Prospective analyzes of sex/gender-related publication decisions in general medical journals: editorial rejection of population-based female reproductive physiology

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BMJ open. 2022 Feb 25;12(2):e057854. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2021-057854.

ABSTRACT

OBJECTIVE: To assess whether editorial rejection in general medical journals (without peer review) of two clinical research manuscripts may be related to author gender or female physiology topics. Given the evidence of biases related to women in science and medicine and the attitudes of the editorial board, our hypothesis was that submissions by female authors, on topics related to female reproduction and not related to disease, received a differential editorial evaluation.

DESIGN: A prospective survey of publications, author gender, and topics in general medical journals in two issues following editorial rejections of two clinical research manuscripts by five major English-language general medical journals. The rejected manuscripts (subsequently published in low-impact journals) described research funded by national granting agencies, in population-based samples, authored by well-published female scientists at accredited institutions, and describing the innovative findings of female reproductive physiology.

SETTING: Tertiary university medical center.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: All clinical research published within two issues of the date of rejection by each of the five major general medical journals was reviewed for gender of first author/senior. The subject of the publication was assessed for its relevance according to the sex of the population, whether it focused on disease or physiology, and its funding. Rejection letters assessed the editor’s gender and status.

RESULTS: Women were underrepresented as original authors of research; men were 84% of seniors and 69% of first perpetrators. There were no non-disease-focused publications regarding women’s health, although most topics were relevant to both genders. The majority (80%) of rejection letters appeared to have been written by lower-ranking editors.

CONCLUSION: Sex/gender accountability is necessary for clinical research-based editorial decisions by leading general medical journals. Suggestions for improving gender equity in the publication of general medical journals: (1) a sex/gender editorial board member with authority to champion manuscripts that are well-conducted and health-relevant research/ female physiology; (2) an Editorial Rejection Arbitration Committee to review author disputes; and (3) gender parity in double blind peer review.

PMID:35217542 | DOI:10.1136/bmjopen-2021-057854

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