People have been experimenting on journal referees and have learned some useful information. First off, whatever you do, don’t ask Professor Procrastinate to referee for you. He cannot be trusted. Second, shorten deadlines. Third, offer cash rewards or publicize how long the referees took to do the work.
We randomly assign referees to four groups: a control group with a six-week deadline to submit a referee report; a group with a four-week deadline; a cash incentive group rewarded with $100 for meeting the four-week deadline; and a social incentive group in which referees were told that their turnaround times would be publicly posted. We obtain four sets of results. First, shorter deadlines reduce the time referees take to submit reports substantially. Second, cash incentives significantly improve speed, especially in the week before the deadline. Cash payments do not crowd out intrinsic motivation: after the cash treatment ends, referees who received cash incentives are no slower than those in the four-week deadline group. Third, social incentives have smaller but significant effects on review times and are especially effective among tenured professors, who are less sensitive to deadlines and cash incentives. Fourth, all the treatments have little or no effect on rates of agreement to review, quality of reports, or review times at other journals.
The article, “What Policies Increase Prosocial Behavior? An Experiment with Referees at the Journal of Public Economics,” appears in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, and can be accessed here. (via Lewis Powell)