December 4, 2021

New Research: “Massive Study Reveals Editorial Bias and Nepotism in Biomedical Journals”

Update: Interview With Article Co-Authors (via The Scientist)

From the Public Library of Science:

Scientific journals are expected to consider research manuscripts dispassionately and without favor. But in a study publishing on November 23rd in the open access journal PLOS Biology, Alexandre Scanff, Florian Naudet and Clara Locher from the University of Rennes, and colleagues, reveal that a subset of journals may be exercising considerable bias and favoritism.

To identify journals that are suspected of favoritism, the authors explored nearly 5 million articles published between 2015 and 2019 in a sample of 5,468 of biomedical journals indexed in the National Library of Medicine. In particular, they assessed authorship disparity using two potential red flags: (i) the percentage of papers in a given journal that are authored by that journal’s most prolific author, and (ii) a journal’s Gini index, a statistical measure widely used by economists to describe income or wealth inequalities.

Their results reveal that in most journals, publications are distributed across a large number of authors, as one might hope. However, the authors identify a subset of biomedical journals where a few authors, often members of that journal’s editorial board, were responsible for a disproportionate number of publications. In addition, the articles authored by these “hyper-prolific” individuals were more likely to be accepted for publication within 3 weeks of their submission, suggesting favoritism in journals’ editorial procedures.

Based on a large available database, this survey could not perform a detailed qualitative analysis of the papers published in such journals suspected of biased editorial decision-making, and extensive further work will be needed to assess the nature of the articles published by hyper-prolific authors in journals flagged as potentially “nepotistic.”

Why would this matter? Such “nepotistic journals,” suspected of biased editorial decision-making, could be deployed to game productivity-based metrics, which could have a serious knock-on effect on decisions about promotion, tenure and research funding. To enhance trust in their practices, the authors argue that journals need to be more transparent about their editorial and peer review practices and to adhere to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines.

Locher adds, “To highlight questionable editorial behaviors, this study explores the relationship between hyper-prolific authors and a journal’s editorial team.”

Journal Article

Title

A Survey of Biomedical Journals to Detect Editorial Bias and Nepotistic Behavior

Authors

Alexandre Scanff
University of Rennes

Florian Naudet
University of Rennes

Ioana A. Cristea
University of Pavia

David Moher
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
University of Ottawa

Dorothy V. M. Bishop
University of Oxford

Clara Locher
University of Rennes

Source

PLOS Biology (PLoS Biol)
19(11): e3001133
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001133

Abstract

Alongside the growing concerns regarding predatory journal growth, other questionable editorial practices have gained visibility recently. Among them, we explored the usefulness of the Percentage of Papers by the Most Prolific author (PPMP) and the Gini index (level of inequality in the distribution of authorship among authors) as tools to identify journals that may show favoritism in accepting articles by specific authors. We examined whether the PPMP, complemented by the Gini index, could be useful for identifying cases of potential editorial bias, using all articles in a sample of 5,468 biomedical journals indexed in the National Library of Medicine. For articles published between 2015 and 2019, the median PPMP was 2.9%, and 5% of journal exhibited a PPMP of 10.6% or more. Among the journals with the highest PPMP or Gini index values, where a few authors were responsible for a disproportionate number of publications, a random sample was manually examined, revealing that the most prolific author was part of the editorial board in 60 cases (61%). The papers by the most prolific authors were more likely to be accepted for publication within 3 weeks of their submission. Results of analysis on a subset of articles, excluding nonresearch articles, were consistent with those of the principal analysis. In most journals, publications are distributed across a large number of authors. Our results reveal a subset of journals where a few authors, often members of the editorial board, were responsible for a disproportionate number of publications. To enhance trust in their practices, journals need to be transparent about their editorial and peer review practices.

Source: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001133.g001

Direct to Full Text Article

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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