Evaluating Publication Bias in Ecology

Principal Investigator(s): 

Amber E. Budden

One of the primary mechanisms ecologists use to communicate their research is publication in scientific journals. Scientists have methods they use to evaluate the quality of research based on publications information. For example:

  • How many publications does an individual, department or institution produce?
  • How frequently do other researchers reference an article in their own work (citation frequency)?
  • How important or influential is a specific journal considered to be? (journal impact factor)?

While these methods, or metrics, may not truly reflect the quality of research, they are often used as substitutes to evaluate individuals for career progression and awarding funds.  Yet these metrics apply only to published material. Factors other than quality can influence whether a paper is accepted for publication, where it is accepted for publication and how it is used by the community.  Such factors have been shown to include somewhat arbitrary effects such as the first letter of your last name, but also more alarming effects of author gender and institutional or individual status.  The degree to which these factors, or 'biases', influence the availability of new research results to the scientific community has not been extensively explored in ecology.

My research aims to evaluate how useful current publication metrics such as those described above are, explore the incidence of biases associated with publication and dissemination of material, and determine the potential impact of publication bias with respect to individuals and groups within the research community. 

I also intend to develop best practices to be used by journals, editors, reviewers and authors.  One example is the review process used in evaluating manuscripts for publication.  Preliminary research has demonstrated that a process of double-blind review, where neither the author nor reviewer is aware of each others identity, reduces apparent bias against female authors.  Yet single-blind review, where the reviewer knows whose work he/she is evaluating, is prevalent in ecology.  By examining community response to double-blind review and evaluating both the benefits and challenges associated with alternate review practices I hope to be able to better inform the research community about ameliorating the effects of non-conscious or other biases in ecological publishing.

More information about this research project and publications.