Declining a review request for a non-open journal

April 24, 2017

This morning, I was invited to review a paper — one very relevant to my interests — for a non-open-access journal owned by one of the large commercial barrier-based publishers. This has happened to me several times now; and I declined, as I have done ever since 2011.

I know this path is not for everyone. But for anybody who feels similarly to how I do but can’t quite think what to say to the handling editor and corresponding author, here are the messages that I sent to both.

First, to the handling editor (who in this case also happened to be the Editor-in-Chief):

Dear EDITOR NAME,

I’m writing to apologise for turning down your request that I review NAME OF PAPER. The reason is that I am wholly committed to the free availability of all scholarly research to everyone, and I cannot in good conscience give my time and expertise to a paper that is destined to end up behind PUBLISHER‘s paywall.

I know this can sound very self-righteous — I am sorry if it appears that way. I also recognise that there is serious collateral damage from limiting my reviewing efforts to open-access journals. My judgement is that, in the long term, that regrettable damage is a price worth paying, and I laid out my reasons a few years ago in this blog post: https://svpow.com/2011/10/17/collateral-damage-of-the-non-open-reviewing-boycott/

I hope you will understand my reasons for pushing hard towards an open-access future for all our scholarship; and I even hope that you might reconsider the time you yourself dedicate to PUBLISHER‘s journal, and wonder whether it might be more fruitfully spent in helping an open-access palaeontology journal to improve its profile and reputation.

Yours, with best wishes,

Mike.

Then, to the corresponding author, a similar message:

Dear AUTHOR NAME,

I was invited by JOURNAL to review your new manuscript NAME OF PAPER. I’m writing to apologise for turning down that request, and to explain why I did so.

The reason is that I am wholly committed to the free availability of all scholarly research to everyone, and I cannot in good conscience give my time and expertise to a paper that is destined to end up behind PUBLISHER‘s paywall.

I know this can sound very self-righteous — I am sorry if it appears that way. I also recognise that there is serious collateral damage from limiting my reviewing efforts to open-access journals. My judgement is that, in the long term, that regrettable damage is a price worth paying, and I laid out my reasons a few years ago in this blog post: https://svpow.com/2011/10/17/collateral-damage-of-the-non-open-reviewing-boycott/

I hope you will understand my reasons for pushing hard towards an open-access future for all our scholarship; and I even hope that you might consider withdrawing your work from JOURNAL, and instead submitting to one of the many fine open-access journals in our field. (Examples: Palaeontologia Electronica, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, PLOS ONE, PeerJ, PalArch’s Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Royal Society Open Science.)

Yours, with apologies for the inconvenience and my best wishes,

Mike.

Anyone is welcome to use these messages as templates or inspiration if they are useful. Absolutely no rights reserved.

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7 Responses to “Declining a review request for a non-open journal”


  1. Incidentally, the “fine open-access journals” you mention are practically the only publications from which I get my paleontological technical articles.

    It seems most of the paleontology stuff making it into the popular headlines comes from open access journals, or at least open access articles. Sadly, with the rest of the geological sciences, this is not the case; paywalls still block everything, unless you’re using a computer at your local library (and even then, the institution might not have access to all the journals).

  2. Brad Lichtenstein Says:

    Kudos on taking a stand. Hopefully it makes a difference!

    On a lighter note, curious if the paper was related to something that might really need peer review:
    http://www.gocomics.com/fminus/2017/04/23

  3. protohedgehog Says:

    Worth making these into Authorea templates to make them easier to re-use, maybe?

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    Jon, I don’t know what Authorea templates are; but if you’d like to create them based on what I wrote, be my guest!

  5. ijreid Says:

    It seems that a new open-access journal has slipped by you. FACETS was recently released, being a fully open-access CC-BY 4.0 licensed journal based in Canada and published by NRC Research Press. Until June 30th, all publications will be free, in honour of the 150th birthday of Canada. After that, costs are $1300 CAND for Canadian residents and $1300 USD for foreign residents. I don’t think this should have much sway, but just trying to help spread the word :) http://www.facetsjournal.com/

  6. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks for pointing out FACETS, ijreid!


  7. […] them our good stuff. Just don’t. Don’t give your work to subscription-based journals. Don’t review for them. And don’t act as an editor for them. Scholarship belongs to the world, not to publishers who […]


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