Suggested reviewers

Aug 27 2012 Published by under Careers

Pretty much every journal requires authors to suggest potential reviewers at the time of manuscript submission. Some require four. Others requires as many as six, which can be a right royal pain in the butt. But it's required. Supposedly to help the overworked editorial types of the journal find the right reviewers.

But guess what? I try hard not to use them.

I'm on the editorial board of a middling journal and am often looking for reviewers. But I try not to use the suggested ones. Why? Well, all too often authors suggest people they shouldn't. Like co-authors from previous papers. Collaborators. And the like. I find I spend just as much time trying to figure out whether a suggested reviewer is a kosher suggestion as I would just identifying new ones of my own choosing.

And now there's an additional reason to view reviewer suggestions with some suspicion.

Okay, so I suspect the above is a rarity. And it's certainly fairly easy to confirm the correct email address information for a suggested reviewer. But still...

Finding reviewers isn't easy. By that I mean people actually willing to review a manuscript. So sometimes I do have to resort to using a suggested reviewer or two. But I sure as hell make sure they're relevant suggestions.

The upshot is, if you have me as the handling editor you may be better off putting down people you don't want to review your manuscript as suggested reviewers.*

* This is an attempt at humor.

21 responses so far

  • [...] learned colleague Odyssey opined that this situation strengthened his resolve to never select the suggested reviewers when acting as [...]

  • drugmonkey says:

    Your personal refusal to use the system established by the journal seems spectacularly unfair to me.

    • odyssey says:

      They are suggestions, nothing more. And I would prefer the journal, all journals in fact, to do away with the policy. It merely encourages gaming the system.

      • Drugmonkey says:

        Yes they are suggestions but I think there is a very strong implication here that at least one will be selected. Frankly I think it should be made cleared when they ask for 6 that this is an exclusion list for at least 4 of them.

        • Odyssey says:

          Surely it would be more honest just to do away with the suggestions altogether.

          And just to be clear, what I posted is not journal policy - it's what I do as an AE.

          • drugmonkey says:

            My point is that if the journal has a policy whereby the reviewers are asked for "suggested reviewers" and "suggested exclusions" but the former is essentially the latter (and the latter the former?) at the whim of the AE, this is an unfair situation. Especially for those journals that *insist* you supply suggestions.

            How can you not see the problem here?

  • odyssey says:

    I see the problem you're referring to. The problem I have to deal with is the time it takes to verify authors suggestions. You may or may not be surprised at the sheer number who suggest people who are just plain wrong for the job. In the end it's often easier to just ignore reviewer suggestions.

    And for the record, I *always* honor suggested exclusions.

  • Glfadkt says:

    In my past 6-yr term as an Associate Editor, I welcomed the list of suggested reviewers. This certainly serves as a useful starting point for assigning reviewers, recognizing that sometime you need to invite 6 (rarely, more than 10) individuals in order to line up 3 reviewers. Although the papers for which the editor will need to recruit reviewers should be in his/her general area of expertise, sometimes the topics are somewhat distant from their specific expertise. Even if the editor is very familiar with the field, and recognizes which individuals would have the appropriate expertise to review a manuscript, it wise for editors to always check on PubMed for recent publications involving the submitting author(s) and suggested reviewers. This at least lessens the chance of such fraudulent activity on the part of the author...

  • BugDoc says:

    As an editor, I use a mix of suggested reviewers and others not on the list. In general, I have found that most senior authors are savvy enough not to suggest their recent collaborators and co-authors, which would be explicitly excluded by journal policy. If I find good suggestions on the list, I may take 1 or 2, but consistently add 1 or 2 not on the list as well. And of course, specific exclusions are honored. I agree with DrugMonkey that it seems unfair to completely exclude suggested reviewers. As an author, I think very carefully about the expertise of reviewers I suggest to the journal, and excluding all of them would exclude significant expertise in a given area.

    • KateClancy says:

      +1. I have to admit to being more than a little hurt at the idea that an AE would ignore my suggestions or not trust them. I always have a few people on my suggested reviewer list who are perfect for the manuscript, but I'm a little afraid of their reviews. And yes, some of my suggestions are also colleagues/friends. But doesn't it make sense in a small field that you might be friends with a large number of the people who do what you do? It's unfair to assume we're all gaming the system.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    One of the things that varies is the degree to which you think a given paper of yours can get really expert review from N=? scientists. In some cases I really do think that the top, say, six people I would list really do compromise the bulk of the expertise. So if you have a journal that demands six be listed (some do) and you are honestly trying to identify the best six* for the journal to use then your paper isn't getting the best review under Odyssey's policy.

    *For the naive author, how could one possibly interpret the journals' requests as for anything other than this? It's kind of a bizarre situation. Especially when you take the extra second to think that they are likely going to use only 1-2 of the reviewers you suggest in the best case scenario. If you are concerned about "gaming" the suggestions, this is a big driver.

    • odyssey says:

      First up, I've always believed asking for six suggested reviewers is just plain stupid given most AE's are going to use 1-2 of them at most. As I've stated before, I'd like to do away with the whole suggested reviewers process.

      In terms of your example, sure, if you're in a sub-sub-field where there really are only six qualified reviewers, then my approach would be an issue. But that's not typically what I have to deal with. The journal I'm AE at has a broad scope and readership. Anything that specialized is likely to be sent back to the authors by the editor-in-chief on the grounds that this journal is the wrong place. I'm not sure I've ever had issues identifying 4+ potential expert reviewers other than the suggested and excluded ones.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I find it really hard to imagine a scenario where the top six most expert reviewers for a given paper do not differ meaningfully from reviewers ranked #45-50. I don't care how "general" the journal is either, this could be a Nature paper (I.e, as "general" an audience as there is in science). Reviewers are not unranked in the degree of expertise.

    • odyssey says:

      Who said anything about reviewers #45-50? I know from experience it's hard to find people willing to review, but I've never gotten that far down the list.

      • DrugMonkey says:

        It's called exaggerating to emphasize the point, dude. There's always a ranking. If the top 6 are used, inevitably you are selecting *less expert* reviewers. I'm not buying your argument that for "general interest" papers this isn't true.

  • odyssey says:

    And I don't buy your argument that I can't find sufficient expert reviewers beyond those suggested (4 in the case of the journal I'm at). Maybe that's a function of our respective fields.

    • Drugmonkey says:

      Perhaps it is. Or perhaps you do not agree with the more basic point that for any given paper there is going to be a ranking of expertise.

      • odyssey says:

        No, I agree with the basic point. But I don't believe that the difference between the top four and next four is always significant. And that's all assuming that the four suggested reviewers really are the top four.

        • DrugMonkey says:

          Paranoia about gaming the system aside, do you think that on average the authors will do a better job at ranking peer expertise for their paper, or a worse job, compared with the AE?

  • odyssey says:

    Trick question. Such rankings have a subjective element to them. One would hope the authors would, on average, come up with the better ranking. That doesn't mean the AE can't come up with other peers who have the expertise to review.

  • [...] I seem to have dug myself into a rather deep hole with my last post on suggested reviewers. [...]