Report finds gender bias in chemical sciences publishing

Article by Amanda Doyle

THE Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has released a report showing that a number of subtle biases against women exist throughout each stage of the publishing process.

The RSC carried out an in-depth analysis of each stage of the publication process of its journals from 2014–2018. The report, Is publishing in the chemical sciences gender biased? found that there is a complex interaction of subtle biases throughout the publishing pipeline which could combine to put women at a disadvantage when disseminating research.

A previous RSC report found that women don’t progress to senior positions in the same proportion as men and the current report notes that publication metrics are seen as markers of academic success so that biases could have an impact on the career progression of women.

The analysis found that women are less likely to be corresponding author and are less likely to submit to journals with a high impact factor. Female corresponding and first authors are more likely to be rejected without review on the initial submission. There is a lower proportion of female reviewers, which is likely due to them being invited less often, as women are just as likely as men to accept review invitations. Editors and reviewers are also more likely to favour papers by authors of the same gender and from the same country.

Papers by female corresponding authors are less likely to be cited, and authors are more likely to cite papers by the same gender. Some comments received from interviewees suggested that the lack of citations could be due to networks, as authors might be more likely to cite people they know. However, there are also fewer women researchers to cite so it is difficult to know the exact cause of this.

Common themes emerging from members of the publishing community included the need for transparency in the publishing process, the need to provide more constructive feedback to authors, and to provide training to identify unconscious bias.

The report noted similar results from other publishers, such as Elsevier which found that women publish fewer papers on average than men, and the Institute of Physics which found that papers with a female corresponding author have a slightly lower chance of being accepted.

IChemE has reviewed this report and shared it with its journal editors.

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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