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Dana Hawley and Bill Hopkins outside in front of green bushes

Professors to look at bias in peer-reviewed journals

Functional Ecology — a highly respected journal in the field of ecology — is taking on a topic that tackles something every scientist (and every writer) wrestles with: the cause of bias in scientific publishing communities.

Leading the effort of this first-of-its-kind comprehensive study are Virginia Tech professors Dana Hawley and Bill Hopkins, who are associate editors for the journal and they will be managing some of the paper submissions for the study, which launched in early September.

“As scientists, we like to think that we are always objective. That’s the foundation of science. But scientists are human beings too. No one is ever completely objective when it comes to something like evaluating someone else’s work. Because peer review is the key checkpoint determining whether scientific results are published or not, the idea of making this review as objective as possible is really important,” said Hawley, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and a member of the Global Change Center.

Although many different kinds of bias will be addressed in this study, Functional Ecology noticed that one bias receives more attention in previous studies of peer review bias than others: gender bias.

In fact, gender bias receives the most attention because the results of these studies have been surprisingly inconclusive. Where some studies have shown that female authors receive lower acceptances into journals, others have shown that female authors receive higher peer review scores compared to males.

"This study will examine bias related to gender, institutional prestige, author reputation, and race on a large, randomized scale through multiple years. Though this study is limited to the field of ecology, it can have implications for the scientific community as a whole.”

For further reading, visit Professors take part in journal’s test for peer review bias in major international study