A reviewer declines to review a paper because he wants to be paid. Some time later, this reviewer submits a paper to the journal (or to another journal who's aware of what happened – very possible with today's editorial management systems). How should the journal handle this?

Possible options:

  1. Pretend we didn't notice and review as normal.
  2. Write him an email to tell him we're aware of it, but are reviewing the paper anyway because we're a magnanimous journal.
  3. Charge him a submission fee which we then use to pay the reviewers for that paper only.
  4. Charge him a submission fee which we then use to pay the reviewers for that paper only, plus some extras which we use to pay the editor.
  5. Desk reject because "our reviewers are on strike because they're not paid so we can't find reviewers for your paper".

I'm concerned taking retributive action will come across as petty and / or lead to a lose–lose situation. However, not taking retributive action doesn't feel right either – if the reviewer is not willing to review unless paid, then it's hard to expect other people to review (or handle) his paper unless paid either.

If it matters, only the first part really happened: The reviewer used the "decline to review" button with a reason that went something like: “Sorry, I don't review unless I'm paid. Feel free to contact me again to discuss rates”. Still, this decline reason is logged in the EMS, so it can happen in the future.

Controversial Post — You may use comments ONLY to suggest improvements. You may use answers ONLY to provide a solution to the specific question asked above. Moderators will remove debates, arguments or opinions without notice.

  • 18
    Does the journal charge readers for access to materials written by authors supported by public funding? – Dmitry Savostyanov Sep 13 at 12:47
  • 2
    Well, did you pay the reviewer? – Konrad Rudolph Sep 13 at 15:51
  • 34
    When the potential reviewer said they want to be paid, did you explain to them that reviewers of academic papers are normally not compensated? Do you have evidence that this was something other than them not understanding what is normally done for reviews of academic papers? In almost all areas: You asked them to do significant work for your company. They asked to be paid for that work. That's completely normal, almost everywhere, with relatively few exceptions (e.g. reviewing academic papers). – Makyen Sep 13 at 16:50
  • 3
    It is unclear to me why this person was listed as a reviewer. Was it an active action by this person to sign up for this? – pipe Sep 15 at 9:37
  • 2
    @Allure to be clear - did you initiate contact with them, based on previous work seen/published, to request they review a paper without them having agreed to this role? So before your contact they wouldn't have believed they were registered as a reviewer? – Folau Sep 17 at 12:44

15 Answers 15

up vote 113 down vote accepted

The editors of a journal should be professional at all times. Like in any part of life, in academia there will also from time to time be annoying individuals. Don't get down to their level.

Your point 5. would be simply acting out of vengeance. Regarding points 3. & 4. – is a fee a regular thing for this journal? Because if not, it would be a vengeful misconduct. If there is a fee, is it usually used to pay the reviewers? If yes, why wasn't this author paid for his review? If not, why are you considering an exception? This won't be a one-time incident: if you write again to those reviewers, they will want to be paid again, because you set a precedent. If they tell colleagues they were paid, you will be short of reviewers because everyone will want to be paid and will refuse to review otherwise.

Point 1. is the only right thing to do; if you want to be malicious, maybe also 2., but that's still a bit unprofessional to me.

In general, the author's and reviewer's role (even for the same person) should be separated. Being a reviewer is mostly voluntary, and it's just agreed/expected in the community to act as a reviewer from time to time. You cannot force anyone to do it. But you are obliged (as an editor of a publisher's journal) to consider for publication papers that you receive. Just get over this, and maybe consider avoiding working with this person as a reviewer or other such roles in the future. But don't dismiss him as an author. Don't be vengeful.

