The topic for discussion at our June 2020 COPE Forum asked the question: are there differences in gender and diversity issues in arts, humanities, and social sciences in peer review from other disciplines?
In the recent study by COPE in collaboration with Taylor & Francis on the arts, humanities and social science (AHSS) disciplines, respondents focused on a number of language, quality, diversity and inclusivity issues. In terms of the most frequently identified issues, these were:
- Addressing language and writing quality barriers while remaining inclusive
- Issues around the way in which authors receive and respond to criticism
- Detecting plagiarism and poor attribution standards
- Issues handling responses from reviewers to authors
- Issues of self-plagiarism
- Difficulties in upholding anonymity to authors and/or reviewers during peer review
- Recognising and dealing with bias in reviewer comments
- Assuring fair representation of new voices and diverse perspectives
- Potential conflict of interest between authors and reviewers
- Managing complaints and appeals
Also, there have been a number of ‘identity politics’ controversies which have raised issues of diversity around who can author articles on diversity topics, who can do some types of research on diversity topics, who can appropriately review such research and who among editors can accept or reject such articles. The recent hoax article problem with respect to fake articles on diversity, inclusivity and identity politics also challenged the merit, quality and legitimacy of the scope and standards of some types of journals, including those that publish feminist scholarship. Recently, this issue was raised again with respect to a study of Ebola in the Congo which was published with no Congolese co-authors. Other issues may have reference to dissimilarities with respect to disciplinary publication patterns and with the importance or lack of importance of matters such as citation and citation frequency.
As noted by Mudditt and Wulf (2016) and Denbo (2020) in articles in the Scholarly Kitchen, HSS disciplines are very dissimilar from STEM disciplines. As Mudditt and Wulf state, with respect to articles in HSS fields “many if not most, HSS fields are ‘book fields’, disciplines in which scholars typically publish their most significant work is book form rather than journal articles…[and] HSS articles tend to be much longer…and HSS tend to publish a small percentage of submissions”.
- How should editors, publishers and COPE respond to the differences among AHSS journals compared with STEM disciplines?
- What mechanisms might be introduced to deal with language quality and inclusivity matters?
- Are standards of expertise different when addressing certain topics that have social, gender, transgender, race and ethnicity involved in the research?
- Are some topics off limits for some researchers?
- Whose problem is this?