Academia’s ‘clans’ be­hind ref­er­ees’ bias

THE (Times Higher Education) - - LETTERS -

Hav­ing been an in­ter­na­tional aca­demic jour­nal ed­i­tor for 33 years, I read with in­ter­est “Male ed­i­tors ‘more likely to ac­cept pa­pers from other men’” (News, www.timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com, 28 Septem­ber). When I deal with manuscripts, I strive to be ob­jec­tive, bal­anced and fair. But my aim is to build a bet­ter jour­nal, so I am strict about what I ac­cept for pub­li­ca­tion. If there are pat­terns in qual­ity, the con­tents of the jour­nal will re­flect them.

That may seem very sim­ple, but there are two other is­sues. First, there is a thread of se­ri­ous bias among ref­er­ees, which I first no­ticed in 1985 when I started my ed­i­to­rial role. Will­ing­ness to re­view pa­pers is re­lated to gen­der, na­tional ori­gin and whether or not Euro­pean or North Amer­i­can men are among the au­thors. I termed it “aca­demic racism”: that may be an over­state­ment, but such bias is cer­tainly part of the “clan­nish­ness” of aca­demic life. It is by no means uni­ver­sal, but it is a highly con­sis­tent phe­nom­e­non.

I find that pa­pers from au­thors in Iran, Pak­istan, Malaysia and In­dia re­quire more ef­fort to get re­viewed. This may be be­cause of a record of poor schol­ar­ship in these coun­tries, but it is hard on au­thors from such places. Fair­ness means that even se­cond-rate pa­pers need to be re­viewed and their short­com­ings (gen­tly) pointed out so that the au­thors can im­prove their work, which will ben­e­fit us all.

The se­cond is­sue is the pres­sure that uni­ver­si­ties put on staff to com­pete, es­pe­cially in re­search out­comes. The re­sult is a fail­ure to help aca­demics else­where. Western­ers, by and large, are re­luc­tant to give help to African au­thors. Some good work is com­ing out of African uni­ver­si­ties, and it is a strug­gle to give it the recog­ni­tion it de­serves. It is also a strug­gle to en­sure that Africans feel in­cluded in the in­ter­na­tional re­search en­deav­our. It should not be.

The best re­search should in­volve col­lab­o­ra­tion, and ex­clu­sion­ary poli­cies and ac­tions should be re­duced. Fos­ter­ing a com­mu­nity of schol­ar­ship means tak­ing pos­i­tive ac­tion to in­clude those who would join it and fairly recog­nis­ing good work, who­ever its au­thor. I fear that that re­quires a dif­fer­ent model of uni­ver­sity. David Eric Alexan­der

Via timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Will­ing­ness to re­view pa­pers is re­lated to gen­der, na­tional ori­gin and whether or not Euro­pean or North Amer­i­can men are among the au­thors

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