Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Nature: eliminating gender bias in the peer review system simply isn't our priority

A scathing article in Scientific American and very dismaying news about how Nature editors rejected a peer review process that would reduce gender bias:

"Following a surprisingly unscientific line of reasoning, the editors at the most renowned and prestigious of science journals have rationalized away the need to fix an ailing peer-review system.

Increasing skepticism about the effectiveness and integrity of single-blind peer review—the process by which most academic papers submitted for publication are accepted or rejected—has prompted empirical evaluation of the system.

Standard practice is: reviewers—selected for their expertise and fluency in the chosen discipline—are aware of all authors’ names and affiliations, while authors are kept in the dark about the identity of their reviewers (although some journals allow them to request specific referees).

The growing argument against this lopsided method is that knowledge of authors’ identity—gender, nationality, research institution, level of experience in the field—can (and does) bias reviewers’ opinions on the merit of the research.

The most vocal critics of the current system are those who believe their submissions do not get fair consideration—women, early-career scientists, people with foreign-sounding names—when matched up against authors who sail through the submission process on the status of their lab or the history of their career. And in an environment in which research funding, hiring, tenure, salary, and academic reputation are massively dependent on publishing record, one can easily imagine the ripple effects such a disadvantage would bring."

Full commentary in SciAm can be accessed here. Nature has posted the editorial on their blog page, opening it up to the public for commentary, so let them know what you think.

Personally, I think the first commenter on the Sciam Blog got it right on the money: "Effectively, they're saying: "eliminating gender (or other) bias in the peer review system simply isn't our priority."

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