bias in peer review

Constanze Bonifer bonifer at
Sat Jun 7 16:10:47 EST 1997

I have just now read the article in Nature magazine about the bias against 
women in peer review. I was shocked. All those years I had ideas about 
women being less successful in getting positions because of
- problems to combine family obligations and career
-problems with the old boys network
-problems because networking is not something that women are used to do
- general education, problems with self - esteem

And so on. All kinds of reasons. And then I read this article about the 
peer review system in one of the most advanced countries in the world
when it comes to womens rights and here we are:
None of these reasons apply, because the study strictly compares
scientists who have published with the same impact factor.

So it is simple, plain discrimination. Women have to be 2.4 times as 
productive than men to get the same evaluation.Full stop.
Why is this so? When reading the article it seems that also the 
authors are at a bit of a loss here. They obviously are reluctant to say 
it: IT IS IN THE HEADS of the peers that women are not as good as men.
and: if you are a female with no connections, forget about a 
science career.

This would also explain why less and less women advance to higher
positions. Because they are more and more dependent on peer reviews.

So how is it in other countries? And what on earth do we do about this?
If this study proves to be true I see only one solution:
A simple plain quota.Take scientists who have published with the same impact 
factor, divide the grants up so much percentage men, so much percentage women.
And evaluate men and women separately.

This might sound pretty radical. But I think what this study implies is pretty 
outrageous, too. It would be good to get more information.

It will also be very interesting to know what the Swedes are going to do about 
this. Because here not just numbers, but individuals have been betrayed.
Any Swedes out there? Women who have not gotten grants?


Constanze Bonifer
Institut fuer BiologieIII
Universitaet Freiburg

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