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Making the News: Who’s Tired of Peer Review? and COVID-19 Round-Up


October 01, 2020 | 5 min read |

Sarah Richardson, Research Professional News

Under the headline “Western peer reviewers most sought after and ‘fatigued’,” Research Professional News recently reported the results of a survey from academic publisher IOP Publishing.

The survey found that 40 percent of US, German and UK reviewers complained of receiving too many review requests. IOP, which has a portfolio of more than 90 journals in physics, surveyed more than 1200 researchers across the globe that had reviewed for or been invited to review for its publications.

By contrast to their Western counterparts, only 12 percent of Chinese reviewers said they receive too many requests, while 28 percent of Indian reviewers—far higher than average—said they had more time to spend on peer review.

The geographic spread in the results will likely come as little surprise, given the historic strength of Western journals and the academic networks that exist around them. But as well as raising the possibility that journals could cast their net further when seeking reviewers, the survey also begs a question about how diverse a pool they are recruiting from closer to home.

The authors of an IOP report based on the results noted that men made up 86 percent of the respondents—reflective of the overall gender pattern in physics. To more evenly spread peer-review responsibilities, the authors recommended that publishers redouble efforts to improve the gender diversity, as well as geographical diversity of those they invite to review.

In doing so, however, they may well run up against another problem—the toll that COVID-19 is taking on the time and careers of those who have responsibilities away from work, particularly caring responsibilities, which still disproportionately fall to women. For those who are struggling to complete their own research, finding time to carry out reviews may sound very much like wishful thinking.

To that end, one of the parallel recommendations made by the report authors could turn out to be key. They also suggested improving the efficiency and consistency of the peer-review process—though how that will be done successfully remains to be seen.


COVID-19 Global News Round Up

Here are the latest headlines in COVID-19 research policy and funding, from our team of journalists at Research Professional News.


Efforts to pool national resources in the fight against COVID-19 have been boosted by 64 higher-income countries signing agreements to take part in a global plan for equal access to vaccines against the coronavirus.

In a damning assessment of the global response to COVID-19, an international panel on pandemic preparedness has called for a shake-up at the World Bank to ensure emergency funds are available for R&D during health emergencies.

United States

Members of Congress from both major parties have warned that the United States could lose a generation of up-and-coming research talent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, unless the government acts quickly to shore up the financial position of universities.


Contracts the EU has signed with manufacturers of prospective COVID-19 vaccines must remain confidential, the European Commission has said, after being challenged by MEPs to reveal their terms.

The Paris Institute of Political Studies, better known as Sciences Po, has shut down its campus operations for two weeks following a spike in coronavirus cases.

With most universities across Europe starting many aspects of their academic year more online than in person due to COVID-19, academics and support staff are warning that limits on social contact necessitated by the pandemic are worsening inequalities in researchers’ and students’ access to the facilities they need.

United Kingdom

Academics have set up a website that aims to collate all reports of COVID-19 outbreaks in UK universities.

Scientists in the Independent Sage group of self-appointed commentators on COVID-19 have outlined their concerns about the prime minister’s plans to develop and launch new testing technologies for the disease that would reportedly cost around £100 billion.

The UK government should consider funding more neurological research on COVID-19, leading scientists have said. And the government is running out of time to fix the country’s flawed COVID-19 testing system, scientists have warned.

Australia and New Zealand

The number of academic researchers in Australia will fall by 11 percent in the next five years, according to modelling from the University of Melbourne.

The University of New South Wales has announced that it will reduce staff numbers by another 256 this year in order to save A$39 million in the wake of the pandemic.

In its latest pre-election update, New Zealand’s Treasury has warned that the international student market may not start to recover until this time next year.


Canada’s International Development Research Centre has awarded funding to numerous African research institutions to research the socio-economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kenya’s African Population and Health Research Center and partners have launched an open access data hub focusing on sex and gender in the coronavirus pandemic.