Peer Review: Rooting out bias

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Peer Review: Rooting out bias

(Published in eLife)

While many scientists pride themselves on not being biased, the data suggest otherwise. Study after study has found that women scientists and scientists from certain minorities experience bias when it comes to getting funded, getting published or getting on in their career. This bias can be both conscious and unconscious. And while many organizations have taken steps to eliminate conscious bias, even the most conscientious individuals are prone to unconscious bias. Within peer review and publishing bias can manifest itself by fewer women being selected as referees and fewer papers by women authors being cited by other papers.

Patricia M Knezek, chair of the committee on the status of women in astronomy at the American Astronomical Society, says that she has caught herself assuming that the author of a paper is male when only first initials are given. She attributes this to growing up in a culture that places less value on the contributions of women and minorities. “It’s subtle,” she says, “but there is a tendency to intrinsically devalue women’s work.” Knezek argues that many different stakeholders – individual scientists, employers, funding agencies, journals and learned societies – need to help by actively monitoring for signs of bias and taking steps to counteract it at the level of both individuals or organizations.