Journals of science are expected to review research manuscripts objectively and without bias. However, scholars have discovered that a small number of journals may have biased and prejudiced.
In this new study published in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, Alexandre Scanff, Florian Naudet and Clara Locher from the University of Rennes, and colleagues, analyzed over 5 million articles published between 2015 and 2019 in a sample of 5,468 biomedical journals indexed in the National Library of Medicine to identify periodicals suspected of partiality.
They specifically assessed authorship disparity using two potential red flags: i) the percentage of papers in a given journal authored by that journal’s most prolific author, and (ii) the Gini index of that journal, a statistical measure widely used by economists to describe income or wealth inequalities.
Their findings show that, as one might expect, most journals spread articles among a wide number of authors. The authors do, however, find a subset of biomedical journals in which a few writers, frequently editorial board members, were responsible for a disproportionate number of articles. The authors do, however, find a subset of biomedical journals in which a few writers, frequently editorial board members, were responsible for a disproportionate number of articles. Additionally, publications written by these “hyper-prolific” people were more likely to be accepted for publication within three weeks of submission, showing editorial favor.
Based on a large available database, this survey was unable to conduct a detailed qualitative analysis of the papers published in these journals suspected of biased editorial decision-making, and additional work will be required to ascertain the nature of the articles published by hyper-productive authors in journals flagged as potentially “nepotistic.”
Why does this matter?
Such “nepotistic periodicals,” which are accused of skewed editorial decision-making, could be used to rig productivity-based metrics, with major ramifications for promotion, tenure, and research funding decisions. To foster trust in their methods, the authors propose that journals should be more transparent about their editing and peer review processes and adhere to COPE criteria.
Locher says, “To highlight questionable editorial behaviors, this study explores the relationship between hyper-prolific authors and a journal’s editorial team.”
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