We asked researchers whether an author's identity influences perceptions about their work

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We asked researchers whether an author's identity influences perceptions about their work

As an Editage Insights reader, I’m sure you’re aware that the theme of Peer Review Week 2021 is Identity in Peer Review. Considering the relevance of topic in the current landscape of scholarly publishing, I decided to delve deeper and understand in what ways identity influences peer review. So I asked some members of the scholarly community this question:

Do you think the identity (nationality, career stage, ethnic background, gender, affiliation, etc.) of an author influences the way editors and peer reviewers evaluate their work?

I received insightful responses that further the dialog on identity in peer review. Don’t miss reading them!

Dr. Nour Al-muhtasib - Postdoc at Yale University in New Haven, CT

Nour’s work focuses on cue induced relapse in relation to cocaine addiction. Other topics she is passionate about include science education and communication, inclusion within academia, and giving back to the community. You can find her on her website: https://www.nouronal.com

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I believe one’s identity influences the way an editor and peer reviewer evaluate their work in both positive and negative manners. There is plenty of published work on gender and racial bias in the publication process. However, I can also speak to it from first-hand experience, primarily when it comes to my institution affiliation. I saw how having an Ivy League University attached to a manuscript can greatly improve its chances of publication. We as a community are becoming more aware of these biases, but now the next step is how to avoid them. 

Dr. Stephan Gallo - Chief Scientist at the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS)

Stephen Gallo is Chief Scientist at the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) in the Scientific Peer Advisory and Review Services Division. His research focuses on improving the grant review process to be more efficient, effective, fair, and reliable. He also manages AIBS peer reviews of research applications submitted to biomedical research funders.

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Implicit bias likely influences scientists’ evaluations of each other’s work, although relatively few studies directly measure this (as most focus on outcomes). For the evaluation of federal research grants, the funding success rates of applicants have been shown to differ substantially along institutional, career-stage and racial lines.

In addition, research studies have shown that proposals from female applicants have been observed to receive poorer peer review scores compared to their male counter-parts. These studies implicate implicit bias, but more research (and funding) is needed to focus on the actual decision-making processes used by reviewers to determine how to mitigate the effects of bias. Also, access to peer review data for these studies is crucial, yet often inaccessible to most researchers. 

Dr. Carlos Guardia – Senior postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health

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Scholarly publication is changing at a dramatic speed. The major advances in electronic access and dissemination of scientific research are pushing us to (re)examine the way we publish and share our discoveries. This is compounded by the rise of social media and other online platforms, enabling us to comment on the quality and merits of any paper almost instantly.

Peer reviewing is affected by the changes, and since it is a human endeavor, it cannot be completely free from bias. There have been many studies addressing the susceptibility of the reigning peer review system to a variety of biases, many of those supported by empirical evidence. Some examples include association, gender, language, content-based, conservationism, and publication bias. It's hard not to be a victim of one or more.

In the ideal world, manuscripts should be reviewed purely on scientific value, irrespective of the author’s and reviewer’s affiliation, field, gender, and native language. Many journals and committee search and review panels have access to this information, and sometimes one can tell from what is just written on the paper. Thus, one effective way to reduce the impact of biases is to set high ethical standards and to educate ourselves to consistently live by them.

Monitoring editors and reviewers must be trained to identify and correct on time the different forms of bias they may experience during the revision of a grant proposal or paper. No matter whether it is within a single or double-blind, open, or pre- or post-publication peer review model, there is always a source of bias we need to try to minimize.

Only when we analyze each document under different lights and filters, professionally address the strengths and weaknesses, exercise collegial empathy while writing an honest review, can we make sure that the peer review system will improve and thrive through these times of changes.

I am truly grateful to Nour, Carlos, and Stephan for sharing their views with us.

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Published on: Sep 24, 2021

Sneha’s interest in the communication of research led her to her current role of developing and designing content for researchers and authors.
See more from Sneha Kulkarni


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