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What are the benefits of being a journal referee from an individual's perspective?

What hidden dynamics serves as the undercurrent for referees to be tough or lenient? The dynamics could be academic or social.

What makes some people refuse to be referees even if they are experts on particular papers?

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Q1: an opportunity to stay at the forefront of research output in your field (to see great work first); opportunity to prevent your field from being diluted with poor work.

Q2: ideally there should not be. If there is, the peer reviewer is doing it wrong. If it exists in a situation, it is ultra context specific and weird.

Q3: other life and work obligations (simply not having enough time); conflict of interest.

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    If it's a PhD student's paper, I will err on the side of being more lenient in borderline cases. Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 10:14
  • My field has double blind peer review to prevent just that. The idea is all papers up for publication in a journal should be held to the same standard. Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 10:56
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    I am just saying that this depends on the field and the person. I don't think my attitude is "ultra specific or weird" in my field (pure math). It's a fact that the quality of people's writing improves with time and experience. Judging people who have just begun to learn how to write math by the standards of people who have had decades of practice is definitely not fair or reasonable in my book. This is of course not to say that one can compromise on the actual correctness of the results. Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 11:02
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Benefits of being a referee:

  • You see research first
  • You earn some good will
  • It may be a factor in getting tenure
  • You may get paid (I do statistical reviews for two journals; they pay statistical reviewers but not content reviewers)

Reasons for being tough or lenient.

  • Different journals have different standards for reviews. Generally, more prestigious journals will, I think, have stricter standards.
  • Different people are, by their nature, tough or lenient. As long as the reviewer is consistent across papers, this isn't really a problem. The editor will get use to you.
  • Unfortunately, even with blind review, experienced reviewers in a small field will be able to tell (with some error) who the authors are and this may influence the review. The worst is if it's conscious. But there is a lot of unconscious bias, and it's hard to fully cope with that. This is one reason to have multiple reviewers.
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Being a reviewer is considered a "service to the academic community" in grant applications and is also considered when applying for a job. Depending on how prestigious the journal is, your reputation will benefit from reviewing activity. In addition, you can keep track of the latest trends in your field and what are other researchers working on at the moment. It's very good to keep yourself updated. I am not sure what you mean exactly with "lenient": reviewers should pay attention to the standards at the state of the art in their community so that the paper is improved enough to get published. Rejection should be suggested only when the paper has major flaws that cannot be corrected in the timeframe of the review process. I recently reviewed for the most important CS conference in Europe and saw that the reviewing guidelines were very strict. Out of 8 papers I reviewed, only one was accepted, and almost all the papers were good-quality articles that would have fit in a Q2 journal. But they aimed at being better than a Q1 journal. Regarding your last question, there is a movement against big publishing companies, according to which it is unethical to provide free work for a for-profit company that charges the university back to access the papers.

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