This webinar, recorded May 2021, deals with the impact of discriminatory practices in editorial processes and peer review, promoting of social justice and equality in scholarly publishing, best practices around identity and name changes, including examples of implementation, and addresses historical offensive content.
Acknowledging lack of diversity and the continuing challenges facing publishing
The session was moderated by Tara Hoke, COPE Secretary and in-house General Counsel for the American Society of Civil Engineers, who opened the session with an acknowledgement of the lack of ethnic diversity of the panel speakers, reflecting the continuing challenges the academic publishing industry is facing, and that COPE itself is making efforts to address. Despite this, the panel comprises individuals who are experienced, knowledgeable and committed to the goals of enhancing more equitable and inclusive communities in the profession. Over 200 people attended the live webinar.
Addressing the disparities in diversity and inclusion in editorial decision-making
Deborah Poff, COPE Past-Chair and Trustee, and the lead on COPE’s diversity and inclusivity discussion document presented on the prevalence of issues, and steps toward addressing disparities in diversity and inclusion in editorial decision-making. Deborah gave definitions of discrimination biases, and examples of how these might manifest and negatively impact individuals. She spoke about representational issues in workforce, editors, editorial boards, with examples of white scholars taking up the space of black voices, linguistic bias of major journal indexing platforms, and algorithmic biases in results returned for various searches. She highlighted the issues raised by these matters, and why they are important to address, gave some examples of actions publishers have taken through policies, training and DEI procedures and practices.
COPE guidance on post-publication author name changes
Rachel Safer, COPE Council Member, and Senior Publisher at Oxford University Press gave an update on progress with COPE’s forthcoming guidance on post-publication author name changes. She gave background to the COPE initiative, as a response to the increases in cases and queries about name changes, and highlighted a number of drafted recommendations including: an author’s right to change their name for any reason; making the process for name change requests simple and unobstructed by demands for proof of identification; changing name details in xml, html and pdf versions of an article; and limiting the number of publishing staff involved in the name-change process. Rachel also mentions recommendations for developing checklists to ensure all places a name may be mentioned can be updated.
Long-term vision for name changes in scholarly publishing
Theresa Jean Tanenbaum (Tess), associate professor at the Department of Informatics, University of California, Irvine, discussed longer term visions and goals around name changes in scholarly publishing, giving insights from her personal experiences in leading the first trans-inclusive name change policies at a major publisher, and the technical and procedural limitations of the publishing industry which inhibit more efficient and rapid advances. Tess also brings perspectives which highlight the holistic benefits of becoming more inclusive and accommodating of marginal and vulnerable groups, treating support for dynamic renaming as an accessibility issue.
Historical offensive or discriminatory content
Caroline Porter, COPE Trustee and Executive Publisher at SAGE Publishing, examined issues around historical offensive content and the damage that it perpetuates, and how to mitigate it. Caroline highlighted the key themes of challenges, in the scale of the problem, defining what is offensive or inappropriate, identifying the offensive content and creating systematic solutions to catching all instances, and finally, what to do with the content once it is identified, referring to the BMJ’s categories of harmful content.
Caroline Porter's session included interactive questions for the audience, using Mentimeter website for live updated answers.
Have you had to retract or take other action on an offensive published paper?
In this single-response question, the majority of the audience (73%) had not encountered any situations of offensive material. However, in those that had, 85% of experiences resulted in retractions, suggesting that whenever issues are raised, the concerns are legitimate enough to require intervention.
- Yes several times – 7
- Yes once – 16
- No, it came up but no action required – 4
- No – it has never come up – 74
Who should decide whether an article is so offensive that it is unsound?
This question allowed multiple responses. A total of 311 votes were cast across seven options
Almost equal in first position were groups affected by the content, the journal editors and publishers, with between 18-19% of all votes; all of which could be considered to have vested interests in integrity and ethical conduct. Two options tied in second place were editorial board and specialist committees, both of which could be seen as external independent adjudicating bodies.
