Gender bias in peer-review: numeric parity is not enough!

Peer review is the cornerstone of scholarly publishing and it is essential that peer reviewers are appointed on the basis of their expertise alone. However, it is difficult to check for any bias in the peer-review process because the identity of peer reviewers generally remains confidential. In our eLife paper, using public information about the identities of 9000 editors and 43000 reviewers from the Frontiers series of journals, we show that women are underrepresented in the peer-review process, that editors of both genders operate with substantial same-gender preference (homophily), and that the mechanisms of this homophily are gender-dependent.

Most importantly, as it may lead to reconsider the pertinence of frequently used policies to fight against gender unbalance, we also show that homophily will persist even if numerical parity between genders is reached. This highlights the need for increased efforts to combat subtler forms of gender bias (e.g. unconscious preference to appoint reviewers of same sex) in scholarly publishing.

To know more:

  • M. Helmer, M. Schottdorf, A. Neef, D. & D. Battaglia. Gender bias in scholarly peer review. eLife 6, e21718 (2017).