, Volume 120, Issue 3, pp 1373–1385 | Cite as

An evolutionary explanation of assassins and zealots in peer review

  • Jorge Chamorro-Padial
  • Rosa Rodriguez-Sánchez
  • J. Fdez-Valdivia
  • J. A. GarciaEmail author


The peer review system aims to be effective in separating unacceptable from acceptable manuscripts. However, a reviewer can distinguish them or not. If reviewers distinguish unacceptable from acceptable manuscripts they use a fine partition of categories. But, if reviewers do not distinguish them they use a coarse partition in the evaluation of manuscripts. Most reviewers learned how to evaluate a manuscript from good and bad experiences, and they have been characterized as zealots (who uncritically favor a manuscript), assassins (who advise rejection much more frequently than the norm), and mainstream referees. In this paper we use the quasi-species model to describe the evolution of recommendation profiles in peer review. A recommendation profile is composed of a reviewer recommendation for each manuscript category under a particular categorization of manuscripts (fine or coarse). We see the reviewer mind as being built up with recommendation profiles. Assassins, zealots and mainstream reviewers are “ecologically” interrelated species whose progeny tend to mutate through errors made in the process of reviewer training. We define the recommendation profile as replicator, and selection arises because different types of recommendation profiles tend to replicate at different rates. Our results help to explain why assassins and zealots evolutionary appear in peer review because of the evolutionary success of reviewers who do not distinguish acceptable and unacceptable manuscripts.


Peer review Reviewers Assassins Zealots Manuscript categories Quasi-species 



This research was sponsored by the Spanish Board for Science, Technology, and Innovation under Grant TIN2017-85542-P, and co-financed with European FEDER funds. Sincere thanks are due to the reviewers for their constructive suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de Ciencias de la Computación e I. A., CITIC-UGRUniversidad de GranadaGranadaSpain
  2. 2.CITIC-UGRUniversidad de GranadaGranadaSpain

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