- Groups affected by the content – 60
- Journal Editor – 59
- Publisher – 57
- Editorial Board – 46
- Specialist Committee – 46
- Reviewers – 26
- Learned Society – 17
What action should be taken offensive or discriminatory content is discovered?
The responses to this question are all in favour of directly linking a clear note or statement of concern to the paper. Retractions, expressions of concern and an Editor’s Note, are all typically directly linked to a paper, with notices prominently on the article in question, to signpost as clearly as possible that there is questionable content.
- Retraction – 59
- Expression of concern – 53
- Editor’s Note – 54
- Editorial – 13
- Commission rejoinders/replies – 16
What resources/guidance would you like to see from COPE in relation to offensive historical content?
This question allowed multiple options to be chosen, and received a total of 306 votes across all options. The most popular request is for Guidelines to be created (34% of votes), along with Flowcharts (26%) to aid decision making and increase confidence in processes to follow should any incidences of questionable material appear.
- Guidelines - 103
- Flowchart - 80
- Discussion Document - 55
- Webinars/Workshops - 44
- Editorials - 21
- Other - 2
- None Needed – 1
Following the presentations there were 20 minutes of questions to the speakers who answered in the context of their experience.
How do we reconcile asking women to peer review more when we already know they are overburdened with competing interests, such as family, childcare etc?
Deborah: The editorial process is paternalistic in that way. Part of fairness is inviting people to participate – whether it’s to be subjects or participants in research projects, or to peer review.
I have heard anecdotal evidence that men say they don’t want to burden women by asking, and that they are discouraged from asking women because they often say No at a higher rate, but there’s a lot of evidence that that is not true. So while it may potentially burden them more, it is a real problem of trying to save them from the burden of peer review, which is essential to the academic project.
There is research showing that a lot of research from lower income countries is published in predatory journals. These are typically made by early career researchers, with less experience; comments on this please.
Deborah: There is some counter-evidence to this, with a journalistic report published recently showing that many German researchers who had published in major journals, admitted to publishing in predatory journals deliberately, to get easy accepts simply to pad out their CV.
Are there any recommendations for responsibly tracking personal details and demographics beyond geography, for example, minority group, ethnicity, gender or any other aspect of personal identity?
Rachel: Many journals were starting to collect a lot of demographic data, before GDPR regulations were imposed. Discussions are happening among publishers involved with the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) initiative about what kinds of information we can track, legally and appropriately.
We are interested in understanding different cultures and terminologies defining same-concepts, for example, the ways indigenous populations of the US or New Zealand are referred to can be completely different, with different terminologies and we must be careful not to further stereotype or marginalize more groups through this.
I love the idea of using author-controlled IDs, such as ORCiD, but it can be difficult to keep an account, for example, if you lose a log in or password and can’t access an account any more.
Tess: This is a tricky subject. In my circumstances, when I changed name, the first thing I did was to change my institutional email, which meant I couldn’t log in to ORCiD, until I confirmed my new identity with them. To achieve this I did have to reach out to ORCiD to verify myself, but it was possible, and they had a process for it. External services already have processes in place for amending and verifying identities. We don’t have to take on the labour of taking on this problem as a new one, when these organizations already have a system in place.
What checks should be in place to secure against fraudulent claims of changed name and identity?
Rachel: We have had lots of discussion in the COPE working group, of scenarios in which this could be abused e.g. someone making a name change request on someone else’s behalf. This is something which is discussed a lot, but I don’t know if there is any evidence that it has actually occurred. There is a potential risk, and it should be considered in policy and practices to address it, but it should not be a blockage or delay to progressing for the benefit of all the people it would positively affect.
Tess: Publishers already have many procedures and checks in place to guard against fraud, and this change is no different to any that publishers already check for. If the processes already in place are not sufficient to detect these fraudulent changes, then they are not fit for purpose in their current forms. Again, ORCID already have established processes in place for this, and they are functional and robust.
Is there a resource that COPE can recommend for non-discriminatory or non-harmful language for sensitive terms, and is there a reference for cultural differences, as something benign in one country may be offensive in another?
