it should be ok to review it again but there’s no point in sending again the same set of comments if the authors haven’t revised the manuscript.

– The authors are your (former) colleagues or coauthors. This can be also tricky to make a clear decision and here I have personal experience. One month before I started a new job I got a request to review a manuscript from two authors that would soon be my colleagues. I wasn’t in any way part of that study when it was done, so I reviewed it but I told the editor that I would soon be a colleague of the authors and to leave it to journal policy to decide if my review was ok or not. Peerage of Science has a rule for who is too close colleague to be a peer reviewer: “Peers from the same institution, or who have co-authored articles with the authors within the last 3 years, are prohibited from engaging as reviewers.” This sounds like a good definition.

– If you are one of the authors of the manuscript then of course you are not eligible as a peer reviewer. This hasn’t happened to me so far but I’ve heard that it is not totally uncommon to get a request to review a manuscript where you are one of authors.

Whatever is the reason to decline to peer review a manuscript, always suggest other possible reviewers. It is also a good practice to try to find names of some new, early career researchers as the editors already know the established researchers of that field.

I actually like peer reviewing manuscripts; I think I have declined to review a manuscript once or twice. Sometimes, I even think I could review more manuscripts. Was it a mistake to say this in public? Will my inbox be soon flooded with requests from journals?

Author biography: My research has been mainly about tritrophic interactions between insectivorous birds, herbivorous insects and plants. This includes vision and olfaction of birds, and plant chemistry but I have also researched territory choice and migration of birds. I’m now a postdoctoral researcher at Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic. Previously, I have studied and worked in University of Turku, Finland and Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. Twitter: @elinamantyla


Categories: Career

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