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UK research finds little gender bias in academic journal

UK research finds little gender bias in academic journal

UK research finds little gender bias in academic journal

As editor of the journal Functional Ecology, UK entomologist Chuck Fox reviewed the journal's peer review process for any potential gender bias.


It’s a goal of most scientists to have their research published in a peer-reviewed academic journal, but critics of peer review have argued that a person’s gender can impact how their papers are reviewed and, thus, their ability to be published. As editor of the journal Functional Ecology, University of Kentucky entomologist Charles Fox recently conducted two studies looking for any potential gender biases in the journal’s peer review and editorial selection processes.

Both studies found that while gender differences existed in the peer review process, male and female authors had an equal chance of having their papers published in Functional Ecology.

“We observed small but statistically significant differences between male and female reviewers, and between male and female authors, in patterns of authorship on papers and in various aspects of the peer review process. However, at the end of the peer review process, we found no evidence that gender played a role in whether a particular paper was published,” said Fox, a member of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

One study by Fox and his colleagues, which included Sean Burns from the UK School of Information Science, explored whether authors’ genders in papers submitted to the journal from 2010 to 2014 impacted whether a paper was published.

Women accounted for one-third of all authors on papers submitted to the journal. However, women were less likely to be solo authors or last/senior authors, accounting for 26 and 25 percent, respectively. Women, though, were more likely to be first authors, accounting for 43 percent. Also, when a woman was listed as the senior author, her co-authors were more likely to be women.

The study found an author or coauthor’s gender did not influence whether a paper submitted to the journal advanced through the peer-review process. Regardless of the authors’ or reviewers’ genders, papers submitted by males and females received equal scores during the peer-review process and were equally likely to be accepted for publication.

Papers authored by women, however, were more likely to be reviewed by women, because women were more likely to be invited to review a paper if the paper’s authors were female.

Historically, men have held the majority of senior editor positions and spots on editorial boards of academic journals. In another study, Fox and his colleagues looked at the ways gender, seniority and geographic location of the editor influenced reviewer recruitment and reviewer scores on papers submitted to Functional Ecology.

They found that while most of the editors at the journal were men, the number of women in editorial positions has risen over time; women occupied 40 percent of the editor positions in 2014. They also found that the number of female reviewers increased over time. Female editors tended to invite more females to review papers than male editors.

No gender differences in reviewer recruitment existed among reviewers when the editor was younger, but differences did exist among senior editors. Female senior editors were more likely to invite women to be reviewers, while male senior editors were less likely to invite women to review. Women responded to invitations to review similarly regardless of the gender of the editor who extended the invitation. Men who were invited to review a paper by a female editor were less likely to respond and more likely to decline the invitation than if the editor was a male.

Both these gender research studies were published recently in Functional Ecology.

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