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The growing role of Identity in Peer Review

The peer review process is the evaluation of academic, scientific or professional work conducted by others in the same field. In academic publishing, it is the review, by peers, of submitted content (usually manuscripts, but increasingly video and other digital content too) that determines publication merit.

Peer review then

The peer review process is an enduring protocol that has defined academic publishing since the early 1700s. Up until the last few decades, the process has remained remarkably unchanged. The composition of editorial boards and reviewer panels of most major journals reflected the dominant academic culture of the time. They were overwhelmingly white males in the prime or late stages of their careers, from first-world countries and premier academic institutions. Not surprisingly, most submissions and published papers came from similar sources.

Many agreed that the processes of peer review were flawed, but few offered improvements. The role and interplay between personal, professional and cultural identity in the peer review process, not to mention the value of diversity, multiple perspectives and contributions of numerous audiences to the overall academic process, received scant attention.

Winds of change

Over the last few decades, however, a seismic shift has begun. The emergence in awareness, importance and overall richness of the role of identity, diversity and inclusion in peer review has transformed scholarly research and publication as a whole. And we have only seen the beginning of the benefits to this new teeming ecosystem.

A number of questions accompanies this new focus on identity of authors, editors and reviewers, such as:

  • Does greater emphasis on identity, diversity and inclusion provide value to the peer review process? If so, what are the benefits?
  • How does greater focus on the revealing of identity, broad expectations and the inclusion of a multiplicity of diverse perspectives make itself known in peer review, a practice that historically (and many argue, necessarily) demands the shielding of the identity of reviewers and authors? Can we promote and celebrate identities in a historically opaque process?
  • What can academic journals do to expand the role of identity amongst their peer review panels, in order to amplify diverse voices and capitalise on the value of diversity in the process?

The peer review process now emerging

Our series of articles on the role of Identity in Peer Review (the theme of Peer Review Week 2021) address these and related questions. The articles provide areas of critical focus in the peer review process, offer some answers that serve as launching points for discussion and conclude with highly practical guidance for authors. Briefly described, the articles cover the following topics:

Towards the future

We hope these articles help you gain a greater understanding of the process of peer review, especially in light of the new awareness and blossoming of identity, diversity and inclusion. We encourage all stakeholders to join us on this journey; everyone can contribute to the process in this brave new world.


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