How double anonymous breaks the bias in peer review

08 Mar 2022 Faye Holst

By Kim Eggleton, Research Integrity & Inclusion Manager at IOP Publishing 

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day (8th March) is ‘Break the Bias’, highlighting the fact that – whether deliberate or unconscious – bias can prevent women from moving ahead.  

As the #BreakTheBias campaign states: “knowing that bias exists isn’t enough, action is needed to level the playing field.” Which is exactly why we have been working on solutions to mitigate against bias in publishing, particularly around peer review.  

By the end of 2021, all of our owned journals moved to double-anonymous peer review, making us the first physics publisher to adopt the approach portfolio-wide. This move is part of our dedication to tackle the significant gender, racial and geographical under-representation in the scholarly publishing process. Double-anonymous peer review – where the reviewer and author identities are concealed – has the potential to reduce bias with respect to gender, race, country of origin or affiliation which should lead to a more equitable system. 

Early reports suggest that this double-anonymous approach is working. While it’s too soon to say how double-anonymous is affecting outcomes by gender, overall, our data shows that papers submitted double-anonymous are more likely to be accepted. This mirrors the results seen by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, who recently moved to a double-anonymous system to manage requests for telescope time and have seen more balanced acceptance rates between proposals led by men and those led by women as a result. 

These initial findings are exciting. While it’s early days, we’re seeing a significant difference in acceptance rates between authors who anonymise their work and those who don’t, with those who anonymise being more likely to succeed. We expected to see this for marginalised groups, but not across the board. It’s really rewarding to see our double-anonymous process starting to pay off. 

We are also finding that people who identify as women or non-binary are more likely to anonymise their work than people who identify as men. This suggests these people perceive bias as a lived experience and value the option to anonymise their work.  

Double-anonymous peer review is not a panacea for all inequality issues in publishing and there’s still a lot of work to be done. But as a society publisher we see it as an important step as we continue to expand the world of physics for the benefit of all.

 Find out more about IOP Publishing’s double anonymous peer review process: