Policy: Examining the publication record of academic editors | Nature Human Behaviour | Nature Portfolio

Around 12% of scientific editors publish at least one-fifth of their own academic articles in the journal they edit, finds an analysis of over 1,000 journals published in Nature Human Behaviour. The study also explores gender inequalities among editors in the sample and finds that only 14% of the editors are women.

To advance their careers, scientists must publish. Journal editors, often active scientists themselves, play a key role in this process and often have the final say in what gets published. Previous research has looked at the publication patterns of editors in some disciplines, but our understanding of publishing differences between male and female editors, and between editors and their colleagues, is limited.

Bedoor AlShebli and colleagues compiled data on 103,000 editors from a major publisher, across 1,167 journals and 15 disciplines over a 50-year period up to 2019. They used these data to construct the publication histories of 20,000 editors and 1,600 editors-in-chief, investigating when and where the editors published their own research. The authors found that 12% of the editors published at least a fifth of all their papers in their own journal, while 6% published one-third. The authors were able to infer the gender of 81,000 editors in the dataset and additionally examined the gender balance within editorial teams. They found that, although the overall number of female editors has been increasing over the years, only 14% of all the editors and 8% of the editors-in-chief in their sample are women. The authors also note that, compared to women, they observed a greater increase in the rate at which men publish in a journal after becoming its editor.

In an accompanying News & Views published in Nature, Molly King writes “Future studies should look at the variation in journals’ policies and their influence on editors’ self-publishing patterns. By implementing procedures for the selection of editors and publication of papers that have less potential for bias, academia can move closer to increasing gender parity and scientific transparency.