How journals can increase equity, diversity and inclusion in science
The Early-Career Advisory Group (ECAG) is an international group who advise and support eLife – a life sciences journal with an editorial board of over 600 working scientists – by representing the needs and aspirations of researchers at early stages in their career. The group is committed to improving research culture and has recently published an Editorial in eLife calling for radical changes that journals can adopt to address racism in the scientific community and to make science more diverse and inclusive. Below is an edited version of that article.
In recent months, following the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, several scientific organizations have spoken out against systemic racism in science. However, this acknowledgement comes too late for many, given that the scientific community was largely silent over the past year following a number of similarly shocking events in Iran (when hundreds of protestors, including students, were killed), in Chile (when thousands were jailed), and in India (when police invaded university libraries to assault students). As part of the scientific community, this silence shames us. We believe the freedom to think and to share ideas without the threat of discrimination and violence is essential to the development of science, and that it is the duty of scientific organizations to defend these freedoms when they are threatened anywhere on the planet.
It is not lost on us that, as life scientists, we have a special responsibility to be anti-racist due to the role our community has played in the past by providing quasi-scientific cover for racist ideologies, from endorsing eugenics to honoring James Watson, a scientist with a history of expressing racist and sexist views. We are living through a clarifying moment that has clearly galvanized the scientific world in recognition and support for combatting the systemic racism in our fields. We promise to use this new energy and focus to advance innovations that will lead to a more equitable research culture. We hope that journals and other scientific organizations will take similar actions.
Our role at eLife is to advocate for the inclusion and fair treatment of early-career scientists in the research communication landscape. In many ways, due to the diversity gap between early-career researchers and senior scientists, this mission also involves advocating for equity, diversity and inclusion. Recently, eLife has publicly committed to taking steps to address racism in science, including specific measures to address the lack of Black scientists at all levels of the organization. Below we summarize additional recommendations we hope will lead to lasting change for underrepresented minority scientists in research communication. We urge all journals and organizations involved in shaping the future of science that have not already done so to adopt similar measures.
- Address any lack of diversity at all levels of the journal, including but not limited to its editorial board, advisory groups and staff. Include and empower individuals from underrepresented minority groups in leadership roles.
- Report publicly, ideally on a quarterly basis, on progress towards any commitments to increase equity, diversity and inclusion. These reports should also contain current and historic demographic data on the composition of the editorial boards, and any targets for increased representation of individuals from underrepresented minority groups.
- Recruit new editors through open calls aimed at meeting the diversity targets set above.
- Ensure that editors are aware of how bias can be introduced in the peer-review process; for example, that data have shown reviewers tend to be more positive about papers by authors who are of the same gender or from the same country as them, which can have a detrimental effect in editorial decisions for women and scientists outside of North America and Europe.
- Take measures to ensure that editors avoid these biases, for example, by setting a target for the percentage of papers to be evaluated by a reviewer panel where at least one of the reviewers is a woman. Similar targets could be set to increase the diversity of reviewer panels in terms of other demographic characteristics, such as career stage, ethnicity or geography.
- Implement systems that report to all editors their record of recruiting diverse reviewer panels. Evaluate the performance of editors based on their use of diverse reviewer panels.
- Offer either mandatory implicit bias training, or racism and sexism awareness-raising workshops for editors, advisory groups and staff.
- Take clear and vocal editorial positions on sociopolitical issues that affect scientists, especially in situations where the organization can take meaningful action.
- Prioritize the technological and infrastructure innovations required to achieve these objectives.
Minority scientists, including those in this group, sometimes hear that policies to address discriminatory outcomes in science may lead to a lowering of standards, but these assertions are never accompanied by evidence, and may even run counter to it. Too often, leaders in science make arguments against reform that are based on the flawed assumption that the status quo is at all tolerable to the communities that they represent. We urge the leadership at journals and other scientific organizations to recognize that current systems in science, from publishing to career advancement, do not work for minority scientists. We ask leaders in science to not underestimate the deep-seated commitment to work for progress that exists among the global community of early-career researchers.