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The gender gap from the gatekeeper’s perspective

Today is Editor’s day in the Monkey Cage  gender gap symposium (see herehereherehere, and here for earlier contributions). We are exceptionally fortunate to have contributions by the editors of the two most prestigious political science journals.

Later today, we will hear from Marijke Breuning, co-editor of the American Political Science Review. First up is Rick Wilson, editor of the American Journal of Political Science. Rick is a professor of political science at Rice University. He has published extensively on political history and the design of political institutions and, more recently, the evolutionary, biological, and neurological foundations of human behavior. He has also written about broader issues affecting the discipline, such as the “war on social science” (see also here for his contribution in Science).


The issues raised in this symposium are real and have enormous implications not only for the pipeline of women into the social sciences, but also for retaining women in the academy.  While the models and techniques used by men and women for understanding social phenomena are the same, the inspirations, insights and questions are often quite different.  Excluding any group from the scientific community only decreases the quality and reach of our science.

Much of the symposium starts from the perspective that there are differences in the citation rates between males and females.  As a gate keeper (the editor of a journal) I worry that I may be a partial source of this difference.  After all, I control the content of the research that appears in the American Journal of Political Science, so am I contributing to the problem?  No doubt.  As several in this symposium note, I am loaded with implicit biases that may have an impact on my judgment.  I see a huge amount of high quality research.  I never have enough space to publish everything, so I have to make choices at the margin.  What can I do to avoid acting on my biases?

Let me begin with a closely guarded secret.  Editors are fallible.  (Okay, maybe this is not a secret – rejected authors constantly point to my fallibility.)  Editors may not think very hard about diversity when putting together their editorial board.  They may think a little harder about who is appointed as an associate editor.  But associate editors and editorial boards send a very strong signal about who is welcome to publish in the journal.  They also send a signal about the editor’s commitment to how manuscripts will be reviewed.  When I thought about my associate editors I was interested in people who I could call on to help me with difficult decisions and I was concerned with ensuring diversity.

I ended up with a wonderful set of seven associate editors (three female and one Hispanic male).  I asked them to recommend editorial board members and I instructed them to pay attention to ensuring broad representation.  At the same time, concerned by the fact that senior scholars are disproportionately male (and white), I asked them to recommend junior faculty to serve on the editorial board.  This they did (and it is easy to see how the journals stack up thanks to a great article by Stegmaier et al. (2011) ).

I have discovered that diversity does more than signal a journal’s willingness to publish a broad set of authors.  I am fortunate in that I have very strong female Associate Editors and Editorial Board members and they are not shy about reminding me to keep my eye out for inadvertent biases. This puts pressure on me to think carefully about my decisions.

What else can be asked of Editors?  First, it is non-controversial to report the percentage of female and male authored publications.  This could easily be presented in our annual reports.  I have not done so and to atone for that I provide some frequencies here.  A study by Breuning and Sanders (2007) during the period 1999-2004 reported that 17.7 percent of the articles published in AJPS had a woman as the lead author.  I thought I had done better, but under my tenure, which covers 2010-2013 only 19.8 percent of the published manuscripts have a woman as a first author.

However, 24.6 percent of the published articles have a woman as a co-author and women or a team of women solely authors another 10.2 percent.  This means that 34.8 percent of the articles have female authors or co-authors.

The real question for me is whether these percentages are bad news or terrible news.  I am now looking at all manuscripts that have been sent to me.  I want to know whether I am rejecting female authors at higher rates than male authors.  This is hard to do because these data are not collected by the electronic system that I am forced to use.  I am currently collecting these data and I can press the next editor to make certain the system can collect these data.

What else can editors do?  B. F. Walter argues for anonymity in the citation process by eschewing the use of first names and using only initials.  This is a tempting idea and it may be something that can easily be implemented.  But I would push Editors further.  They should use anonymity in the first stage of the editorial process.  I often (but not always) read new manuscripts without paying attention to the author or affiliation.  The first reading is often anonymous to me.  I want to read the work and then decide whether I will desk reject the manuscript (send it back to the author without review) or whether it will go out to review.  This is a crucial decision, since I desk reject about 30 percent of all manuscripts.  At this stage I think it is important to deliberately blind myself to the author(s).

Finally, I have some advice that is aimed at women.  To female reviewers (who are overworked) please say no if you really do not have the time to review a manuscript.  Believe me, your male counterparts are doing so.  But, if you say no, send me the names of two or three well-qualified reviewers.  I will not advise that you only send me the names of female reviewers, but I certainly would not object if you did.  I want to know the most qualified people in the field, especially junior people who might be under my radar.

To female authors who have been asked to revise and resubmit your manuscript: keep two things in mind.  First, if you find that the editor is unclear about what is expected of you, then ask the editor.  I grant very few revisions and I have a vested interest in getting you to revise the manuscript so that it will be successful.  E-mail me or call me.  Your male counterparts are not shy about asking.

Second, if the revision is going to take more time than you anticipated, ask for an extension.  I would much rather have a well crafted piece of science than something that was hurried because of a deadline.  It may be that you need additional time because you need to collect additional data, because of health issues or child care duties.  The reason is not important. I want you to show me your best effort.  Again, your male counterparts are not shy about seeking extensions.

I conclude by noting that editors are as busy, overworked and harried as any academic.  But being busy, overworked and harried often means falling back on rules of thumb.  If those rules of thumb admit implicit biases, then we should be held accountable.  Keep up the pressure on editors.