  • 32
    I totally agree with this answer. I have never heard of a policy that journals will only publish papers by authors who have acted as reviewers for that journal. I have personally reviewed papers for journals I have never published in. The person is clearly trying to make a point in declining the review (journal fees, volunteer reviewing and academic publishing in general is a very contentious point right now) and frankly, I applaud their stance. Unless you normally charge a fee you can't single out this one person. – FJC Sep 13 at 11:32
  • 1
    @FJC I have seen a journal submission form that requires you to check a box saying something like "I will be available as a reviewer", though. – HAEM Sep 14 at 10:27
  • @HAEM oh ok, I haven't seen this in my field but I'll admit that's a fairly small sample of all academic publishing. I think if it is stated as part of the agreement of publishing in that paper then they might have a case to refuse to publish that paper, but I would still be concerned about it. For example, if this is a single author paper you are only disadvantaging that one author who chose not to review, but if there are other authors how do their rights to publish in this journal affect it? – FJC Sep 14 at 10:30

First of all: Is there a rule that you need to be available as reviewer if you want to publish in that specific journal? People decline reviews for all sorts of reasons (often lack of time, which may or may not be the case), and I never heard that somebody got "punished" for that.

Your reviewer wanted to get paid. It is very unusual to pay reviewers, but on the other hand, it is not per se unreasonable or offensive to ask for compensation for work.

I would see it this way: Either you establish a general rule that authors must be available as reviewers or you accept that some people do not review papers (although they publish).

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Wrzlprmft Sep 17 at 8:30

Any potential reviewer with appropriate expertise who declines to review for a journal is effectively saying "my time is worth more than that". This individual is trying to find an equitable middle ground. Sure, paid reviewership very uncommon and totally outside the norms of academic review, but it's completely indefensible to take vengeance on this person because he feels that journals don't appropriately value reviewers' time.

Anything other than accepting the submission and reviewing it like any other is petty, discriminative, and potentially damaging for your journal's reputation. I know I would have serious reservations about submitting or subscribing to a journal that rejected papers irrespective of their content and based solely on personal vendettas with the author (option #5).

Peer review isn't a mechanism to get back at people.

  • 14
    +1 The person in question declined to review. They gave the journal an additional option of paying them to get them to review anyway. Why should suggesting that count against them? – JiK Sep 13 at 18:27
  • 12
    @JiK Why would suggesting that count against them? Well, there are situations where it would count against you to give an additional option of being paid for something you are normally expected to do for free. If a student comes to me asking for an extra office hour, saying no is reasonable, but saying I will only do it if the student pays me is obviously unacceptable. – Dan Romik Sep 14 at 2:34
  • I find your first sentence confusing. Reviewing is paid zero and everybody's time is worth more than zero. – David Richerby Sep 14 at 15:30
  • 4
    @DavidRicherby Reviewing has non-zero value for reviewers. It can fulfill a sense of duty or contribution to the scientific community, it can add to a CV, or it can be good practice for critical assessment of literature. No one would be a reviewer unless they got something out of it, which typically comes in the form of non-monetary intangibles. For this person, the intangibles aren't worth it. They consider their time more valuable than what they'll get out of it, so they want cash to make up the difference. The fact that reviewers get zero pay doesn't mean they get zero value from it. – Nuclear Wang Sep 14 at 15:51
  • 1
    @DanRomik "Well, there are situations where it would count against you to give an additional option of being paid for something you are normally expected to do for free.". Well, outside of the army, household duty or, apparently academics I can not find many examples where people are supposed to give away personal belongings (which time really is) for free. "If a student comes to me asking for an extra office hour" I am not sure exactly what you mean by that... if this student is asking you to tutor them in your spare time, would charging for that be unacceptable? I would hope not. – Stijn de Witt Sep 17 at 20:21

I'll go a little outside the box here and say:
You should pay him and all the other reviewers for reviews.

While certainly paying the reviewers is not a common practice nowadays does not mean it should not be.

In the current world, where each and every scientists is needlessly overloaded with bureaucracy, the amount of students in classes, numbers of those classes and students one has to mentor grows bigger and bigger, and the competition for the very survival - the grant money, requires more and more effort and submissions and work - time is a very precious resource.
It therefore is completely reasonable that a person is not willing to give that resource away for free.

Academic publishing is already one of the best ratios of income to money invested of all businesses in the world.

