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Increased diversity and inclusion: necessary elements to ensure peer review quality

Peer review is an important part in the process of communicating scholarly work, it provides a quality-control mechanism on scientific research by involving experts in the evaluation of manuscripts so that they can feedback on the validity and rigor of the reported work. While different forms of peer review have been proposed–open, closed, pre and post publication– and variations of peer review are run by different journals and publishers, the process of scrutiny and feedback by expert peers remains a key aspect of the research publishing process.


This week at PLOS ONE we are celebrating Peer Review Week around the theme ‘Diversity and Inclusion’, by tackling a broad and very topical subject: how can we bring further gender balance into the review process? Should we be doing more to bring early career researchers into the peer review process and equip them with knowledge about how to write reviews? How can we encourage participation from editors and reviewers from a wider range of countries and account for cultural differences in the editorial process?


At PLOS ONE, the peer review process is handled by our Academic Editors, and thus, we sought their perspective. Some of our editorial board members will offer their views on the theme of diversity in posts later in the week. They note that greater diversity in science can only be a good thing as it brings the broadest of perspectives to the production and evaluation of knowledge.


As we dive into this year’s theme, one of the aspects we have considered is gender imbalance, not only in the peer review process but also as it pertains to the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Research has shown that a gender imbalance exists in career paths and academic evaluation. Our Collection ‘Understanding the Gender Imbalance in STEM Fields’ brings together research in PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology to explore factors associated with the inclusion and success of women in STEM fields and possible approaches to reduce the gender gap in academic and professional progression and representation.


Another aspect coming under this year’s theme is geographical and cultural diversity. PLOS ONE has a large editorial board with academics from 97 countries and we feel this broad representation adds to the strength of our board. However, a large share of the decisions issued are made by Academic Editors based in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia–high-income, majority native English-speaking countries. While this could be a reflection of the level of academic activity and output in those regions, we should explore avenues that support the inclusion of  researchers from non-English speaking countries and those with different cultural backgrounds.


While there is no single or simple solution to increasing diversity in the editorial processes, identifying areas where gaps in the representation of certain groups exist is an important step toward addressing them. It is thus important to pursue further research in these areas.


We hope that Peer Review Week will stimulate discussions around diversity and inclusion in all its forms, seed the ground for increased diversity in the peer review process and bring more inclusivity to our evaluation of manuscripts. We have no doubt that ultimately this can only enhance the quality of both the review process and scholarly work.


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