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I'm a relatively recent graduate putting together a startup company, and I've just received an offer to peer-review a paper for a reputable journal.

As with prior questions on SE.Academia, e.g.

  1. As a Ph.D. student, should I spend time reviewing papers?,

  2. Personal repercussions for those who actively ignore review requests?,

  3. What benefits are there to peer reviewing papers?,

  4. I have been invited to peer review a manuscript for a reputable journal. This is my first so I have a few questions to the more experienced,

I'm basically asking if it's important that I accept. The difference in this question is that I'm not currently employed by a university, nor do I foresee that changing any time soon, so I'm less concerned with something like a faculty activity report and more concerned with maintaining professional connections.

While I believe that it's virtuous to help build the human knowledge pool, my primary concern is a bit more pragmatic in if I should be focused on building professional connections. Realistically speaking I'm not currently too concerned with publishing papers, though I may yet need to when it's time to explain to the world exactly what technology my startup's based on.

However, a time sink's still a time sink, and I can't afford too many distractions right now. I'm also unsure about precisely what I'd be committing to, making it harder to judge how much of a distraction it might be.

Other considerations:

  1. The peer-review request came in on a private email address, so I assume that someone I know well recommended me. It's a pretty safe bet that both the editor and the person who recommended me are aware of my professional situation and considered it when making the recommendation/request.

  2. The editor has strong connections in a field where I have a patent for a technology that may yield significant royalties if it's adopted. As a complex technology that I don't currently have time to personally champion, having other experts in the field recommend it could be the difference between investors using it vs. going with a less-effective-but-simpler solution advocated by competitors.

Questions:

  1. Should a startup-company founder be concerned with maintaining a reputation as a peer-reviewer?

  2. In general, is serving as a peer-reviewer important to researchers outside of academia?

  3. Are there potential benefits/hazards to accepting/rejecting a peer-review request?


Context information (if relevant):

  1. The peer-review subject matter isn't closely related to the startup company's core technology, though one expected basket of consumers of the company's core technology is likely to care about the peer-review subject matter.

  2. I haven't officially done a peer-review before, though I've provided unofficially commentary upon request for those that were serving as peer-reviewers.

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    What's specific to your situation that isn't covered by those earlier answers? – user2768 Apr 10 '18 at 7:48
  • @user2768 Primarily the business context. As I read them, the others focused on those in academic careers. While the peer-review process seems closely related to academia, the arguments based on the presumption of an academic-career progression didn't help me figure this out. – Nat Apr 10 '18 at 7:50
  • I should add that, in part, I recall my PhD advisor constantly telling me that I should pay close attention to professional connections, including by serving as a peer-reviewer, though I'm a little fuzzy on the causal mechanism for how serving as a peer-reviewer might impact my career. I figure that the editor-might-think-to-recommend-my-patented-technology-more as one potential causal mechanism, though I'm not sure if it's a significant enough one to be concerned about. Dunno about what other mechanisms might exist. – Nat Apr 10 '18 at 7:53
  • In short: I think you should peer-review if you publish or plan to. That is, if the start-up is research-based. I don't see maintaining a reputation as a peer-reviewer as important, I do see shirking your responsibilities as bad for your reputation. The same applies to peer-reviewing outside of academia, it is important if you publish. I asked for clarification because I don't see much difference between academia and industry in this respect: peer-review if you publish or plan to. – user2768 Apr 10 '18 at 8:03
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    @Nat I meant globally public, i.e., a list of reviewers is published, again this only applies to some disciplines. If you don't participate, then that's only known to the people who invited you (and whoever reads your CV, assuming you list such things). – user2768 Apr 10 '18 at 10:22
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I think you should not take up this review, based on three reasons:

(1) No longer 'peer' : As an entrepreneur, you engage with technology, products and marketability more than academic research, thus defeating the purpose of peer-review, where researchers review papers in their field of work, and ideally get reviewed equally when they publish. The exception to this is if the journal is a technology journal focusing on product development and you have been asked to review from that perspective.

(2) Resource availability : To review a paper well, you will need access to related work in the field for judging correctness/suitability, possibly you will need to follow up some references, and more importantly, you will need to have time and current knowledge of published literature in the field. Unless the start-up is research-oriented, I think these resources may not be very accessible.

(3) Potential conflict of interest : This may not apply to the present case, but if this repeats, you may find yourself in situations where your review could be biased (eg. the paper reports flaws in a competitor's technology), and this would be an avoidable ethical burden.

Finally, the overbearing message I get from the question is that you are considering review because it could potentially benefit your product (through professional network etc). IMO, this is neither good (review should have a share-and-grow ethos) nor particularly effective- your network can be built better through more conventional routes, and also publishing a paper may not reach a big chunk of your target consumers (unless you are targeting the research community, in which case many of these points are invalid.).

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    +1! I'd note that, for the ethical perspective, my main concern is that the technology I'm working on has immediate life-saving applications, so I'm largely concerned that it'd be unethical for me to not work on it. For me, there's always this concern that, if I'm not working, I'm effectively killing people through inaction; this can make me prone to burning out. But, I guess that SE questions shouldn't be too heavily based in personal circumstance. – Nat Apr 10 '18 at 9:14
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    I disagree, especially with (1). Anyone who is an expert on the subject of the paper is a 'peer' regardless of their job. In this case the asker has a PhD so they should be qualified to peer review in some area. (2) and (3) could apply to any peer reviewer with an academic job also. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 10 '18 at 9:41
  • @Nat - that's great to hear! Good luck to you.Work is indeed its own reward. – user153812 Apr 10 '18 at 10:50
  • @AnonymousPhysicist - Appreciate your viewpoint, though I should state in response that -(1) I'm not questioning if the OP is 'qualified' to review, there is no reason to doubt ability. My point is that 'peer-review' is valid only if the reviewer is also subject to review (as would happen with someone in the academic field). If not, it ought to be called 'competent review' or something, not peer review. One wouldn't call an answersheet graded by an anonymous grader a 'peer review', after all. – user153812 Apr 10 '18 at 10:55
  • @AnonymousPhysicist- (contd.) Secondly, I don't see how (2) would apply to someone in academia- the tangible resources would (typically) be available at their university/institute. As for time and current knowledge requirements, well, that is part of the job, and the reviewer would be expected to have those if they sign up for review. – user153812 Apr 10 '18 at 10:56

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