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My experience is that a reason for why peer review take so long is because of the personality of the referees. I know people in my field that gets nothing done until very close to the deadline. They make conference presentations during the flight to the conference destination. They do not respond emails on time but after several queries. They (and many admit this too), do the peer review day or two before the deadline. If the journal gives referees two weeks to complete the review, they do the review on the last day before the deadline. If the editors give them 4 months to do the review they do the review on the last day before the deadline. In my personal opinion, these people are annoying and difficult to work with. Luckily there are also people who always reply to emails first thing, do the reviews on the same day when editors ask for them to review the paper etc. We should have more people like the latter and less like the former in academia.


I think all of these suggestions are worth trying, but in the end won't make much of a change. The exception might be shorter deadlines, more on that below. As for reminders, those who are motivated by reminders are the same people who already don't take very long to review, and those who do take a long time will not be motivate by reminders. Again my solution which won't happen: charge for submissions (a sliding scale based on salary) and then pay reviewers.

I also think there should be a four week deadline. I find it hard to see a reason why someone cannot finish it in four weeks, or maybe 6 if they ask for an extension. Marcus you can cut out the needing time away, I'm sure your reviews are already better than most. Anyway, time is fungible for the most part, and reviewing takes a certain block of time that will be the same block whether it is done 2 or 10 weeks from the day someone got the review. In the rare circumstances when someone really can't meet 4-6 weeks then they should decline. Of course, people violate deadlines, but I tend to think that most people will only violate them a certain amount, so shorter deadlines will lead to overall shorter reviews, even if they far exceed the deadline. And like JR said, some people do everything last minute, so in this case a shorter deadline would help.


This is a bit off topic, but is there a reason journals don't have staff reviewers? This seems to be another area where in any other career there would be people paid to do this work rather than a reliance on free labor.

I suppose having staff reviewers might be difficult for a generalist journal, but surely something like Ethics could have a small team that handles most of the reviews. They could then contract out review work if no one on staff had the required expertise. Even contract work would be better than expecting people to do it for free.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Cameron: I have worries about the notion of staff reviewers. I worry it would place the peer review process in the hands of a small number of people, giving their perspective an outsized influence over what gets published. I’m inclined to think widely distributed, less centralized decision making is better for protecting against bias and “journal capture”.


Hi Marcus: That is certainly an important worry, but I'm not sure it outweighs the problems of the current system. Since each journal would have different reviewers, you could just send your paper to another journal if it gets rejected. If the bias is so widespread it carries between all or even most journals, then it's probably already a problem for the existing system.

Personally, I'd rather have a journal turn down my paper in a week or two (which I'm assuming would be a reasonable time-frame for dedicated reviewers), with a clear explanation, than wait for months only to have the paper rejected without explanation. Even if the clear explanation is "this is not philosophy", at least I'd know not to send that journal any more of my work.

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