Sunday, August 10, 2014

Improving referee response times

What Policies Increase Prosocial Behavior? An Experiment with Referees at the Journal of Public Economics
Raj Chetty, Emmanuel Saez, László Sándor
NBER Working Paper No. 20290
Issued in July 2014

We evaluate policies to increase prosocial behavior using a field experiment with 1,500 referees at the Journal of Public Economics. 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 agreement rates, quality of reports, or review times at other journals. We conclude that small changes in journals’ policies could substantially expedite peer review at little cost. More generally, price incentives, nudges, and social pressure are effective and complementary methods of increasing prosocial behavior.

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So I took part in this experiment as a subject. I was in the group that received the offer of a cash incentive to complete their report within four weeks. A couple of days before the four-week deadline, I took the paper out of the "to review" stack and did my report out of order relative to my usual first-in, first-out rule. Apparently, given the summary of results in the abstract, there are not enough people like me for this equilibrium effect to show up in a statistical sense in the data.

3 comments:

László Sándor said...

Hey Jeff, Thanks for the post. I am glad you hold no grudges against the experiment — but what do you mean by not having a significant effect? You mean your spillover effect on other journals' delay by breaking FIFO? Point taken (though we do have quite a few observations to have some statistical power even here, and still find no spillover effect, at least on these journals.) The primary effect of you being faster for JPubE is very strong for other referees as well, statistically and economically significant, with flying colors.

econjeff said...

Not sure why I would hold a grudge against the experiment; it netted me $100. As to the significant effect, yes, I had in mind the spillover, not the direct effect. I would have though there would be more referees who would react like I did: by doing their report for the Journal of Public Economics out of order and thus delaying their reports for other journals.

László Sándor said...

We would not have been surprised to find such an effect, for sure!