Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Peer Review and Gender Bias Revisited

Back in January I wrote about a study by Budden and colleagues that compared the authorship of papers in the journal Behavioral Ecology in 1997-2001 when single-blind peer review was used, to 2001-2005 when double-blind peer review was used. They found that there was an increase in the number of female first authors in the later period, suggesting that double-blind peer review reduced gender bias. That hypothesis was supported by examining "other journals with similar impact factors", which showed no change in the number of female first authors over the same period.

Now there has been a new analysis of publication data (Webb et al. 2008) that shows a "general increase in the proportion of female-authored papers across six ecology and evolution journals between 1997 and 2000 and 2002 and 2005." Many (all?) of those journals use single-blind peer review, which means the increase in female authorship seen in Behavioral Ecology was likely due to other factors.

Based on the new analysis and a review of the related literature, Nature has withdrawn part of an editorial about the use of double-blind peer review :

After re-examining the analyses, Nature has concluded that ref. 1 can no longer be said to offer compelling evidence of a role for gender bias in single-blind peer review. In addition, upon closer examination of the papers listed in PubMed on gender bias and peer review, we cannot find other strong studies that support this claim. Thus, we no longer stand by the statement in the fourth paragraph of the Editorial, that double-blind peer review reduces bias against authors with female first names.
Budden and colleagues have also published a response to the new analysis, which suggests that at least part of the difference in results is the way in which the data was analyzed - whether authors using initials instead of full first names were included in the total authorship, for example*. Even so, it appears that even if double blind review does increase the acceptance of publications authored by women, the effect is not as great as the original paper suggested.

There is more discussion of the original editorial and the possible advantages of double-blind peer review on the Nature Peer-to-Peer blog.

* I don't have access to the full text of Webb et al. or Budden et al.'s response, so I may have incorrectly characterized their position. If you've read the full version, please don't hesitate to correct me.


Budden et al. Double-blind review favours increased representation of female authors. Trends Ecol. Evol. 23(1):4-6 doi:10.1016/j.tree.2007.07.008 (2008)

Webb, T. J. , O'Hara, B. & Freckleton, R. P. Does double-blind review benefit female authors? Trends Ecol. Evol., in press. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2008.03.003 (2008).

With a response from the authors of the original paper:
Budden, A.E., Lortie, C.J., Tregenza, T., Aarssen, L., Koricheva, J., Leimu, R. (2008) Response to Webb et al.: Double-blind review: accept with minor revisions. Trends Ecol. Evol., in press. DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2008.04.001

Tags: ,