Massive study reveals editorial bias and nepotism in biomedical journals


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Scientific journals are supposed to regard research manuscripts without passion and favor. But in a study published on November 23e in the open access journal PLOS Biology, Alexandre Scanff, Florian Naudet and Clara Locher of the University of Rennes, and their colleagues, reveal that a subset of journals can exercise considerable bias and favoritism.

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

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

Based on a large database available, this survey was unable to perform a detailed qualitative analysis of the articles published in such journals suspected of biased editorial decision-making, and further work will be required to assess the nature of these journals. articles published by hyper-prolific societies. authors in journals flagged as potentially “nepotist”.

Why is this important? Such ‘nepotistic reviews’, suspected of biased editorial decision-making, could be deployed for metrics based on game productivity, which could have a serious ripple effect on decisions about promotion, tenure and funding. of research. To build confidence in their practices, the authors argue that journals need to be more transparent about their editorial and peer review practices and adhere to the guidelines of the Publications Ethics Committee (COPE).

Locher adds: “To highlight questionable editorial behavior, this study explores the relationship between hyper-prolific authors and the editorial staff of a journal.”

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More information:
Scanff A, Naudet F, Cristea IA, Moher D, Bishop DVM, Locher C (2021) A survey of biomedical journals to detect editorial bias and nepotistic behavior. PLoS Biol 19 (11): e3001133.

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