British Ecological Society launches study to test if ‘author blinding’ reduces bias in science publishing

The trial will be the largest of its kind to test whether double blinding reduces bias.

The British Ecological Society’s journal Functional Ecology has announced a two-year trial to assess whether hiding author details during the peer review process reduces bias against underrepresented groups in the science publishing process.

The peer-review process

Scientific papers go through a peer-review process before they are accepted for publication. They are sent to independent researchers who assess the robustness of the methods used and the conclusions drawn, as well as the novelty of the study. The reviewers’ comments play an important role in determining which papers get accepted and published.

Currently the most common process in ecology journals is single blind peer review. The authors of a submitted research paper are not told the identity of the reviewers. However, reviewers do see the authors’ details on the papers they check.

This has led to concerns that, consciously or unconsciously, knowledge of an author’s gender, university position or nationality could influence how reviewers assess the research reported in the paper.

To counter this, some journals have introduced ‘double-blinding’. This is where the list of authors is removed from the paper they look at.

The British Ecological Society trial

The trial will compare these two approaches to peer review. An estimated 2500 research papers submitted to the journal Functional Ecology will be randomly allotted into two workflows: single- or double-blind peer review. The study will assess whether author characteristics affect peer-review scores and acceptance of papers, as well as the effectiveness of the blinding process.

In particular, the study will examine whether double-blinding reduces variation in peer review scores and acceptance rates among authors of different genders, geographic locations, first languages (English vs. other), university prestige, career stages (junior vs. senior) and publishing histories (more prolific, higher prestige).

The journal will also investigate how anonymising authors influences the publishing process – in its ability to recruit reviewers, the quality of reviews received, the average rating given to papers and the ability of reviewers to identify authors.

Authors and reviewers will be asked to complete a survey of their opinions on single- and double-blind peer review.

Sources: Knowledgespeak; press release.