Caroline: Both really good points. The RSC working group discussed building a list like this, which has over 800 terms, and growing. Trying to create a taxonomy of potentially offensive words is challenging, and in a lot of cases it may not be a word but the context in which it is being used that is problematic.
The process is complex and we are at the start of the process. We need to collectively pool our efforts and thoughts on what constitutes offensive terminology. Publishers and organisations, and affected groups, need to work together to create a shared understanding to draw on, and share existing knowledge so everyone isn’t starting from scratch.
To the point of terminologies carrying different levels of offence - what we are talking about now is a very western-centric version of this conversation, so we need to consult with people in different parts of the world. At the moment we are just scratching the surface of where we need to be in fully understanding the issues and the potential for harm.
No consistency or consensus about terminologies, for example – APA reference to Black and white, only Blacks is capitalised.
Caroline: This is something that needs to be discussed with the relevant communities, with a need to accommodate intersectionality. A whole set of thoughts and criteria need to be built on. We could see from the answers to the Menti survey during the session that there is a desire for COPE to develop some guidelines, and what we create could help people navigate these issues.
Academic rewards are fostering inequity by incentivising people to publish, and measuring publications in a way that does not regard the barriers that exist in the way of some people but not others.
Deborah: Absolutely. I find the obsession with world rankings totally disruptive. Members of the university community, whether faculty or administrators, are very uninformed in how to interpret citations and their importance, and the variability between subject areas. For example, in philosophy, citations have very little to do in measuring someone’s philosophical contributions. The use of citations for assessment is totally inappropriate. I could say much more to this, but that’s it in a nutshell!
Why should co-authors not be informed about name changes? If they don’t know, they might continue to cite papers incorrectly.
Tess: My experience with co-authors has been very positive and supportive, and it has served my interests to inform my co-authors. BUT I have met people who are on the job market, transitioned, haven’t yet come out to their advisor, or whose advisor is not supportive. Notifying co-authors may affect their chances of getting a letter of recommendation. This needs to be treated on a case-by-case basis, so it is not something that should be automatically disclosed, and should be left to the discretion of the person making the request, rather than including disclosure as part of the policy.
I would be very cautious of erasing the historical record, this may cause problems in hiding the very problems we are fighting to change.
Caroline: An important point to make about retraction is it is not censoring or removing the paper. The paper is still there. It specifies that the paper is not considered scientifically sound. An expression of concern or editor’s note maintains the historical record but addresses the harm that may have occurred.
It is also important to say that we can’t pretend that the paper did not exist, and important to recognise the history of the field. It is not a question of removing or erasing, but of unpicking the statements and explaining them in the current context.
In my experience it can be very difficult to find contact details of people from under-represented communities when trying to increase diversity of editorial boards and looking for representative members. Are there recommendations or projects to help reach people in wider communities, where names don’t follow English conventions in South America, Africa or Asia for example, or where institutional websites aren’t presented in English, contain little information or none at all?
Deborah: Earlier this week I heard from a colleague who had been working with an Editor who has done a tremendous amount of recruitment from historically under-represented regions, and pre-pandemic had been doing a lot of travelling, giving lectures on how to get involved with journals, and doing a lot of in-person one-to-one outreach.
Beyond that, working with social media is an effective means of reaching people. Posting as publicly as possible that you are looking for members, social media has broader reach, on major platforms, on listservs, emails, it is relatively accessible, regardless of institution. Going to places in person – worked better pre-pandemic, but going to universities, meeting people and speaking in person about journal goals and recruiting people, along with social media presence can be very effective.
COPE Virtual Seminar
27 September – 1 October 2021
Save the dates! From 27 September to 1 October, COPE will hold a week long virtual seminar. The seminar will include an interactive workshop on diversity, equity and inclusion where participants will discuss and explore some of the webinar themes in more detail.
- Diversity and inclusivity discussion document, COPE guidance
- Update on COPE guidance regarding author name changes, article, 2021
- A vision for a more trans-inclusive publishing world: guest article, 2021
- Driving diversity, equity, and inclusion to shape the future of publication ethics, COPE Seminar 2021
About this resource
Full page history
20 December 2021
Made available to non-members
18 October 2021