As a step toward combating the systemic anti-Black racism in academia, we paused most of our normal activity on June 10 to participate in #ShutDownSTEM and examine how we can better support Black colleagues.
The scientific enterprise, including scientific communication, isn’t equitable (for example, bias and economic barriers limit participation in reading and writing journal articles). At the same time, we recognize the need to be vigilant about the possibility of introducing or exacerbating biases through innovation (for example, attention on preprints often falls on authors who are already well-known). Though we still have much to learn and our exploration of the literature and available resources was not exhaustive, evidence on race and ethnicity in publishing is relatively sparse. For example, more evidence is needed on whether there are disparities in participation in open peer review practices (like signing reviews or publishing review reports) as well as preprinting.
During #ShutDownSTEM, we reflected on how we can work to support a more equitable world as we pursue our mission, for example, by upholding the commitment to encourage diversity stated in our community guidelines, seeking diverse representation, evaluating open science interventions in light of their potential effects on equity and inclusion, and promoting the development of interventions that address inequality. We also worked to educate ourselves about the state of race and ethnicity in science and publishing. Here are some of the resources we found helpful:
Racial disparities in biomedical science
This paper examined the representation of different race and ethnic groups in the NIH workforce relative both to the general US population and to the population of eligible individuals at the previous career or educational stage. Black NIH workers are greatly underrepresented relative to the US population, and relative to the relevant labor market, they are underrepresented at the levels of research grant (RPG and R01-equivalent) awardees (where white men are overrepresented).
This paper revealed a 10% funding gap for Black applicants of NIH R01 grants, a major source of funding provided to individual US labs.
Topic choice contributes to the lower rate of NIH awards to African-American/black scientists (Hoppe et al 2018)
“Notably, AA/B applicants tend to propose research on topics with lower award rates. These topics include research at the community and population level, as opposed to more fundamental and mechanistic investigations; the latter tend to have higher award rates. Topic choice alone accounts for over 20% of the funding gap after controlling for multiple variables, including the applicant’s prior achievements.”
Differences in words used to describe racial and gender groups in Medical Student Performance Evaluations (Ross et al 2017)
“A significant difference was found in the use of the standout words “exceptional”, “best”, and, “outstanding” with White applicants being more likely than Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians to be described with these adjectives. Concerning the thematic category of ability, Whites were also statistically more likely to be described as “bright” when compared to Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.”
Does STEM Stand Out? Examining Racial/Ethnic Gaps in Persistence Across Postsecondary Fields (Riegle-Crumb et al 2019)
Underrepresentation of Black and racial minorities in academic positions and publishing could originate from the lack of representation in trainees and students. This study found that STEM is the only field, where Black and Latina/o youth are significantly more likely than their White peers to switch and earn a degree in another field. A sense of belonging is an important predictor of retention in STEM, where underrepresented researchers are less likely to feel a sense of belonging. Riegle-Crumb et al. noted that inequalities in academia arise as the dominant in-group creates and maintains privilege. Black and racial minorities are more likely to experience exclusion, and detrimental effects from negative stereotypes.
Racial disparities in publishing
Publications as predictors of racial and ethnic differences in NIH research awards (Ginther et al 2018)
Using biographical sketches associated with applications for new NIH R01 awards between 2003-2006, the authors identified disparities across four racial categories in total publications, citations, number of coauthors, and the sum of journal impact factor for publications. See Figure 2 below.
Association Between Author Diversity and Acceptance Rates and Citations in Peer‐Reviewed Earth Science Manuscripts (Lerback, Hanson, and Wooden 2020)
This study analyzed publications in American Geophysical Union (AGU) journals using demographic information voluntarily provided by authors in their capacity of members of the AGU society. In contrast to two earlier studies that used automated classification of names, this work found that ethnically diverse author groups experienced lower acceptance and citation rates.
Other disparities in publishing
In this study of papers reviewed by eLife, women and people outside of North America and Europe were underrepresented as authors, reviews, and editors. Homogeny between reviewers/editors and authors increased chances of acceptance.
A persistent lack of international representation on editorial boards in environmental biology (Espin et al 2017)
Though this study of 24 journals did not look at race or ethnicity, it demonstrates that at least in the dimension of geography, editorial board diversity is a problem across multiple journals.
“Nevertheless, editors based outside the “Global North” […] were extremely rare. Furthermore, 67.18% of all editors were based in either the United States or the United Kingdom. Consequently, geographic diversity—already low in 1985—remained unchanged through 2014.”
- Why Are There So Few Black Physicists? A New Report Describes What Needs to Change
- Surviving as an underrepresented minority scientist in a majority environment (Jarvis, 2015)
- How to be a white ally | Imperial College London (Curry, Littleston, Kamara)
- Meta-analysis of field experiments shows no change in racial discrimination in hiring over time (Quillian et al, 2017)
- What Can We Do to Combat Anti-Black Racism in the Biomedical Research Enterprise? (Lorsch, Gibbs, Gammie, 2020)
- White Academia: Do Better (Roberts, 2020)
- Intersectional study on how gender and racial stereotypes impact advancements of scholars in STEM (Eaton et al., 2020)
- Racism in Science: We need to act now (Eisen, 2020)
Please comment below with other resources, questions, or ideas!