Pubcreds: Fixing the Peer Review Process by “Privatizing” the Reviewer Commons



The peer review system is breaking down and will soon be in crisis: increasing numbers of submitted manuscripts mean that demand for reviews is outstripping supply. This is a classic “tragedy of the commons,” in which individuals have every incentive to exploit the “reviewer commons” by submitting manuscripts, but little or no incentive to contribute reviews. The result is a system increasingly dominated by “cheats” (individuals who submit papers without doing proportionate reviewing), with increasingly random and potentially biased results as more and more manuscripts are rejected without external review. Because this is a classic tragedy of the commons, we propose a classic solution: privatizing the commons. Specifically, we propose that instead of being free to exploit the reviewer commons at will, authors should have to “pay” for their submissions using a novel “currency” called PubCreds, earned by performing reviews. We discuss how this simple, powerful idea could be implemented in practice, and describe its advantages over previously proposed solutions. While our proposal may seem radical, doing nothing will lead to a system in which external review becomes a thing of the past, decision-making by journals is correspondingly stochastic, and the most selfish among us are the most rewarded.