Maybe the journals could do the right thing here, and give something back to the scientific community. Community which produces the product they sell and give it to them for free.

  • 7
    "It therefore is completely reasonable that a person is not willing to give that resource away for free." That's like saying that it's completely reasonable that a person is not willing to give away friendship (or parenting or love...) for free. People do so because of reciprocity. Paying money for referees would, at best, open a huge can of worms. – Pete L. Clark Sep 13 at 15:38
  • @PeteL.Clark I do not know about You, but I have little love or friendship for publishers. – Empischon Sep 13 at 15:48
  • 13
    I have virtually none. But refereeing is not a service contributed to the publisher; it's a service contributed to the author and to the academic community. I referee your papers because I want and need you to referee mine (or something similar but with more parties). Paying referees would open several cans of worms with respect to quality, fairness and conflicts of interest. It is also really naive to think that the publishing companies will provide this service out of their current (enormous) profit margins. Or so I believe, anyway. – Pete L. Clark Sep 13 at 16:00
  • 17
    The purpose of peer review is to ensure the scientific integrity of a journal. I have a hard time imagining an arrangement where paying reviewers doesn't lead to perverse incentives and integrity problems. – David Sep 13 at 17:56
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. Also, be nice. – Wrzlprmft Sep 20 at 7:34

Follow the journal’s publicly advertised policies.

I assume that the journal has a web page with a text titled “Instructions for authors” or “Journal policies” or something similar. This is the place where the journal indicates that the journal will not accept already published papers, double submissions, papers that aren’t typeset in Comic Sans font, or whatever. The journal is free to make its own rules about what papers it is willing to consider, but needs to advertise them to prospective authors, since it is unprofessional to waste people’s time.

If the journal’s advertised policy is to refuse to review papers from authors who previously asked for money to do a review for the journal (or something more general that includes that situation as a special case), then you not only can, but in fact you must follow that policy and let the author know you cannot consider their submission.

Otherwise, you have no legitimate reason to treat the submission any differently from any other one.

As for whether it would make sense for the journal to have such a policy: well, no. Like others who posted answers this seems terribly pointless and petty to me.

All options except 1) and 2) seem completely unprofessional to me. 5) is, strictly speaking, a terrible lie. You imagine that the author will figure out that you are being sarcastic rather than actually dishonest, but they may not. 4) is perhaps yet more unethical: as an editor of the journal you punish the author by paying...yourself??

As for 3), you are offering a selected individual author the right to pay for their refereeing -- what if they take you up on the offer now and in the future? What if you get other offers by authors to pay for their refereeing? How will you maintain fairness and prevent conflicts of interest? What a mess.

Lots of people turn down referee requests all the time, generally without giving reasons or giving reasons that don't really explain anything ("Sorry, I'm too busy.") This particular academic seems a bit naive about how the refereeing process works and that came out in their reply. But they'll learn if they stick around. You could take it upon yourself to offer friendly advice -- i.e., some version of 2), although the text you give reads as pretty snarky to me -- or just assume that the data point of your experience will be filed away.

Selectively enforcing what you perceive to be ungenerous refereeing practices just doesn't make sense to me because you have so little information about who the good and bad referees actually are. Don't you think there are much more senior academics that refuse most or all requests because they are "too busy" or pawn them off on their students (possibly without giving credit, which I feel is really problematic) or spend way too long with requests gumming up the works or contribute totally superficial, unhelpful reports or only contribute reports to settle their own scores or......There is way too much here for any one editor or journal to wade into, I think.

I agree with the answers that say that it's unethical to single out a submitter for retaliation because they annoyed you when you asked them to review. If you want reviewing papers to be a requirement for submitting papers, then you need to have a clearly articulated policy that says so up front. This is the case irrespective of whether they refuse because they want to be paid, or for some other reason.

The question you need to ask yourself is, are you sure you want such a policy? Crafting such a policy in a way that would be fair to all people involved would be hard. You have to answer questions like, how many review requests can you refuse and still remain in good standing? Are there valid reasons that might excuse a refusal? How do you verify them? How do you ensure a fair distribution of review requests? What do you do about people who want to submit but have never been asked to review? The list goes on and on.

