A couple of days ago Steve Shaviro posted on FaceBook about the burden of doing peer review as an academic with a clear sense of responsibility and commitment to the development of the field in which he works (and he is brilliant at it – I have called on him sooooooooo many times over the years). Reading articles, book manuscripts, proposals for books and series, marshalling your thoughts, thinking about what is good and what doesn’t work, thinking of potential solutions to problems – and then writing it down carefully enough that the author is not heart-broken by your comments – is massively time-consuming and mentally exhausting. But is what we do. It is part of our vocation, and sometimes we are even paid some token amount for our labour.
But there are things that make the whole process even more of a burden. Such as:
When the journal sends you a review form to complete but then uses a site like ManuscriptCentral which disaggregates the form into separate boxes into which you have to cut-and-paste the answers rather than just submit the form. It took a couple of times for me to stop being diligent about this. Now I just type a single character in each box and submit the form. Cos fuck ’em – I mean the publishers, not the editors or authors – they’re already getting my labour for free. Academic publishers will find every way they can not to pay for the labour of academics.
When the publisher will only pay you in so many dollars worth of their books. This means you are selling them your labour at not merely way below minimum wage but also at effectively no cost to them. And you have to spend time scouring their minimally navigable catalogues for a handful of books that are of interest – or would make good gifts, or that you can give to a student or donate to a library or a charity shop – that add up roughly to the amount they are willing to ‘pay’.
I always order the books even if there is nothing I want, cos fuck ’em, they’re not getting my labour without at least the pretence of paying for it. And I always go a little over, cos fuck ’em, I’m certainly not going below what they’ve offered to ‘pay’.
Guess who just spent an hour submitting a couple of reader’s reports and trying to get ‘paid’ for one of them?
And guess who is turning into an angry voice in the local paper?