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Recognise reviewing

‘Recognise reviewing or it risks becoming shoddy’

In a letter to Sir Alan Langlands, a group of early career researchers from across the UK call on the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to recognise peer reviewing in the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF)1. Reviewing is fundamental to sharing research findings and essential in ensuring that research funding is targeted to scientifically credible and worthwhile proposals. The irony is that the REF, which is based on peer review, gives the activity no accreditation.

Peer review results in over 1.5 million2 scholarly articles published each year and the allocation of over £3 billion3 in UK research council funding and millions more from other funders such as medical charities. On average, researchers spend 72 hours4 reviewing research papers a year, and many hours reviewing grant applications.

The early career researchers are telling HEFCE that:

  • Peer review of research proposals and papers is a huge part of researchers’ involvement and contribution to the development of a field and to early career researchers’ own knowledge and skill development.
  • They are under increasing pressure to secure grant funding and publish research.
  • Without recognition in the REF, they believe that reviewing will become a marginal activity and inevitably inconsistent and shoddy.

They also argue that recognising the contribution of high quality reviewing activity would mean that it is prioritised and safeguarded by university departments in the longer term. More immediately it would ensure that reviewing is approached professionally and seriously, enabling senior researchers to spend time mentoring early career researchers in it.

While some grant bodies and publishers are considering ways of supporting reviewers with some form of credit system, this is really limited without a system in academia to support researchers’ commitment to peer review. They are calling on HEFCE to change the REF.

Read Sir Alan Langland's response.

The early career researchers’ concerns became apparent during the creation of a guide, Peer review: the nuts and bolts, coordinated by the Voice of Young Science (VoYS) network, to share knowledge about peer review and encourage new researchers to get involved in it. Peer review: the nuts and bolts was launched at the ESOF session ‘Peer review: meeting the challenges’ at 8am on Thursday 12th July at ESOF2012 in Dublin.

Read the storify of tweets from the ESOF2012 session ‘Peer review: meeting the challenges’ 

To add your name to the call to recognise reviewing in the REF email [email protected]


Julia Wilson, Sense About Science “Peer review is an essential arbiter of scientific quality and so an important consideration for policy makers, reporters and the public when weighing up claims about science. We cannot risk it becoming an activity that is thrown to the margins”

Dr Iain Darby, Post-doc, Nuclear Physics “Peer reviewing is ultimate scientific altruism; the better that more of us can do it, the greater the scientific endeavour.”

Dr David Briggs, Post-doc, Structural Biology & Biophysics “Reviewing papers is a crucial part of peer-review, and therefore science as a whole. It is only right that contributions to this process are acknowledged.”  

Dr Irene Hames, Editorial Consultant and author of Peer Review and Manuscript Management in Scientific Journals: “Peer reviewing involves a lot of time and effort by researchers. Many journals, but by no means all, have various ways to acknowledge or reward their reviewers, There is, however, currently no formal recognition of peer reviewing as a professional activity. Better recognition would be especially important for early-career researchers, to demonstrate not only their contribution to this important activity, but their recognition as experts in their research areas.”

Professor Mike Clemens, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, University of Sussex "The peer reviewing process - of scientific manuscripts submitted for publication and of grant applications sent to the Research Councils and medical charities - is one of the great unsung contributions of academic researchers in the U.K. This is voluntary and unpaid work but without it the processes of publishing papers in scientific journals and the awarding of grants to university laboratories  would grind to a halt. Those who contribute to this time-consuming activity need to be recognised for the service they provide to the scientific community."  

John McConnell, Editor, The Lancet Infectious Diseases “As a journal editor I recognise the vital role that peer reviewers have in sustaining scholarly publication and research. The Lancet journals reward peer reviewers with payment and free subscriptions; however, what I think peer reviewers would like is institutional recognition for their academic contribution. This is not something that journals can achieve on their own.”  

Nora Hanson, PhD student, Marine Ecology "Peer review, leading to publication, is the main avenue for disseminating good science; researchers at all levels are involved in the process and our contribution ought to be recognized in any assessment of research quality." 

Dan Morgan, Executive Publisher - Psychology & Cognitive Science, Elsevier “I would love for reviewers to be more formally recognized at their academic institutions. It is a contribution to science, different to conducting research and authoring a paper, but just as important. The achievement and effort of reviewing should both reflect onto a reviewer’s institution, and also be acknowledged by it. Many of the suggested solutions for better reviewer recognition, in whatever form they can take, will not be so valuable if they are only managed and acknowledged by publishers and editors, and not reviewers’ institutions and employers.”

Dr Deirdre Hollingsworth, Epidemiologist, Imperial College London: “Many junior staff are involved in peer review, often for the lower impact journals. This is an essential experience of the peer review system for these researchers, but it does take some time and effort. These efforts are rarely recognised formally although journals maintain internal databases of reviewers, including number and timeliness of reviews performed. A limited number of journals publish a yearly list of reviewers thanking them for their contributions and a few invite frequent reviewers onto their large board of associate editors. These then allow researchers to demonstrate their review record as a measure of esteem for their CV.” 

  1. Research Excellence Framework (REF) ( is the new system for the allocation of funding to higher education institutes.
  2. House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Peer review in scientific publications, Eighth Report of Session 2010–12, paragraph 23:
  3. Research Councils UK
  4. Peer review: benefits, perceptions and alternatives, Mark Ware, Mark Ware Consulting, 2008 Publishing Research Consortium: The Reviewer’s perspective

VoYS pinboard

  • Top tip 1: Ask for Evidence. If you’re being sold a product or asked to believe a claim then you deserve to know whether it’s based on evidence – or imagination.

  • Top tip 2: Detox. It’s a marketing myth – our body does it without pricey potions and detox diets.

  • Top tip 3: Superfood. There is no such thing, just foods that are high in some nutrients.

  • Top tip 4: Cleansing. You shouldn’t be trying to cleanse anything other than your skin or hair.

  • Top tip 5: If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.

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