Does it ever happen that some form of consensus (tacitely, maybe) forms by which people in a field that "X is doing exceptional work these days, let's not ask them any refereeing for a couple years", with the understanding that it is beneficial for the whole field to let these individuals finish a stream of work with as little side-traxls as possible ?

  • 1
    what are you trying to achieve? You want to work in field Y without ever being asked to review others' work? Jul 25, 2021 at 14:35
  • I've never heard of this particular reason for not asking a potential referee, but I have heard of "X's own papers, though brilliant, are so poorly written that I wouldn't ask him/her to referee anything." Jul 25, 2021 at 18:50

2 Answers 2


Let me first say this situation is pretty much limited to pure mathematics and adjacent fields, because norms for peer review means that peer review takes an order of magnitude more time in mathematics than in almost all other fields.

I don't think this actually happens, but there are various situations that approximate this.

  1. Many journals are careful to not make too many requests to postdocs or graduate students even in cases where they are highly qualified to review the paper. A number of editors will not send papers to people who will soon be looking for a new position and are trying to get some research out ahead of applying. This is because postdocs might not know how to say no when they should, whereas tenured faculty should have by now learned to protect their time when necessary.

  2. Some leading figures say no a lot. Well, they all say no a lot because they get so many requests, but some say no more than others.

  3. Some leading figures are irresponsible as referees, frequently turning in cursory reports months late. Eventually most editors figure out that sending them papers is a bad idea.

  4. A number of the relatively more prestigious mathematics journals have moved to a two stage reviewing process, where papers are first sent to an experienced mathematician for a quick opinion on their suitability for a journal before being sent for refereeing. It frequently happens that a journal ends up sending an experienced mathematician many requests for pre-review of this sort and no longer sends them papers for full review. (Sometimes this experienced mathematician might say that a paper is suitable for the journal and volunteer to do the full review if they're interested in reading the paper carefully.)

  5. One of the precursors to the ongoing development of this pre-review system are mathematicians who made a habit of only providing quick but relatively cursory reviews of papers. Frequently they acquired a reputation for doing so and editors would send them requests for reviews knowing this was what they were going to get.

  • In math, also, more experienced people (in the field) maybe be able to give a "quick review" (to decide whether more careful review is appropriate) very quickly. Jul 25, 2021 at 3:47

I'll have to guess that will never happen, but not for the reasons you think. Editors who send out requests for reviewers are always looking for the best reviews and they may need to ask a lot of people before they get an acceptance. Once you get into the pool of reviewers of an editor, expect to receive a lot of requests. The call may be very broad.

In the somewhat exceptional case in which an editor is actually a working academic in that field then it might be possible for them to make the determination of "... exceptional work..." that you mention, but, unless they also know the person will likely refuse, it would probably make it even more likely they would ask. But editors are normally part of a business and make their decisions based on the needs of the journal. Even conference program chairs cast a broad net.

It has tapered off now (ten years in to retirement) but I'd get requests more or less daily, even after I told the editor I wasn't interested anymore.

But, a good reviewer is so incredibly valuable to an editor that they are going to ask. Their needs and value system would overrule any such consideration without some personal relationship and a specific request for a time-out.

A "top researcher" might wonder if they'd made some faux pas if they didn't get requests for a year or two. "What??? Did I fall off the edge of the world???"

  • I never got request for review and Im top in our small field
    – looktook
    Jul 25, 2021 at 18:03
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    @looktook, once they notice you and you accept a request it will not end.
    – Buffy
    Jul 25, 2021 at 18:15

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