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The British Ecological Society highlights inequalities in academic publishing process in a three-year randomised trial -

A three-year randomised trial comparing double and single-anonymous peer review methods, conducted by the British Ecological Society (BES), has found inequalities present in the academic publishing process. The BES conducted the trial to explore if hiding authors’ identities in addition to reviewers’ identities would reduce the potential for bias in the publishing process. The results of the trial were published on Thursday, 13th April.

In the scientific publishing industry, scientific papers are put through a peer review process to evaluate the quality of the methods and conclusions presented in the paper. Most life science disciplines use the practice of single-anonymous peer review to determine which papers are suitable for publishing. However, this practice raises concerns regarding conscious or unconscious bias about gender, nationality or affiliation. The BES aimed to evaluate if hiding author identities in addition to reviewer identities would decrease such biases in the peer review process.

The randomised trial used actual manuscripts submitted to Functional Ecology between 2019 and 2022, requiring authors to submit their papers with their identities anonymised. Half of the submissions were then randomly chosen to have author details added to their title pages. The trial showed that peer review outcomes were similar across author demographics when reviewers did not know whose paper they were reviewing. In contrast, when reviewers did know whose paper they were reviewing (i.e., single-anonymous peer review), papers with first authors from higher-income countries and those with higher English proficiency were favored.

The lead author of the paper, Professor Charles Fox, explains that the trial provides strong evidence that authors from higher-income and/or English-speaking countries receive significant benefits from being identified to reviewers during the peer review process. The study concludes that anonymising author identities (double-blind review) reduces this bias, making the peer review process more equitable.

As a result of the strong evidence uncovered in the study, the BES will begin transitioning its journals to mandatory double-anonymous peer review, beginning with Functional Ecology and followed by other journals published by the BES. The Director of Publishing at the BES, Andrea Baier, says it is vital that research published is reviewed and selected impartially, regardless of the authors’ backgrounds.

The BES’s publications committee supported the experiment, committing to being led by the results it would produce. Professor Rob Freckleton, the Chair of the committee, says the evidence shows that double-anonymous peer review is an important building block towards greater equity in publishing, and the committee is acting on it.

Click here to read the original press release.

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