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It's inevitable that sometimes, editors will invite reviewers whose expertise don't match the paper very well (example).

How often does it actually happen, and what percentage is considered acceptable? I'm especially interested in answers from editors and/or publishers who have seen hundreds of reviewer invitations.

Tangentially related graphic from the reviewer's point of view:

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    Acceptable to whom? And the "distance" from the invited reviewer's expertise should probably be factored in.
    – Anyon
    Feb 3, 2023 at 4:29
  • @Anyon acceptable to the person supervising the editors - e.g., the editor-in-chief. "Distance" should be factored, but it's awfully hard to quantify, e.g. Stephen Hawking is obviously a physicist, but that doesn't mean he can review papers in condensed matter physics. So I don't see a way to do it other than to use the reviewer's self-reported "out of expertise" option.
    – Allure
    Feb 3, 2023 at 4:34
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    I agree it will be tricky to quantify "distance", but it certainly factors in to how I answer invitations to review papers outside my expertise. If a paper is reasonably relevant, perhaps in the general field but using some specific formalism/technique I'm not equipped to review in a timely manner, I might explain what expertise I think is required and suggest other potential reviewers. On the other hand, an example like you mention would give me a bad impression of the journal and might not get a response.
    – Anyon
    Feb 3, 2023 at 4:44

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I'd guess at least some journals/publishers will have statistics on this they don't make public, but here are a couple of data points:

Raniga, S. B. (2020). Decline to review a manuscript: insight and implications for AJR reviewers, authors, and editorial staff. American Journal of Roentgenology, 214(4), 723-726. considered three years' worth of decline-to-review responses to American Journal of Roentgenology, and found that 12.6% (n=1181) of the declined reviews were given the "not an area of expertise" response. At the same time, 49.4% of the decline responses were due to lack of time ("overcommitted"), and 34.7% were for unspecified reasons. In the text it is stated that a total of 26,290 reviewers were invited. If we assume all numbers given refer to invitations rather than unique individual reviewers, that means ~4.5% of the invitations were declined for being outside the reviewer's expertise.

Willis, M. (2016). Why do peer reviewers decline to review manuscripts? A study of reviewer invitation responses. Learned Publishing, 29(1), 5-7. looked at a medical journal published by Wiley over a 5-month period and found that 4.3% of all invitation responses were "Decline to review – not my field".

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    I'm surprised at how low those numbers are. It's perhaps worth think about both field and journal. I tend to decline 1 or 2 reviews every week for being outside my area, far more than I actually review. But they tend to be from what you might called lower quality higher volume journals. Feb 3, 2023 at 8:54
  • It's surprising how both these papers find that "no time" is about 4-5x more likely than "out of expertise", but the most common reason given by reviewers (as in the OP) is "no time".
    – Allure
    Feb 3, 2023 at 15:03
  • @Allure It seems quite likely that there is (significant) variation from journal to journal and between fields, like Ian suggested. A well-run and long-established specialist journal probably knows its reviewer base better than some more recently started generalist journals, for example.
    – Anyon
    Feb 3, 2023 at 16:44
  • @Anyon I'm pretty sure there is significant variation from journal to journal actually. The 69% agree-to-review rate in source 2 is well above anything I've seen. Looking at the source it seems probable that the reason is because it's a society journal with a special reviewer database. The first source shows similar variation, as well.
    – Allure
    Feb 3, 2023 at 23:33

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