Publishing papers in top-tier journals is crucial scholastic currency. But the process is deeply insular, often hinging on personal connections between journal editors and the researchers from whom they solicit and receive manuscripts.
“Science is publicized as a meritocracy: a larger, data-driven enterprise in which the best work and the best people float to the top,” Dr. Extavour said. In truth, she added, universal, objective standards are lacking, and “the access that authors have to editors is variable.”
To democratize this process, editors and reviewers need to level the playing field, in part by reflecting the diversity that journals claim they seek, Dr. Kamath said. “People think this is a cosmetic or surface issue,” she said. “But in reality, the very nature of your scholarship would change if you took diversity, equity and inclusion seriously.”
In responses to The Times, several organizations, including A.A.A.S., Cell Press, the Lancet and PLoS, pointed to ongoing efforts to track and boost equitable gender representation in science. Of the journals who kept tabs on these trends, many had hired women into leadership and editor positions. But where reported, authors and reviewers who identified as male still outnumbered their female colleagues — and not all organizations offered a nonbinary option. (Publishing rates among women have also fallen since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.)
Other journals largely skirted questions.
Jim Michalski, a senior public information officer at JAMA, did not provide data on the company’s employees, instead inviting The Times in an email “to visit our websites and assess the diversity of all aspects of the leadership of each JAMA Network journal, including Editors in Chief, Deputy Editors, Editorial Boards, etc.”
After evaluating some of the publishers’ written responses to The Times, Dr. Crystal Wiley Cené, a physician and health equity researcher at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, said, “I really questioned whether I would submit my work there again.”
The barriers raised to people of color in academia — often referred to as an ivory tower — arise early and often. “There is this false narrative that to achieve diversity, we have to compromise on excellence,” Dr. Muñoz said.