‘As a South Asian woman in academic publishing, diversity in peer review is close to me’

says Nitasha Devasar, MD Taylor & Francis India & South Asia in conversation with Editage Insights, during the recently concluded Peer Review Week

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Nitasha Devasar, MD Taylor & Francis India & South Asia
Nitasha Devasar, MD Taylor & Francis India & South Asia

As a South Asian woman in academic publishing the issue is close to me both professionally and personally. Access, to learning, resources and networks in research, are all subject to biases and assumptions that are shaped by what has been or is considered, the norm. This results in excluded or marginalized groups being pushed further off the grid with every cycle of the research/peer review process.

There are enough studies to indicate the existence of gender, ethnicity, age and geography as factors for biases. Equally, studies show that diversity enhances the quality and robustness of research and its outcomes. In such a situation, what is at stake is not only an effective peer review process but the entire research universe it supports and enhances. If, for example, we exclude young female scientists from South Asia from our peer reviewer pool, we are likely depriving them of an opportunity to develop their analytical and writing skills as well as growing their expertise. They will not be able to showcase this experience to garner conference invites or grants that they could use for forming professional collaborations to enhance the visibility of their research. This, in turn, will impact their career advancement and job retention, fuelling the build-up of existing homogenized hegemonies.

How can journals achieve diversity in peer review?

The stakes to grow and sustain diversity in research and its assessment are high. Conscious steps to overcome unconscious biases are needed both by publishers and the societies and institutions where journals are housed.

The first step is to recognize and acknowledge that biases do exist, in fact that they are inevitable in the current research and societal dispensations. Then, there is a need to proactively and continually address these inherent biases.

Diversity audits that look at gender, geographic representation, etc. by journals, societies, funders and publishers would be a good starting point. Action and facilitation to address the findings and influence outcomes would form a part of this process.

The other side is to fill the supply gap that may exist in finding such peer reviewers: measures like awareness drives, both to combat bias by encouraging diverse pools in research activities and to train and skill researchers for peer reviewing. Publishers can play an important role here. As also in encouraging diversity in editorial and advisory boards, and in authorship, by facilitating mentoring via senior academics, enabling scholarly communities and online hubs, for example. At Taylor & Francis, our editors are doing precisely this by sensitizing and supporting our Journal editorial boards to ensure they reflect the diversity of the research communities they serve. Alongside, we are working on broadening the skills of the reviewer pools in India and China, to reflect the changing geographies of current research. These measures can set the stage for more inclusion and diversity in our research landscape in the future, when China and India consistently drive and lead research outputs.

So, capacity building, awareness drives, and continual check and audits to assess gaps and facilitate progress can all be ways of increasing diversity in peer review.

(First published in Editage Insights–resources for authors and journals. For more information visit www.editage.com)

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