Today I was submitting a review of a manuscript to a British scientific journal. This is a routine part of any scientist’s job. Participating in the peer review system is probably the most important community activity that keeps science working. Peer review is the best part of the scientific process.
I went to the journal’s website to submit my review as always. What startled and exacerbated me, and what sparked this post, was the first question I was asked at the submission website. The journal wanted to know if I wanted my reviewing activity to be noted for all the world to see on Publons.
Publons is essentially a social media site that announces to the world that you have done a review of a manuscript for a journal. You can keep tally of your reviewing activities here for all the world to see. The Publons website says that you can “Effortlessly track, verify and showcase your peer review efforts across the world’s journals. Include proof of your efforts advancing science through peer review in that next big promotion or research grant application. Help journal editors find your expert peer review talents faster. Get the best research to the world quicker.” Also, they say that you should “Wow your faculty and colleagues by showing your previously hidden talents.“
Have scientists really gotten to the point where they need public validation for doing something as simple as reviewing a paper for a journal? Do you really need a trophy just for participating in the scientific process? Are we really that vain that we need public validation just for doing our job?
Certainly, doing peer review is one of the most selfless acts that scientists do. You don’t get paid to do it (usually). Everyone is expected to do it. And for many journals now, one is performing this free service for a corporation (very few journals are published by societies or not-for-profit publishers anymore). However, peer review of manuscripts is the backbone of scientific integrity, so do as many as you can. But do you really need public brownie points. At some point (and this is it for me), all this social media proving that you’re a good citizen just becomes unseemly.
Whatever happened to just doing your job because it’s the right thing to do?
If you need to prove to your employer that you are participating in peer review, a very simple way. Make a folder on your computer, and for every review invitation you accept, put copies of the review invitation, the manuscript, your review, and the thank you e-mail you get when you submit the review in there. At the end of the year when you need to submit your report to your employer, you have a folder of proof for everything you put on your form. When this is done, erase all these files to satisfy your confidentiality agreements with all the journals.
And bask in the satisfaction of knowing that you have contributed to an essential component of the scientific process. That is the only reward that counts.