Should Journal Peer Review be Incentivised?

Hugo Horta and Jisun Jung

Journal peer review is part of academic life; authors send manuscripts to journals and receive feedback from the reviewers and editors, who take roles as journal gatekeepers for quality control and have a critical developmental role in improving initial research findings, analyses, and discussion. The peer review process in academia has been the cornerstone of the contemporary scientific community since the mid-20th century, even if the fundamentals of the practice started a few centuries earlier. Through a long development process, contributed to by technological advancements and changes of mentality (that led to double-blind reviews, for example), peer review principles and practices have evolved gradually and differently across disciplines. From the start, the process relied on willing reviewers in scientific fields who shared responsibility as academic citizens. Peer review always had a prosocial and service nature of the reviewers to science and academia.

Although still considered the gold standard of science, the journal peer review system today is confronted by many challenges, mainly due to the exponential growth of submissions of manuscripts to journals, part of a second massification of science driven by ‘publish or perish’ (some may argue ‘publish and still perish’) dynamics. Due to a growing publication pressure for academics to publish, particularly in international peer-reviewed and Web of Science or Scopus-indexed journals, and in the English language, many of these journals receive a deluge of submissions, not necessarily of good scientific quality. This places a tremendous amount of pressure on journal editors and reviewers alike. Unsurprisingly, most academics are time-constrained as they often must prioritise their time for publishing rather than reviewing for others. The need to publish to ensure career survival and thriving is undermining the prosocial and service nature of peer reviewing. In this context, many academics feel that peer review is not adequately rewarded and recognised compared to other scholarly activities, particularly publishing. It is common to hear editors complain about difficulties finding suitable, qualified, and willing reviewers. Even if some reviewers agree to review, they might not deliver the review in a timely and high quality manner. This leads to complaints about the peer review system being ineffective, slow, cumbersome, and vulnerable to various biases.

By problematising this issue, we recently published the article, ‘The crisis of peer review: Part of the evolution of science’. In the article, we explained how the journal peer review system has historically evolved and how the original value of peer review remained valid. We further discussed the current challenges of the peer review system from multiple stakeholder’s views and highlighted the problem of poor recognition and incentives for peer review. At the end of the article, we asked if there are better ways to motivate academics to participate actively in peer review, recognise their review work, or provide more appealing incentives for reviewers.

Some recent efforts have been made in some disciplines to reward reviewers, including through monetary or non-monetary incentivisation. For example, one suggestion is to charge authors a fee to submit, which is then used to pay reviewers, although such monetary incentives may pose a moral threat to academic work (Squazzoni et al., 2013). Another monetary incentive is from the publisher, who provides free access to journal subscription content or discounts for their content, especially for reviewers from developing countries who need more access to academic journals and other resources. Another suggestion is to give official recognition for review work through online platforms (i.e. Publons). However, this can be risky as it might create another form of competition for metrics and encourage the marketisation of science (Teixeira da Silva & Al-Khatib, 2019). Some journals give awards or certificates to the most diligent reviewers or include the reviewers’ names in the journal paper version, thanking them there. The issue is that journals are transitioning to online platforms, and paper versions are increasingly dismissed due to their cost, environmental concerns, and lack of space.

Interesting attempts also connect the publication and review process by incentivisation or punishment strategies. This mainly targets those academics who publish a lot but rarely agree to review for others. Some journals offer publication credits for their reviewers (Fox & Petchey, 2010) and make authors review a certain number of papers if they want to publish their research in the same journal. Fox and Petchey’s (2010) study introduced the concept of Pubcreds, whereby authors receive credits for reviewing work, which they can use to get their research reviewed. All these strategies highlight the role of extrinsic motivators in the face of declining intrinsic motivators. A key point is that few incentives are known that reliably sustain the quality and quantity of the peer review process. Nonetheless, the peer review process is here to stay because its core values remain useful and because it is the worst form of scientific assessment except for all the others that have been tried so far.

Of course, not all academics are motivated just by incentives for peer review. Many remain motivated to participate in peer review because they are interested and curious, want to know new knowledge in their field, contribute to developing quality research, or feel that reviewing is part of their role as researchers. Although these are all positive sides of peer review, the current system could be more sustainable considering the recent trends of overloaded journal submissions. To sustain science with academic integrity, training and fostering future generations of researchers as authors and reviewers is a necessary step. This may also be an opportunity for the peer review process to become more inclusive and bring in an increasing number of women researchers and those from developing countries. This inclusivity could mitigate some of the issues plaguing peer review processes and involve others and their knowledge in the scientific endeavour.


Fox, J., & Petchey, O. L. (2010). Pubcreds: Fixing the peer review process by ‘privatising’ the reviewer commons. The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 91(3), 325–333.

Squazzoni, F., Bravo, G., & Takács, K. (2013). Does incentive provision increase the quality of peer review? An experimental study. Research Policy, 42(1), 287–294.

Teixeira da Silva, J. A., & Al-Khatib, A. (2019). The ClarivateTM analytics acquisition of Publons—An evolution or commodification of peer review? Research Ethics, 15, 438–444.


This blog is based on our recent publication. Please find the full text below (open access).

Horta, H., & Jung, J. (2024). The crisis of peer review: Part of the evolution of science. Higher Education Quarterly.

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