This weekend I have been poring over statistics provided by a journal for which I do some editorial work. In addition to data related to how the journal is doing (impact factor, ranking among journals in related fields etc.), there are also lists of reviewers: who did reviews, how many each has done, and how long the reviews took.
It's amazing to contemplate these lists, first of all because they are a testament to the huge amount of work reviewers do in the name of 'professional service'. I have done my share of complaining about reviews of my own manuscripts, so it's good to be reminded from time to time that, despite some unethical and rude reviewers, the system of peer review is an impressive thing in terms of its scope and time involved.
I did a quick, statistically invalid analysis of the reviewer data for the past year to see whether the time it took a reviewer to complete the review was random or correlated with seniority. My working hypothesis was that younger scientists do quicker reviews. The dataset is sufficiently large to make an analysis like this reasonable, but I wasn't rigorous about tracking down reviewer time-from-Ph.D. data. I put reviewers in one of several bins: postdoc, assistant professor, mid-career, late-career, retired, and I put research scientists into these same bins based on where they would be in terms of time since Ph.D. if they were tenure-track. It's not a perfect system, but I just wanted to get a sense for any trends.
The quickest reviewing groups are the early-career and retired scientists. There are a fair number of outliers -- assistant professors who are very slow, mid-career and senior people who are very fast, but in general the time-to-review increases with seniority, then drops for emeritus professors. If I did a rigorous job of tracking down reviewer data, it would be interesting to see if there's a detectable change in review time immediately following tenure. Would it be an increase in time because the pressure to impress everyone eases, or a decrease because other pressures have eased (and many faculty get a sabbatical soon after the tenure decision)?
Within bins, reviewers who reviewed multiple manuscripts tend to be consistent in their time-to-review. Some people are quick reviewers and some are not. It's rare to see someone who did one review in a short time and another review in a significantly longer time. I thought there would be more variation because the time frame might be affected by how busy someone is, as well as factors related to the manuscript length and quality: some manuscripts are easy to review and some require a huge amount of time. But no.. time-to-review seems to be a personality trait more than anything else.
8 years ago