• DEI initiative collecting data on race and ethnicity of authors & reviewers.
• Data presented to journals to decide how to engage, incl. discriminatory practices.
• Article questions how this changes confidence in being judged on merit alone.
The article discusses the introduction of a DEI initiative in academic publishing, which involves collecting data on the race and ethnicity of authors and reviewers, and presenting this to journals. This data can then be used by journals to choose reviewers and recruit editorial board members with regard to perceived race and ethnicity. The article acknowledges that the data will not be used to inform editorial decision-making but notes that informal and ad hoc discriminatory practices may still occur during the editorial process.
The article also raises concerns about the implications of this initiative for authors who visibly fall into certain racial or ethnic minority categories. These authors may no longer be able to have confidence that their academic participation and contributions are being judged and valued solely on the basis of merit and without regard to perceived personal characteristics. Additionally, as there is currently no way to opt out from this form of differential treatment by journals, scholars have no choice but to accept this initiative.
Overall, this DEI initiative appears to be encouraging discriminatory practices while fundamentally changing the relationship between the journal and some of its stakeholders.
As you will know, I’ve recently been in contact with Elsevier and Cambridge University Press to try to understand how this information will be used, and to express my concerns about being asked to provide it.
Here is part of Elsevier’s response to my initial letter:
The data will let us see where each journal is in terms of diversity for the editorial board, authors and reviewers. It can highlight where there may be gaps or discrepancies in diversity in terms of gender identity, race or ethnic origin. This will help to understand if a journal needs better representation on its editorial board or in who they choose as reviewers. For example, if the author base has a large percentage from one ethnic background, but there are no reviewers from that background, it is a sign that there may need to be a more diverse reviewer pool for the journal.
And here is the main text of a recent (and quite helpful) response from Cambridge University Press:
Once again, I wish to reassure you that this information is not used to inform editorial decision-making. One of our core editorial policies states that “Editorial decisions on individual manuscripts should be based on scholarly merit, and should not be affected by the origins of the manuscript, including the nationality, political beliefs, religion, or identity of the authors“. This is in keeping with the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing (see p2) guidelines from the Committee on Publication Ethics and other organisations, and we expect our journals to uphold this foundational principle.
Regarding your concerns about recruitment to editorial boards I cannot comment on the approach taken by individual journals, many of which are owned by independent legal entities from Cambridge and recruit their editorial boards without input from Cambridge. Journals may indeed wish to increase representation on their boards, but to do so on the basis of race (perceived or declared) would, I imagine, be subject to any applicable equality laws in the jurisdiction of the journal or publisher. Similarly, any use of personal data held by a publisher would be subject to Data Protection laws governing such data in the relevant jurisdiction. As legal matters, these are beyond the scope of the Publishing Ethics and Research Integrity team to advise on, so, if of concern to you, I suggest you solicit legal advice.
So, putting together the pieces…
It seems that publishers are collecting data on the race and ethnicity of authors and reviewers, and presenting this to journals. Individual journals can then decide whether and how to engage with the data. This includes the possibility for discriminatory practices, such as choosing reviewers and recruiting editorial board members with regard to perceived race and ethnicity.
Information on race and ethnicity will not be used to inform editorial decision-making on individual manuscripts. But that is not to say that ad hoc and informal discriminatory practices based on beliefs or perceptions about the race and ethnicity of an author cannot occur during the editorial process.
Discriminatory practices are clearly being encouraged as part of DEI in academic publishing. I do not welcome this for reasons outlined here.
Importantly, this initiative fundamentally changes the relationship between the journal and some of its stakeholders: Scholars who visibly fall into certain racial or ethnic minority categories will no longer be able to have confidence that their academic participation and contributions are being judged and valued solely on the basis of merit and without regard to perceived personal characteristics.
This is the case even if a given journal isn’t engaging in formal or informal discriminatory practices. After all, it isn’t possible to know which journals are engaging in such practices and which are not.
And it is the case even if you decline from providing your personal information on race and ethnicity, as there is currently no way to opt out from this form of differential treatment by journals.
This article first appeared on Amber Muhinyi’s Substack.