Peer Review Week is a global event celebrating the essential role that peer review plays in how we evaluate and communicate most scholarly research. Our aim is to spark discussion and collaboration between researchers and publishers who want to improve scholarly communication. For that, there’s no better jumping off point than this year’s topic: diversity.
How diverse is it? The scholarly landscape
While the demand for STEM degrees is on the rise around the world, we still see a relatively small percentage of published papers out of countries in Africa and Latin America. Even more troubling, are the increasingly common stories of unsafe working conditions, lack of resources, and perceptual biases keeping women out of many higher academic fields.
A study published by eLife found the percentage of female authors, reviewers, and editors in STEM publishing falls far below 50% and predicts these percentages, 37%, 28% and 26% respectively, would not achieve parity with male counterparts until 2042 if currents trends of growth continue. In some fields, the difference in representation is even more staggering. For example, a review of 435 Mathematical journals published in PLOS ONE found the median number of editorships held by women to be only 7.6%. Fifty-one journals had no women on their editorial boards at all.
According to the eLife study, both women and men show an inclination to appoint reviewers of the same gender, limiting possibilities for women on a journal with an editorial board comprised of mostly men and perpetuating the imbalance of representation. Another study in PLOS ONE found similar results, as well as evidence of preference for other shared background characteristics such as country or institution.
If a journal’s peer review process is only as diverse as the network of editors who oversee it, we must diversify our editorial boards.
The role of publishers
Publishers, as stewards for scientific research, have a responsibility to raise all voices of the community. To do that, we must offer the tools and opportunities for researchers from all backgrounds to participate in the scholarly discussion.
The first thing we can do is to actively seek an even mix of expertise, affiliation, nationality, and gender to represent the editorial board and journal staff. We also need to start stepping outside our comfort zones, ask ourselves whether our tried and true models really work for everyone or if they have hidden barriers for certain groups. Some great advice for publishers and organizations is available here and here.
Starting the conversation
Peer review and how to make it better is the focus of many organizations that just last month penned an Open Letter to the community regarding transparent peer review. Through posted and signed reviews, we’re taking steps to further our understanding of peer review and to open up opportunities for critical conversations about peer review best practices.
Later this week, we’ll be posting an interview with Aileen Fyfe, science publishing historian, who will talk about the importance of unique voices to advance scientific literature. The EveryONE blog also has an additional perspective, as well as a collection of papers on gender inequality in peer review.
In the meantime, we invite you to raise your own voice and share your experiences with the hashtags #PeerReviewWeek18 and #PeerRevDiversityInclusion.