Peer Review: Work or Hobby?

Andrew N. Wilner, MD


November 09, 2017


I once asked a wise accountant what the difference was between work and a hobby. (Some of my hobbies can be more demanding than a day at work.) I'll never forget his response: "Work is what you are paid to do; a hobby is for your own pleasure."

Yesterday, I received a request to review a manuscript. I have published in the same journal, and the editor is an esteemed colleague. I enjoy reviewing articles. It's exciting to see what research is afoot, and frankly, I'm flattered that someone values my opinion.

Thanks, but No Thanks

I reluctantly declined. It takes me at least 2-3 hours to do a thoughtful peer review, more if I need to consult the literature. Not unlike many of my colleagues, I'm already days behind on my work. Although I do receive intellectual gratification from my peer review efforts, it is increasingly difficult to reconcile these intangible benefits with the time required.

Peer review is an essential component of the publication process. No editor could be sufficiently familiar with the subject matter of every research paper to expertly analyze its methods, results, and conclusions. Peer input is essential to put the article's findings into context for the reader. Peer reviewers not only rate an article's quality, but also make suggestions for improvement. My own publications have benefited from reviewers' helpful critiques.

Traditionally, peer review has been an idealistic endeavor performed purely for the advancement of science. Indeed, it is an honor to be selected to peer review a manuscript. Every now and then, I receive a letter of acknowledgement from a journal's editors. I have even been in the "top 10%" of reviewers—an achievement probably more dependent on timely submission of my comments rather than any extraordinary insights.

The demand for peer review is also increasing owing to an increase in scientific production and proliferation of new scientific journals.[1] Years ago, neurologists were expected to keep up with developments in the "Green Journal" (Neurology) and the "Blue Journal" (Annals of Neurology). Today, there aren't enough primary colors to label all the relevant publications.


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