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I have been asked to peer-review a manuscript for journal X (field of psychology). I recognised the author name as someone I've reviewed a past paper for last year, in journal Y. The topic of his research is still of interest to me, and before accepting, I wanted to see how their now-published journal Y paper (which I recommended minor revisions for, while correcting several mistakes) looked like - and noticed they did not bother to acknowledge the reviewers. I realised I was put off by this: to my mind it is a question of common courtesy to thank your reviewers by at least including a note in the Acknowledgements. I can see that other papers by this author also lack this 'feature'.

I know we all do peer-review without expecting compensation or recognition - however I feel this is contingent on us not forgetting to somehow thank (if even superficially) each other for what is a rather ungrateful albeit necessary work. This is especially necessary when journals (such as Journal Y) do not openly disclose reviewers' names, nor have any schemes whereby reviewers can add their peer-review contributions to an ORCID-linkable profile etc.

To make up for this (as I perceive it) remaining glitch in the peer-review system, I am myself always careful to thank my own reviewers, either directly if they disclose who they are (as I did in my journal Y review), or at the very least in the Acknowledgements, where I try to make the statement less banal by mentioning a specific way in which the reviewers' comments have improved the manuscript.

Am I putting undue weight on this, or am I right to think that, if I'm going to devote an entire day (sometimes two days) to peer-reviewing an unknown colleague's paper, and since I anyway cannot say yes to all the requests I get, I might as well do it for authors who don't appear to take this effort for granted?

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    In my field and my career I have never been acknowledged as a reviewer and never acknowledged any of my reviewers. Perhaps your field is different. – Jon Custer Mar 23 at 14:27
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    @JonCuster As an author, I would only consider it when the reviewer went above and beyond, and their comments lead to a substantial improvement of the manuscript. (I.e. way beyond minor revisions.) So far that's happened (at least) once in my career, but that journal told me that they have a policy against acknowledging reviewers... But as you say, there might be some field dependence. – Anyon Mar 23 at 14:46
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    @Anyon - I didn’t want to make a blanket statement across all fields, since experience here says I’d be wrong somewhere. I can certainly imagine cases where I would acknowledge a referee, it just never happened. And I really don’t care if some authors acknowledge me or not - I’m just doing my job. – Jon Custer Mar 23 at 14:51
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    Of the papers I've read (mathematics), most don't acknowledge reviewers. I consider it reasonable to acknowledge reviewers if their comments led to a nontrivial improvement of the paper, but I fear I may have neglected to acknowledge some reviewers who, by this criterion, deserved to be acknowledged – Andreas Blass Mar 23 at 18:50
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    Acknowledging reviewers is not an established rule; it's more of a meme that has spread reasonably far by now but still not everywhere. Authors can also just forget about it in the heat of the battle -- they don't normally follow checklists. – darij grinberg Mar 23 at 18:58
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In my opinion, you are overthinking this.

Academics do many things as part of their jobs, some highly visible, some behind the scenes; some acknowledged, some not.

In addition, social norms vary by discipline, by geography, and by individual. I have thus far once acknowledged a reviewer, since their comments improved a paper of mine signficantly, more so than others with whom I workshopped it with previously. However, I certainly don't write such acknowledgements as a matter of routine. To me it would feel like meaningless boilerplate.

And frankly, while I do appreciate the importance of the peer review process, fairly often the nuggets of gold are also mixed with piles of dirt -- reviewer comments which, while well-intentioned, are at best of marginal value and yet take lots of time to figure out how and whether to address for at best slight benefit. I think most authors feel this at various times, and so while we recognize the worth of the peer review process overall, and if we are honest also recognize it has on balance improved our paper, our mindframe may not be exactly condusive to writing effusive acknowledgements once we finally craft a reply to comment #17! And it's good to recognize this mindframe challenge when we are playing the reviewer role as well.

Finally, I view the activity of reviewing more as part of my membership dues to my profession, not as anonymous acts of kindness to authors. I feel positive when sometimes (and I don't go out of my way to check) my reviewer's contributions get reflected in the final published paper, but I'm not sure I would notice whether there is a pro forma acknowledgement at the bottom or not.

However, this is a worthwhile discussion to have. I will henceforth set the bar under which I as author acknowledge in this instance lower, since your question has brought to my attention that you, and presumably other people, care about this more than I do!

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    Thanks, that's good to hear of this perspective. – z8081 Mar 23 at 15:44
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For recommending "minor" revisions, perhaps you are overreacting. But a more important question is whether they are just a taker or also give back to the scientific community. Do you have any knowledge that they refuse to do reviews? That would be a more important reason for declining the review.

But, you are providing a service to the journal, to the editors, and to science itself by doing reviews, not just to a, perhaps, poorly acting author. Perhaps you want to just grumble and do the review as usual.

You could, of course, tell the editor about what you have noticed. Any request to the author to provide acknowledgements can come from them.

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  • Good points, thank you. For the record, although my recommendation at the time was for minor revisions, that just meant no extra experiment (or anything really major) was required, however I did correct multiple mistakes, thus the paper was definitely improved. I could have mentioned that in the question, which might have justified why I felt surprised the authors took all of that for granted, but might have sounded too much like blowing my own trumpet. – z8081 Mar 23 at 15:46
  • This will annoy most editors. – Anonymous Physicist Mar 24 at 10:44
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    @AnonymousPhysicist, I'm pretty sure they can deal with it. – Buffy Mar 24 at 11:44
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    Is someone who only publishes good science “just a taker” who doesn’t “give back to the scientific community”? This seems like an odd characterization. – Dan Romik Mar 24 at 15:34
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I am not in the habit of thanking reviewers, not because i dont appreciate the effort that they put in, but rather because it is anonymous, it feels fruitless to thank someone whose name I do not know. No one gets credit there, and it feels superfluous.

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First, reviewing papers is a service to the community more than it is a service to the authors. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that this author is an evil, selfish person who doesn’t deserve any favors from you. Does it still make sense to deprive the community of your feedback about this author’s paper, which may still be a good paper that makes a valuable scientific contribution to the field? (Or even better, it may be a bad paper and you’ll get the satisfaction of saying it’s bad and protecting the community from publishing junk...)

I see a second problem with your logic. As reviewers we need to be completely impartial and make all our decisions, including the decision whether to take on a reviewing assignment, based on impersonal matters rather than emotional issues having to do with our personal opinions about paper authors, their personalities, whether they are nice people etc. If we don’t, we risk creating a culture where you’ll see authors trying to curry favor with their (present or future) reviewers by starting to include manipulative statements in their papers — think something along the lines of “I offer my advance thanks and eternal gratitude to the wonderful reviewer who will be reading this: Anonymous Reviewer, you are the best!!!” If you don’t want to see this sort of thing happening, don’t allow yourself to be swayed by personal stuff, and don’t give anyone (whether it’s authors, editors, academia.se readers etc) the impression that you are open to being manipulated in such a way.

Am I putting undue weight on this

Yes. To put any weight greater than zero on such a triviality would be “undue” in my opinion.

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  • Thank you for your response, good points. – z8081 Mar 24 at 16:00

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