Along with teaching and research most academics have an obligation to perform ‘service’ to their university, community and discipline. This includes editorial and committee work, administrative work and reviewing articles for publication. Peer-review is an important part of the academic system, and while sometimes reading and critiquing a strangers manuscript is educational, it is often a burden, and time-consuming.
So, how many articles can the average academic expect to review each year?
Number of journal articles published per year: 1,500,000 (Björk et al., 2008)
Proportion of articles submitted to journal for publication that get reviewed: 50% (Nature Materials Editorial 2015)
Proportion of these that get accepted 33% (Nature Materials Editorial 2015)
Number of articles reviewed every year: (1.5 million x 1/.5 x 1/.33 = 9,000,000)
Average number of reviewers per-paper: 5 (based on personal experience, includes re-reviews)
Number of reviews required each year: 45,000,000
Number of University professors worldwide. Using Statistics Canada data, I took the proportion of population employed as professors in Canada (0.12%) and multiplied that by the global population of 7.1 billion, giving a total of 9,000,000 university professors around the world.
Average number of manuscripts reviewed each year: 5
This excludes the review of grants, book chapters, books, manuscripts that aren’t submitted for peer review, etc. It also ignores that some fields publish more than others, and, some academics are asked to peer review more papers than others, and that the success rate varies considerably by discipline. However, it also does not account for reviews done by post-docs, graduate students and scholars employed in non-university settings. I suspect this number is low, probably but probably fairly close to the average value across all fields.
*This analysis was not ‘peer reviewed’