Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Scientific discrimination

I’m in the middle of preparing a talk that I’m scheduled to give in Madrid in a few days. The talk is called “Myths and realities of publishing in the Nature journals”, and its goal, at least in part, is to dispel the myth that our journals discriminate against, say, Spanish-speaking countries or developing nations, and that we favor countries like the USA and Britain.

Thinking about the comments I’ve heard from people, this myth can be divided into at least four parts:

1. The fame myth — “to publish in the Nature journals, you have to be a big name.”

2. The friends myth — “to publish in the Nature journals, you have to be a friend of the journal, and you have to be on first-name terms with everyone in the field so that you always draw positive reviewers.”

3. The language myth — “to publish in the Nature journals, you have to have the Queen’s English, or the editors won’t even read your paper.”

4. The surname myth — “to publish in the Nature journals, it’s better if you are Dr. White and not Dr. Blanco. In fact, if I were to change the names of the authors in my paper to anglosaxon names, I’m sure you would have sent it out for external review at least.”

Each of these myths can be rebutted, and part of my talk will consist of data proving that this is not the way we operate. For example, you don’t need to be famous to publish in Nature Medicine. Just flicking through the last four issues of the journal (including April 2008), I found that 75% of the articles we published were authored by people I didn’t know about before their submission.

That being said, I’m most interested in any evidence you may have in support of the myths. I want to make sure that my perception of the fairness of our processes is a legitimate one. So, if you know of any specific instance of discrimination, please send it over. I may even include it in the talk.

Comments

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    Sergio Stagnaro MD said:

    Based on my long experience as Author, I state that Nature PG does not present no one of such myths. Certainly, the fame myth is not real, since Nature PG publishes paper of not famous persons, like me. Nothwithstanding this polite behaviour, it could be happened that a Nobel Preis Author could be able to publish “trivial” paper…Italians say that an exception corroborate a rule.

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    Chris Muller said:

    This is always difficult to catch and easy to comment upon. I agree with Dr. Stagnaro—like everything else, authors can congratulate themselves after publishing in Nature Medicine and say it is a fair journal as it worked in their favour. But if they couldn’t publish, they would say it is a biased journal. As I think I have said before on this very forum, brand name does matter. As Dr. Stagnaro says, a very well-known scientist could very easily get by with less scrutiny or people may dare to ask fewer questions based on how many connections that person has. It happens.

    On the other hand, asking for evidence that Dr. Mundo’s paper was rejected but Dr. Kelly’s wasn’t, is difficult to provide. It would require the same paper to be recycled under the same name which obviously would raise flags and Dr. Mundo/Dr. Kelly both would get into trouble for plagiarism. If the two submit different manuscripts, who is to decide that the science is equally worthy of publication in both cases? Another interesting thing is that when an Indian friend of mine had written to some big-name editors and PIs for some other reason, no one replied to her. But when I sent the same email at her request, I received a very prompt and professional reply from at least one of them. Who knows why?

    My name? The fact that I had established some rapport with some of the editors on another forum? Maybe her email was missed due to some spam filters? Maybe it got lost somehow? Who knows these things? Whatever it is, people always assume things when they see a certain kind of a name and a certain kind of affiliation. This would naturally spill over into other bigger things such as publishing one’s work and getting it accepted by other scientists, who are after all human. It would be ideal to avoid this preconception altogether, but then again, that’s like saying we should avoid being human. But we could certainly be more mindful of our actions and beliefs and be more objective in our approach to our work.