Equally importantly, are you sure you want people writing reviews grudgingly? Reviewers who are only doing the review because it's a requirement for getting published are likely to do a mediocre job. You can expect such people to put forth the minimal effort required to meet whatever standard you set. Some won't do even that, and so now you have to find a way to review the reviews. The end result is likely to be that the quality of peer review in your journal will go down because poor reviewers will no longer be self-selecting out of the reviewing pool.

It stinks that some people free-ride on the peer review system, but any effort to punish them or force them to participate is likely to backfire. The best thing you can do is to treat them like any other author and leave it to community norms to encourage people to do their share of reviewing.

As a reviewer, I would be happy to treat this paper just like any other.

I consider that I do get paid to review papers, in the sense that my employer expects that I do a small amount of reviewing. If this person is refusing to review on the grounds that reviewers don't get paid, perhaps they don't currently have a position where reviewing is encouraged.

People who can't use work time to review (perhaps because they are outside of academia) should still be able to publish papers, and IMO they shouldn't be expected to review in return - though of course they can still be asked!

I think it's tremendously hypocritical of the author to submit to a journal knowing other reviewers will do uncompensated labor for his work, but not to do the same for theirs.

That being said, "being a good person" is not typically a submission requirement.

Option 1 is really the only appropriate option. All of the others seem vindictive and petty, and if I found out a journal was doing that, even if it wasn't to me, I would be much less likely to submit to that journal in the future, consider reviewing/joining the editorial board, etc.

The potential damage to your journal's reputation isn't worth it.

  • 11
    Regarding your first point: if they have a general objection this may be true, however if they are selectively refusing to do this for companies that make huge profits (you know the ones) whilst still reviewing for journals that are open access or non-profit they may not be hypocritical (even if you, personally, disagree with their stance). We cannot discern this from the Question asked. – Jack Aidley Sep 13 at 19:52
  • 1
    @JackAidley Fair, I missed the "or". Yeah, the hypocrisy statement only really applies to exactly the same journal. – Fomite Sep 13 at 20:00
  • 1
    @Fomite just to nitpick a bit more (since it’s fun :-)), it’s possible that the author’s financial situation is unusually bad and does not enable them to take on non-paying duties (which would come at the expense of a second job they have to work to support an ailing relative, say), but that this is a problem that doesn’t apply to most reviewers. The author would then logically think it’s okay to expect their paper to be reviewed by unpaid reviewers while also refusing to referee a paper for the same journal themselves, without being “tremendously hypocritical”. Anyway: nice answer - upvoted. – Dan Romik Sep 13 at 20:20
  • 2
    About hypocrisy: The author might have the concept that the journal should pay all the reviewers, not just himself (as often journals charge quite a bit for access, this could be possible). – Paŭlo Ebermann Sep 16 at 17:27
  • 1
    "I think it's tremendously hypocritical of the author to ~~submit~~ give the fruits of their labor to a journal knowing other reviewers will do uncompensated labor". – Stijn de Witt Sep 17 at 20:39

A journal accepts articles because it depends on publishing articles.

People don't pay for publishing by reviewing.

People review for whatever reasons and are paid with fame or a good feeling.

There is no connection between reviewing a paper and submitting one.

  • 3
    are paid with fame or a good feeling plus their salary. – Cape Code Sep 14 at 7:46
  • 4
    @CapeCode but not from the journal. And especially not with being allowed to publish. – DonQuiKong Sep 14 at 8:55
  • @DonQuiKong Point is that if you as a potential reviewer are not in a position where you can review during work hours, that means you are being asked to do it for free, whereas otherwise it's just a part of your job. Huge difference! – Stijn de Witt Sep 17 at 20:41
  • @StijndeWitt not for the journal. – DonQuiKong Sep 18 at 4:27

The policies of any journal should be public and consistently applied. Having a policy that you have to be a reviewer before you can be reviewed is irrational, I think. There are many rational reasons to refuse any particular paper for review. But if you have a policy that the complete refusal to review for any reason, including that you want to be paid, could lead to desk rejection is a different matter.

One large problem here is how to state such a policy so that it isn't too narrow. A policy that complete or consistent refusal is not acceptable is difficult to state specifically. It needs, in my view, to be stated as an expectation. We expect that our authors are available to review the works of others. That is (approximately) what you want, but applying it too rigidly is a mistake.

But then, the question arises about how to handle such situations in practice.

Actually, the journal should handle a problem like this much earlier than the situation described. It may be that the "reviewer" just doesn't know how the game is played and that reviewing is seen as a contribution to one's peers. To be a professional is to offer this service and, by cooperating, others will, hopefully, do the same.

Therefore, send a letter to the person when they first refuse for this reason, explaining the process and the fact that reviewers are never paid and that paying them would increase the costs to readers as well, given that there are more reviews done than articles published.

At that time, let them know that, while it is possible to refuse any given paper for review, if they refuse to participate in the process at all, then their future work won't be accepted as a matter of policy.

I have refused to review papers for a variety of reasons, often because I felt I didn't know enough of the subject to do it justice. No one should have to make reviewing their first priority. But if they refuse to participate in a society as constituted they won't be welcome in it.

They are, of course, welcome to work for a more rational system if they like. The current system has many practices that should be addressed, but we have, so far, presented only partial solutions, and most have their own negative consequences.

  • 6
    “But if they refuse to participate in a society as constituted they won't be welcome in it.” — The person in question is probably more than happy to review pro bono for a journal that doesn’t charge exorbitant publishing/subscription fees, or has otherwise questionable business practices. At least that’s usually the case. – Konrad Rudolph Sep 13 at 15:57
  • 1
    @cbeleites, actually, I agree that the policies should be available and not secret. Not everyone reads the policies, of course. – Buffy Sep 17 at 17:39
  • @Buffy: but then it's clearly their own fault. Whereas here I don't even know enoug details about the reviewer's reasons for asking for money to allow myself a judgment. Maybe they just refuse to participate in a society as constituted because they are not a member of the society of academic employees whose wage includes publication activities... Aynways, please add that the matter of policy must be publicly viewable policy so i can upvote ;-) – cbeleites Sep 17 at 17:48
  • @cbeleites, not requiring an upvote, of course, but I make a fairly complete rewrite. I avoided originally making a suggestion for a rational policy but finally attacked the issue. I'm not sure I have quite the correct nuance. – Buffy Sep 17 at 18:06
  • +1 for handling earlier and saying that matters of policy have to be spelled out beforehand. And that all kinds of policies have their own difficulties :-) – cbeleites Sep 17 at 18:14

I don't know that an editorial decision to not accept the paper is necessary here. I also don't think sarcasm is appropriate.

I would accept this paper for review, and send the author a strong email suggesting that future submissions will not be welcome if he or she agrees to participate in the publishing model of this particular journal.

This way at least the author will shut up about reasons for turning down a review request, and just say "I'm too busy".

Alternatively, if this seems too harsh, I wouldn't say the papers are unwelcome, but I would clearly let the author know that to submit a paper to a journal for which he has philosophical objection to reviewing for seems like hypocrisy.

Variation of #2? Wouldn't go any further than that.

Deviating from your normal review guidelines is unprofessional, and it's possibly an ethical issue if it ends up affecting the published content. If the paper is good enough for review and there is normally no fee, then send it for review.

However, given his qualms about unpaid reviewers, it might be reasonable to warn him that he's submitting to a journal that does not pay its reviewers. It is entirely possible he may want to withdraw his paper due to ethical concerns over your practices.

This may be unprofessional in some eyes, but it's the only ethical way to needle him over his hypocrisy (he's essentially demanding a service he refuses to provide)---and the communication should remain entirely confidential regardless of his response.

I agree with the many other who think #1 is the way to go. Or rather, a variant that I'd call #0: there shouldn't be any pretending you didn't notice. Acceptance of a paper should IMHO solely depend on scientific merits and content (includes whether the subject fits scope of the journal) plus possibly pre-specified fees. Pre-specified fees could also be a payment in kind, i.e. saying that for every manuscript you submit, you have to do so many reviews.

As for reasons not to review, I don't see how "I cannot afford to put in the time" is worse than saying "I don't have the time" or just not giving any reason. If you consider "I cannot put in the time without being paid" not a good reason, then surely neither is no reason a good reason.


In my field, academics are usually employed. And the employment contracts I had in academia always considered not only writing up research into manuscript form but also reviewing as part of the professional duties. In that sense, I've been paid for the vast majority of reviews I've done. Just not by the journal. BTW, there are macro-economic estimates of these costs (STM report 2012, p. 21 last paragraph

If I were journal editor receiving such a request, I'd be tempted to say "Please send us your/your employer's billing address and VAT number otherwise we cannot prepare a reverse invoice. If you act self-employed, we'll need your VAT number or VAT exemption and tax number. We'll then be considering what we can offer."

And I do see the point that a publication system that pays reviewers, collects fees for submission and reading and pays out royalties to the authors (or their employer, in case of employment contracts) may result in almost a zero-sum game in terms of money (even if we'd divide all the profits of Elsevier, Springer and Wiley) - at the additional cost of huge burocracy. But it would lead to an immense increase in common academic knowledge about international tax rules... Even though you can count me as one of the very few people who are not immediately scared off by the fact that receiving fees does cause tax payment and reporting duties, I'm not sure the gain in fairness of even an ideally fair system of those fees is worth the hassle.


I'm freelancer now, but still have some projects that are very close to academia, and still do some research. Let me add a point of view from that perspective, because that's where I can see me being the reviewer in your question. I'd have explained, though, that as opposed to people being paid by grant money I'm freelancer and do not have any project covering the review of your manuscript - and that at present I cannot afford volunteering the time for the review. Taking the scenario further, as an author getting response #2 I'd answer that I feel at least as magnanimous as I'm not paid by any project for preparing the manuscript*.

I'd like to point out that I'm fine with the current system if there is a project that at least somewhat covers these activities (I do have one such research project right now). And I'm fine with volunteering time even if there is no such project, but within limits.

But I do have to say that I have some disquieting experience with academics on permanent employment contracts who do not see any more the difference between having and not having an employment contract. (If I'm the one in question, that's fine - I can deal with that professionally. But I do get upset if this attitude hits former students who are out of job and are expected to work for free.) And that alarm is triggered by seeing many responses here on academia.sx that claim pretty much noone is paid for reviewing when my estimate is that the vast majority of academia.sx users do have academic employment contracts which include publication duties (please comment that you are not paid by projects if that's the case so I can update my world-view).

* I'd rationalize to myself some of that time as going into marketing. And in fact, I would not try to haggle for payment, but do foresee me haggling with journals whether if I volunteer my time for writing the manuscript, they could throw in open access. Or leave me more rights than usual.

Why not

  1. Reject his paper, informing him that your journal's QA process works by having its potential authors do unpaid peer reviews, and hence, willingness to do unpaid peer reviews is a condition for being an author.

Only do this if this is actually your policy, and you uphold it strictly.

Other than that, only your first option seems reasonable. Never make it personal.

  • So a first time author, such as a graduate student, is by policy not to be allowed to publish there? – Andrés E. Caicedo Sep 18 at 23:44
  • A graduate student is a potential author. – reinierpost Sep 19 at 14:55
  • The suggestion seems unrealistic. People can always say yes, they will review, and then don't do it. What is the journal doing in that case? Withdrawing a publish paper? Or are potential authors not allowed to publish until after they review something? Then, again, grad. students and a lot of people early in their academic careers would simply not consider the journal, as they cannot afford the artificial delay and extra hurdles this represents. – Andrés E. Caicedo Sep 19 at 16:57

protected by eykanal Sep 13 at 20:03

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.