I’m not hot-shot enough to be asked to review papers yet, but I’ve looked over a few for others who wanted a second take on things, and it seems that the backlog of reviews, especially for conferences, is enormous. Here’s a set of recent (and not so recent) comments on the peer review process:
Larry Wasserman talks (from experience) about the problems of hostile reviewers and nasty politics.
Cosma Shalizi says there are many many more reasons to reject a paper than Wasserman, but that peer review should be reader-centric in focus.
David Feldman thinks that journals should give out free socks or something to reviewers so that there is at least some token appreciation of all the work they put into it.
Martin Grossglauser and Jennifer Rexford have another good take on the system.
Fundamentally it seems there are two problems to solve — reviewers have no incentive to review papers quickly, and the objective of the reviewing process is rarely articulated clearly. Socks and pools both seem like good steps in that direction. It seems to be one of those situations where trying small fixes now would be much better than trying to institute some huge shift in editorial processes across many journals all at once.