Do Journals Favor Affiliated Authors?


“Do academic journals favor authors who share their institutional affiliation?” That’s the central question of a recent study, which finds evidence that suggests the answer is “yes.”

The study, “Academic In-Group Bias: An Empirical Examination of the Link between Author and Journal Affiliation.” by Yaniv Reingewertz and  Carmela Lutmar (both of the University of Haifa), looks at journals in the field of international relations, but the findings may raise concerns about bias in any field.

The motivation for the study, according to an article about it at Inside Higher Ed, was the thought that “journals published by specific universities might have a slightly lower quality bar for authors who either worked at or earned a Ph.D. from those institutions.”

Here’s how the authors describe the study:

we examine citation counts for articles published in four leading international relations journals during the years 1995-2010. We use a difference-in-differences methodology to compare citation counts for articles written by “in-group members” (authors affiliated with the journal’s publishing institution) versus “out-group members” (authors not affiliated with that institution). Articles written by in-group authors received 9 to 19 fewer Web of Science citations when published in their home journal (International Security or World Politics) vs. an unaffiliated journal, compared to out-group authors. These results are mainly driven by authors who received their PhDs from Harvard or MIT. The findings show evidence of a bias within some journals towards publishing papers by faculty from their home institution, at the expense of paper quality, as measured by citations.

How relevant are these findings to philosophy? Philosophy has some in-house journals, e.g., The Journal of Philosophy at Columbia University, The Philosophical Review at Cornell. Questions had been raised about bias at Philosophy & Public Affairs, which is affiliated with Princeton, in a comment thread on a post here a couple of years ago. The key comment was this:

Philosophy and Public Affairs seems to me to have a real problem with bias. Because I suspected that it had such a problem, I went through back issues last year, looking at volumes 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41, in which there are 57 papers. Of those 57 papers, 17 had at least one author who received their doctorate from the same institution as the current Editor, Oxford. Another 13 were written by authors whose doctorates were from Harvard, where a number of editorial staff work or studied. The next most common place for authors to have received their doctorate is Princeton, where the journal is based. Of the ten papers in those five volumes published by authors who were last year employed by institutions in the western United States, four are by members of the editorial staff, three are by former visitors at Princeton, where the journal is based, and two are by people who were supervised by members of editorial staff. Only one of the ten has an author with no obvious links with editorial staff. It is impossible to be sure, simply on the basis of that sort of data, that there is anything untoward about its editorial policy, let alone anything deliberately so. I suggest though that it places the burden of proof on those who claim that it assesses all submissions in the same way.

(A response to this by Alan Patten, then the editor of Philosophy & Public Affairs, was added in Update 3 to that post. That response is also discussed in the comments.)

If people know of relevant work of this sort on philosophy journals, please share it.

Of related interest: “A Closer Look at Philosophy Journal Practices,” “Guarding the Guardians (or Editors),” “How Journal Capture Led to the Dominance of Analytic Philosophy in the U.S..” “Are Women Philosophers Underrepresented in Top Ethics Journals?” “Diversity in Philosophy Journals,” “Citation Patterns Across Journals,” “Philosophers Don’t Read and Cite Enough,” “Citation Problems in Philosophy—and Some Fixes,” and Kieran Healy’s “A Co-Citation Network for Philosophy.”

(Thanks to Joseph Shieber for suggesting a post on this study.)

Celia Smith, “Swallow” (study)

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