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Background information: Field: Neuroscience; Country: India

Premise: I am a graduate student. I have not published many articles. Over the past 5 or so years, I have been hearing from colleagues, my advisor, and other professors from my University that it is really difficult to publish in respectable journals in the field as there is a lot of resistance in seeing a good paper from a developing country. Until recently, I was skeptical of such opinions.

Current situation: The past couple of papers that we have submitted have come back with really sparse reviews. In fact for two of our papers, we only got one peer-review which had nothing much to say except for a brief summary of the paper and a small point here and there (in fact addressing those two points wouldn't even have required a major revision; really small points). However, the editors were prompt to reject the paper saying the review(s) were not enthusiastic. [Note: I am okay with the idea that our work may have had flaws and that it could be made better; the question is not really about the review that we have received]

Question: Looking at these couple of experiences along with hearing similar experiences from several other colleagues/faculties, I am wondering if there is any truth to some sort of racial/regional bias in the peer review process. Specifically:

  1. Is there concrete evidence out there to suggest that such discrimination at peer-review happens?
  2. How can we deal with this kind of problems (for example, potentially submitting to journals that follow double blind reviews, etc.)

Related questions/answers:

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    If you are trying for the very top journals with the very highest standards then you might also be seeing the same outcomes with no bias at all. I doubt that there is any systematic effect here, but also have no doubt that there are biased individuals. And, the bias that exists isn't completely unidirectional. – Buffy Feb 4 at 21:17
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    My experience with this is that it depends a lot on the journal in question how a particular review is interpreted. Are you willing to say what journal it is? – Wolfgang Bangerth Feb 4 at 21:34
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    I think it's very hard to publish papers that are interesting when you are working in a developing country, because you don't have a very good idea of what people are interested in and don't have any reasonable ways to learn. (Maybe I should strike out "in a developing country" and substitute "not in Boston/Cambridge") – Alexander Woo Feb 4 at 21:35
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    @AlexanderWoo Seriously? You need to be in "Boston/Cambridge" to know what people are interested in? – Bryan Krause Feb 4 at 21:53
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    Anecdotally, "The past couple of papers that we have submitted have come back with really sparse reviews" and "the editors were prompt to reject the paper saying the review(s) were not enthusiastic" are not experiences unique to a particular region. I would not go so far as to say that this is evidence that there is not bias, but it is an indication that this level of evidence may not be enough to make that conclusion. – Bryan Krause Feb 4 at 21:58
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Is there concrete evidence out there to suggest that such discrimination at peer-review happens?

Yes, there is. This is the most famous example, having been cited (as of time of writing) 1167 times. The author took 12 already-published papers written by authors from prestigious and productive American institutions, changed the names, added fictitious institutions, and resubmitted them to the same journal. Three of the resubmitted papers were detected. Of the remaining nine, eight were rejected for serious methodological flaws.

There're a lot of possible explanations for this, of course. One could simply be that peer review is random. Another is that methods have improved since the original publication, so the claim of serious methodological flaws is justified. Or perhaps it's just bias. It's for you to interpret.

Here's another article that deals with bias in peer review explicitly. Three of the biases investigated are prestige bias, affiliation bias, and nationality bias. There is some sign of bias, but as is typical in the social sciences, nothing is clear-cut.

How can we deal with this kind of problems (for example, potentially submitting to journals that follow double blind reviews, etc.)

I don't think there's any good option unfortunately. Double-blind peer review simply isn't very common right now, and it's not easy to submit to one anyway (you will have to modify your paper, anonymizing any self-references). Triple-blind peer review would be even better, but there are even fewer journals that practice that. Unless and until these become more common, you'll probably have to put up with it.

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  • I think you answer is good, but maybe it would be helpful to mention that double-blind review is slowly becoming more of a standard. There even are publishers who use double-blind reviews in all of their journals (e.g. AJ or IOP, and searching for "'double blind' open access journals" yields many results as well – nonthevisor Sep 8 at 14:13

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