Sex bias in peer review

I think this is an important issue, not just in terms of sex bias, but that the whole peer-review process could probably be improved.

This study (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2007.07.008) by Amber Budden at U. Toronto, suggests that female authors are more successful in a double-blind peer review process rather than the more conventional single-blind review.

Just to be clear, double-blind means that the author doesn't know who the reviewers are and the reviewer does not see the name or affiliation of the author(s). Single-blind means the author submits the paper and the journal/editor finds reviewers (the author doesn't know who they are), but the reviewers see the author's name(s). Almost every scientific journal uses this single-blind approach; for no good reason.

From where I sit, there seems no good reason to maintain this single-blind review process. Not only does it possibly discriminate against women, I think there are likely many more negative effects. The most obvious one is that "prestigious" scientists, those who might have published a lot or have contributed seminal work in a field, seem more likely to get through the process less critically. This is part because they are good scientists, of course, but it can also be because there really are not enough reviewers to go around, and much more junior scientists (sometimes grad students) end up reviewing papers. It is intimidating as an inexperienced scientists to be critical of work by someone you know/respect/fear/want-to-work-with/etc. Also, many sub-disciplines are populated by a fairly small number of experts, who end up being asked to review each other's papers all the time. This can go either way: people are likely to be extra critical of rivals and less critical of friends.

Recently, there has been some open discussion of the review process (e.g., DOI: 10.1126/science.319.5859.32b and DOI: 10.1126/science.319.5859.32c), which is good. However, I haven't noticed any large-scale call for double-blind review. This is amazing, since double-blind studies are a foundation of modern science. I honestly can't think of a single reason that every journal should not immediately switch to double-blind reviews.

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