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New study questions existence of ‘gender bias’ in scholarly journals

A new study published on January 6 questions the narrative of a gender gap and “gender bias” in peer-review journals.

“Although there were some differences between fields of research, our findings suggest that peer review and editorial processes do not penalize manuscripts by women,” the team of ten researchers from a handful of European universities said.

The study, titled “Peer review and gender bias: A study of 145 scholarly journals,” found that women may even be treated more favorably.

The paper, published in Science Advances, said:

Scholarly journals are often blamed for a gender gap in publication rates, but it is unclear whether peer review and editorial processes contribute to it. This article examines gender bias in peer review with data for 145 journals in various fields of research, including about 1.7 million authors and 740,000 referees. We reconstructed three possible sources of bias, i.e., the editorial selection of referees, referee recommendations, and editorial decisions, and examined all their possible relationships. Results showed that manuscripts written by women as solo authors or coauthored by women were treated even more favorably by referees and editors.

The researchers are skeptical that “peer review and editorial process” contribute to the presence of a gender gap in some publications.

They wrote:

On the one hand, recent reports from journals in specific fields, especially in political science, suggest that editorial processes do not discriminate against women. For instance, a recent study of four leading journals in economics also found negligible effects of gender on the assessment of manuscripts. On the other hand, recent research in other fields, such as ecology, found that manuscripts submitted by women as first authors received slightly worse peer review scores and were more likely to be rejected after peer review. While the publication gap between men and women is generally explained by persistent differences in submission rates by women in almost all fields of research, it is unclear whether peer review and editorial processes contribute to it.

“We found that manuscripts by all women or cross-gender teams of authors had even a higher probability of success in many cases,” the researchers said in their conclusion section. “This is especially so in journals in biomedicine, health, and physical sciences, thereby confirming previous research.”

Read the study.

IMAGE Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock.com

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