What is Publons and why do they keep e-mailing after I review a paper?

As most of us have experienced, the moment we hit “submit” after peer-reviewing a journal article, our inbox immediately receives a flurry of e-mails. There’s the standard “your review has been submitted,” the occasional form letter from the editor thanking you for the review, and then there’s at least one (sometimes more) from something called “Publons.” If you’re anything like me, you don’t even bother to open the Publons e-mail, which, admittedly, sounds like one of the dozen or so predatory journals whose e-mails sometimes make it out of my spam folder.

After years of customarily ignoring Publons, my curiosity got the best of me last fall and I opened one of their e-mails to find that they offer a free service to track my peer reviews. Interested, but not yet convinced, I further investigated.

It turns out that Publons has created partnerships with numerous journals (including Gender & Society) in an effort to recognize and document reviewers’ labor. By signing up for Publons, the service automatically catalogues each time I review an article and, if I choose, will collect the actual review that I wrote. Even better, Publons tracks the outcomes (whether published or not) and, if published, provides the citation count for all the articles I’ve reviewed. For those really interested in the editorial process (e.g. editors/editorial board members) there’s also resources to help improve and manage peer reviews.

Publons convinced me and I’ve recently signed up for the service. To my great joy, it requires almost no effort on my part. My reviewers are automatically indexed. If I’m ever interested in how that article I reviewed a few months ago is doing, I can log in and check its metrics. I can even view my indirect contribution to the discipline by tracking the success of all the papers I’ve reviewed.

Publons is another metric to add to our ever expanding scorecard of professional performance. There’s certainly a limit to such quantification of our scholarly lives. But, at the same time, I appreciate that it makes the value work of reviewing more visible. My research has improved tremendously through the insightful suggestions I’ve received from reviews, and I hope that I have done the same for others. At least Publons provides an effortless way to recognize that critical work.

Better yet, many universities are starting to recognize peer reviewing. At the University of North Texas, there is a section in my annual report for me to list each review I’ve conducted. While this certainly holds less weight than publications, it does reflect well on my contributions to the discipline. It’s my understanding that other universities are moving in this direction as well.

If you haven’t yet, it may be worthwhile to open one of those e-mails from Publons and start getting some credit for the important, and often unrecognized, work we do as peer reviewers.

William Scarborough is an assistant professor of Sociology at the University of North Texas. His research examines the cultural and economic determinants of gender and race inequality across the U.S.

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