Although it is an intimidating process for authors who write and submit manuscripts to academic journals, peer review is an essential component of the modern scientific method. While far from a perfect system, peer review acts as a filter on the knowledge that ends up in the body of literature in a given field and reviewer input helps to improve the overall quality of studies published in specific journals. However, as peer review is generally an anonymous process, the scale of the work done by peer reviewers has remained somewhat hidden.
The journal Research Integrity and Peer Review recently published an article that sought to determine the financial cost of peer review by estimating the time spent on peer review in individual countries.
As no database exists that lists all published research articles and the actual time spent by peer reviewers on each manuscript is unknown, the authors were forced to make calculations based on estimates. Even though the authors considered their estimates to be conservative, their results suggest that the annual monetary value of time spent on peer review by peer reviewers residing in the USA is 1.5 billion USD, while the value is 400 million USD for reviewers residing in the UK.
Although it is unlikely we will see any changes to the way most journals conduct peer review in the near future, studies that investigate the work done by peer reviewers help us to better understand this socially important process. Given the financial input the general public makes to many research projects through government-funded grants, it is important to see that the scientific community itself is contributing to research through the large volume of time dedicated to peer review.
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