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Peer review diversity in action

21 September 2021

By Katie Eve, Bahar Mehmani, PhD, Kate Wilson

Peer review diversity in action

Showcasing ongoing initiatives aimed at creating an inclusive reviewer environment

© istockphoto.com/PeterPencilYesterday we established the importance of increasing inclusion & diversity (I&D) in peer review. It is now time to turn our attention to actions to drive positive change that can be taken by the main actors in the editorial peer review process. From publishers, to editors, to reviewers themselves, we all have a part to play to make reviewing more inclusive. Here we start by offering some examples of how publishers, collaborating with editors and referees, can help widen reviewer participation.

Onboarding researchers with different levels of expertise and those from underrepresented countries and regions

Early career researchers and those from underrepresented countries and regions are often very keen to get involved as referees but need to be given that first chance. Everyone was a reviewer newbie once, after all! In the latter part of 2019, we launched the certified peer reviewer course(opens in new tab/window) on Researcher Academy, providing new reviewers with a thorough grounding in the principles and practice of refereeing. A Chinese version of the course was launched in 2020 and has also been well-received. By connecting the course to the Reviewer Hub volunteer-to-review feature(opens in new tab/window), participants who finish the course can immediately volunteer to review for any Elsevier journal of their choice and start help shaping the development of knowledge in their field. We have previously written about our journey developing this reviewer volunteer feature. It would be remiss of us not to take this opportunity to add that if you are an early career researcher who is interested in getting involved as a reviewer, we’d love to have you on board(opens in new tab/window)!

Making journal reviewer pools representative of author communities

We often observe a mismatch between the geographical distribution of authors and reviewers. For example, while there is good representation of Chinese authors in the body of recently published papers in Elsevier journals, Chinese academics are underrepresented in our journal reviewer pools. Similar patterns emerge for other countries in the Global South such as India and Brazil. To help close this gap, we have recently started flagging newly accepted authors to editors as potential reviewers. With this initiative we are trying to help editors identify relevant, and likely willing and motivated, reviewers from these countries. Results so far indeed show that recently accepted authors are more likely to agree to review. As well as helping drive balance in the geographical distribution between authors and reviewers, this initiative may also help editors find willing reviewers faster.

Disambiguating reviewer identity

Name similarity between candidate reviewers is a problem facing many editors which impacts Asian, especially Chinese, reviewers. This is mostly due to the fact that diverse Asian names often become identical when transliterated to English. Author names are usually published in English and, as such, non-native-English speakers have to publish their articles with the English version of their names, resulting in ambiguity in platforms providing researcher profiles such as Scopus. To begin tackling this problem, we recently started enabling Chinese authors and reviewers to provide their names in their native language at the registration step in Editorial Manager. We then match this information with their Scopus record to ensure disambiguation and help improve the accuracy of users’ Scopus profiles, which power the find-reviewer tools used by editors.

Offering structured reviewer reports

Structured reviewer reports guide referees through a series of standard and journal-specific questions that are designed to make reviewing more accessible to less experienced referees or non-native English speakers, while also providing authors with clear feedback to enhance their manuscript. Following significant positive feedback for the idea via the Reviewer Hub, we are currently running a small-scale pilot for seven journals. We will monitor the success of offering structured reviewer reports in terms of user experience, the efficiency of the peer review process, and making reviewing more inclusive.

Looking ahead

In order to prioritize further goals, actions and interventions in pursuit of inclusion & diversity, we need to establish baseline knowledge of the distributions of identity attributes for reviewers (and authors and editors). We are therefore planning to begin inviting Elsevier’s editors, authors and reviewers to (optionally) share their gender identity via a question within the Editorial Manager platform. This data will be collected in strict accordance with data privacy policies and reporting will only be done at an aggregate level. We will use the learnings from this to extend our efforts to considering additional dimensions of diversity and inclusion, notably race & ethnicity. The data will also enable us to track our progress and be accountable.

Many more initiatives are live or in development, but we hope the above offers a flavour of some of the approaches we at Elsevier are using.We hope you’re enjoying our miniseries on inclusion & diversity in peer review. In the final, two-part instalment, we will address what editors can and should do to promote I&D in their reviewer pools and in the invitations they send.

Contributors

Portrait photo of Bahar Mehmani, PhD

BMP

Bahar Mehmani, PhD

Reviewer Experience Lead

Elsevier

Portrait photo of Kate Wilson

KW

Kate Wilson