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Bias against women absent in peer review, analysis finds

by Dalmeet Singh Chawla, special to C&EN
April 15, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 15

 

Manuscripts authored by women and men are treated similarly during peer review, finds a new study of more than 760,000 reviews of nearly 350,000 papers from 145 academic journals—including 184,000 papers from 50 physical sciences journals. The study, posted on the preprint server SocArXiv in March (DOI: 10.31235/osf.io/gh4rv), looked at whether studies listing female authors are treated differently than those authored by men. Overall, the analysis found no evidence of systematic biases against women in reviews or editorial decisions. In fact, manuscripts with a higher proportion of female authors were more likely to be accepted by biomedical, physical, and health sciences journals, the study found. Papers were especially more likely to be accepted by journals in the physical sciences if the first author was a woman. “This does not mean that bias against women does not exist in academia or in publications,” says study leader Flaminio Squazzoni, a sociologist at the University of Milan. One shortcoming of the study, he notes, is that it doesn’t evaluate whether women submitted stronger papers in the first place. “We did not have data to help estimate the total number of submissions per each scholar to all journals, which could help to understand if women anticipate potential bias by investing more in their manuscripts,” Squazzoni says.

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