Author-Reviewer Homophily in Peer Review

Abstract

textlessh3textgreaterAbstracttextless/h3textgreater textlessptextgreaterThe fairness of scholarly peer review has been challenged by evidence of disparities in publication outcomes based on author demographic characteristics. To assess this, we conducted an exploratory analysis of peer review outcomes of 23,876 initial submissions and 7,192 full submissions that were submitted to the biosciences journal textiteLife between 2012 and 2017. Women and authors from nations outside of North America and Europe were underrepresented both as gatekeepers (editors and peer reviewers) and authors. We found evidence of a homophilic relationship between the demographics of the gatekeepers and authors and the outcome of peer review; that is, there were higher rates of acceptance in the case of gender and country homophily. The acceptance rate for manuscripts with male last authors was seven percent, or 3.5 percentage points, greater than for female last authors (95% CI = [0.5, 6.4]); this gender inequity was greatest, at nine percent or about 4.8 percentage points (95% CI = [0.3, 9.1]), when the team of reviewers was all male; this difference was smaller and not significantly different for mixed-gender reviewer teams. Homogeny between countries of the gatekeeper and the corresponding author was also associated with higher acceptance rates for many countries. To test for the persistence of these effects after controlling for potentially confounding variables, we conducted a logistic regression including document and author metadata. Disparities in acceptance rates associated with gender and country of affiliation and the homophilic associations remained. We conclude with a discussion of mechanisms that could contribute to this effect, directions for future research, and policy implications. Code and anonymized data have been made available at https://github.com/murrayds/elife-analysistextless/ptextgreatertextlessh3textgreaterAuthor summarytextless/h3textgreater textlessptextgreaterPeer review, the primary method by which scientific work is evaluated, is ideally a fair and equitable process in which scientific work is judged solely on its own merit. However, the integrity of peer review has been called into question based on evidence that outcomes often differ between male and female authors, and for authors in different countries. We investigated such disparities at the biosciences journal textiteLife by analyzing the demographics of authors and gatekeepers (editors and peer reviewers), and peer review outcomes of all submissions between 2012 and 2017. Outcomes were more favorable for male authors and those affiliated with institutions in North America and Europe; these groups were also over-represented among gatekeepers. There was evidence that peer review outcomes were influenced by textithomophily —a preference of gatekeepers for manuscripts from authors with shared characteristics. We discuss mechanisms that could contribute to this effect, directions for future research, and policy implications.textless/ptextgreater

Publication
bioRxiv