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As Chief Editor, Associate Editor, or Handling Editor of scholarly manuscripts, mainly but not solely focusing on cardiovascular disease), I have often the last say on which potential reviewers to invite.

I am becoming more and more conscious of the need to support female authors, and I am not sure whether just picking peer reviewers based on expertise, past review quality, and willingness to support the journal is enough.

Indeed, I believe that manuscripts which can be easily identified as led by female authors (eg because of a woman being 1st author, senior author, and/or corresponding author), should be sent out for peer review mainly to female peer reviewers.

Is this reasonable? Is there any evidence in favor or against this approach?

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    This sounds like a case of 'treating the symptoms rather than the problem'.
    – avid
    Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 15:41
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    I don't know whether the double-blind suggestion is something you can pull off, but one thing you can do is try to get more women and underrepresented groups as editors (if it seems like they are underrepresented on your editorial board).
    – Kimball
    Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 16:54
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    If the names of the authors are not allowed to be removed, might it be possible to just use the initial letter of their first name and the whole last name?
    – JRN
    Commented Dec 25, 2021 at 5:15
  • I think what you mean by "the need to support female authors" should be clarified. Are you saying you want to accept more manuscripts by female authors? Put that way it sounds crass, but then what exactly do you mean by "support"?
    – Allure
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 2:38

4 Answers 4

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No, that would be ridiculous as well as wrong. Is there "female science" and "male science" and never the twain shall meet? Would you only select male reviewers for "male authored" papers? Black for black? Handicapped for handicapped?

If you think there is bias in reviews then you might consider double blind reviewing.

And, you should probably do some things to increase the number of female (and minority...) reviewers and get them involved in papers, but not by matching in some way.

And, it is also possible that you could be considered insulting if women, say, think you are selecting them only for the papers of women, and that they aren't in some way worthy to review the papers of men. Backfiring.

Select reviewers on skill and experience. Seek to have a wide range of experience and viewpoint. Ignore extraneous factors.


Caveat. In some scientific studies the population considered for sampling is not indicative of the whole population. This is a special problem in medicine if some sub-populations with special characteristics are excluded either intentionally or otherwise. That problem needs to be solved, but not like you suggest. Nor do you even give this as a reason.

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    Um... "That would be ridiculous as well as wrong" in the first paragraph. But "you should probably do some things" in the third paragraph. Sigh.
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 25, 2021 at 18:28
  • I will respectfully disagree with Buffy regarding the "ridiculous as well as wrong" comment. Clearly, the current system has not served women well in the sciences, so it comes over as colorblind to suggest that wanting to change something would be "ridiculous as well as wrong". I don't think that dismissing the OP's ideas as meritless is useful in addressing the very real issues women face in the sciences. Commented Dec 25, 2021 at 22:34
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    @WolfgangBangerth, do you think the OP's solution actually has merit? The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The "solution" is counterproductive to the intent. I wouldn't have been as harsh with a new user here.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 25, 2021 at 22:58
  • @Buffy No, I don't think that the suggested solution is actually particularly useful, but I don't think it is "ridiculous". I do think that thinking about the problem is useful. Commented Dec 26, 2021 at 15:43
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There is evidence that female academics do more service work than male academics. If you select certain manuscripts and only ask female academics to review them, you will be increasing the amount of unrewarded service work performed by female academics. This seems likely to make it harder for female academics to succeed in their careers.

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    I think you've ignored essential aspects of the question. It wasn't about workload.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 16:33
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    @Buffy The essential flaw in the "question" (which is really advocacy) is that it ignores workload. Workload is an important part of discrimination. Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 16:48
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    That's a nice answer. But I'm wondering why is it that service work hinders one's career? I think that service work can actually promote quite heavily the career of some. This merit a question by itself I suppose.
    – Dilworth
    Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 19:10
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    @Dilworth as with most things in life, it is a matter of degree. There is a level of involvement in service that is healthy and has net positive effects for one’s career. But there is also an unhealthy level where people spend so much time and energy on service that it takes away from their ability to do productive research. And as this answer points out, it’s often women and underrepresented minorities who are tracked into such unhealthy levels of service by being the target of everyone’s requests to help out with service.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 19:29
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    @DanRomik, thanks, this makes sense. Though for the record, from my own anecdotal (but extensive) experience, it was actually women who usually found very creative ways to get away with little to no service.
    – Dilworth
    Commented Dec 25, 2021 at 0:20
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This sounds like a great scheme to undermine the credibility of papers authored by women, which if your policy suggestion is implemented, will now be seen as not carrying the stamp of legitimacy of having been reviewed by reviewers picked “just based on expertise and past review quality”.

In other words, this is the exact opposite of “supporting female authors”.

Of course, “past review quality” could legitimately include any knowledge you have of a specific reviewer (male or female) being biased against female authors. In such a case, it seems reasonable to avoid such a reviewer even if they are an expert in the subject matter of the paper, just like you would avoid them if they previously did a sloppy job, were bad at meeting deadlines or have any number of other issues that hurt the scientific mission of your journal. But avoiding male reviewers for female authored papers as a matter of policy does not support either female authors or science.

Also, as others have noted, to the extent that it’s possible to eliminate gender or other identity attributes as a factor from reviewing altogether through adoption of a double blind reviewing policy, this seems like an excellent device to eliminate bias. In the analogous setting of orchestra auditions, such policies have been credited with a significant increase in female representation in orchestras.

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    I'd say that a reviewer who has shown bias against female authors (or authors from any other demographic) has gone beyond doing a "sloppy job" and therefore fits in the category of reviewers to be avoided for any paper, regardless of the author. Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 19:11
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    @MarkMeckes I said it’s reasonable to avoid such reviewers, so yeah, this can certainly refer to any paper. And a reviewer who did a sloppy job, if it’s sloppy enough, may similarly disqualify themselves as a reviewer for any paper. Arguably an extremely high level of sloppiness can be more disqualifying than an extremely mild level of bias, so I see no reason to declare one of these types of human failings as categorically worse than the other.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 19:22
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If you are concerned about a bias from reviewers related to the gender (or any other issue), as an editor, why not rather push instead for a double-blind review process? That way, you kill biased reviews at the root by making it impossible to know which gender the authors of a paper actually have.

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    I want to upvote this, but a quick Google Scholar search suggests that the evidence on whether double-blind review succeeds in reducing or eliminating the gender bias is mixed. Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 16:57
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    @DanielHatton from the sources I have read it seems that double blind peer review is not leading to a higher number of published manuscripts by female authors, but this is not the question here.
    – Sursula
    Commented Dec 25, 2021 at 8:36

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