While there have been a few good-press stories about women in science lately, with the viral blog post about a woman’s experience at Uber and today’s story about this issue in The Conversation, I thought it was finally time to write up another post on the topic of women and bias in publishing.
Specifically for geoscience and readers of JGR Space Physics, there were two recent Eos articles or relevant, one on scientists at the Women’s March on Washington and another on the obstacles facing women in our field and another. This second article is an especially worthwhile read, including parts of particular interest to scientific publishing. AGU HQ staff wrote an article that just appeared in Nature last month about gender bias in reviewing, finding that women do not serve as reviewers as much as they write first-authored papers. For researchers in their 20s, this gap doesn’t exist, but it slowly widens, almost monotonically, with each additional decade of age.
As you can see from the paper title:
I’ve described the article’s findings too generally. The title nicely links the finding to the cause. That is, the gap is not the fault of the researchers; the review-request decline rate is identical between men and women. It is the fault of the editors, who send out the review requests, and manuscript corresponding authors, who suggest potential reviewers. The proportion of women in these two categories (those getting review requests and those listed as potential reviewers) is lower than the proportion of women in the field. We need to do better. I need to do better.
Science did a related study looking at the proportion of women authors of their papers, finding that it is substantially lower than the proportion of women among potential authors. So, it isn’t just geosciences, but across science as a whole, that a gender bias in publishing exists.
How can we change this? In addition to me and the other editors getting our requests in line with the research population, I have one idea to share here for all of you.
Manuscript corresponding authors: please think about your list of potential reviewers before signing in to GEMS to submit your paper. GEMS asks you for lots of information and you should think about all of these questions before sitting down to submit, but I especially encourage you to put some effort into the potential reviewer list. If we do it “on the fly” while in the process of submitting, then the usual suspects of senior people, often men, will most likely come to mind. These people are often busy and decline. Please spend some time on this list and think about the full range of potential reviewers. It will help you because it helps us find highly qualified reviewers that much faster.