A paper with a lot of interesting data about the representation of women in philosophy journals has just been published in Philosophical Studies. The authors used data from 25 top philosophy journals and found that, compared to their share of professional philosophers, women are underrepresented among the authors who published in these journals. Unfortunately, the data that are analyzed in that paper are clearly insufficient to draw many conclusions from this fact, because they don’t include any information on the rate of acceptance by gender. Without data about this, even if women are underrepresented in philosophy journals, it’s impossible to know why. Still, the data analyzed in that paper are somewhat at odds with the official narrative, which is that women are discriminated against in philosophy. Indeed, while the analysis shows that, compared to their share of professional philosophers, women are underrepresented among the authors who published in those 25 journals, this is only true for journals that use a double-blind or triple-blind anonymous review process. If you just look at journals whose review process is not anonymous, you see that women are overrepresented.
However, it’s not clear whether the difference between the proportion of women among the authors who published in journals whose review process is not anonymous and the share of women among professional philosophers is statistically significant, but the authors don’t always make it easy to figure out. In another part of the paper, they disaggregate the data and look at that difference for each journal separately.
As you can see, in the case of the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society and Mind and Language, the only journals the authors looked at whose review process is not anonymous, women are overrepresented but the difference is not statistically significant.
This doesn’t really square with the official narrative, so the authors of the paper try to explain away these recalcitrant data, but the result is, shall we say, less than convincing:
Finally, it is striking that journals which practice non-anonymous review tend to publish more women than journals which do not. This result is surprising because it seems inconsistent with some literature on anonymous review (Budden et al. 2008). There are several possible reasons why women do worse in journals that review anonymously. First, the majority of the reviewers at these journals are probably men (Hassoun and Conklin 2015). It is possible that men and women have different opinions on what does and does not constitute important or interesting philosophy (Dotson 2012). Second, biases against women may be affecting the process of anonymous review, despite the intentions of all involved (Lee and Schunn 2010; De Cruz 2014a). Even when journals try to keep author identities hidden, cues like the article’s written style, its theme, and its similarity to conference presentations of which the reviewers may be aware could still reveal the identities of the authors (Rosenblatt and Kirk 1981). Moreover, there are some reports that reviewers seek out the identity of the author through the use of Google (Brogaard 2012). It is also worth noting that some journals have built-in procedures to partially circumvent their otherwise anonymous review processes (Lee and Schunn 2010). In the final step of the review process at Ethics, for example, the editors hold a vote to decide whether an article should be published or not, at which point two of the editors are aware of the identity of the author. As one Editorial Board member explained, associate editors can also invite submissions, thereby circumventing an initial screening by the editor, and guaranteeing that the manuscript will be sent to external reviewers (Author’s personal correspondence: withheld for anonymity). Practices like these, which may occur in other journals, could make it harder for women to publish. In general, such practices may help well-connected authors—who are overwhelmingly men—to subvert the standard double or triple anonymous review process. Third, it may be easier for journals that do not anonymously review to publish more women (Hassoun and Conklin 2015). An editor or reviewer who realizes that their journal is not publishing many women can fix that, if the review process is not anonymous, by giving well-reviewed women authors a chance to publish. It is probably harder for journals that practice anonymous review to remedy the gender disparity.
In other words, if women are underrepresented in journals that practice anonymous review, it might be because people are able to subvert the review process and guess the gender of the author despite anonymity. But the data analyzed in the article suggest that, when reviewers/editors know the gender of the author, women are not underrepresented and may even be overrepresented… So this doesn’t make any sense and, if you ask me, it just illustrates the absurd lengths to which people are willing to go in order to save the official narrative about women in philosophy. (Of course, it’s not the first time that I have observed that phenomenon, as you can see if, for instance, you read the comments of this post on Daily Nous from a while ago.) If you want to save that narrative, a much better option is to say that, since the paper only analyzed data from 2 journals that don’t practice anonymous review, these results could just be a fluke, which is true. To be fair, the authors do say that after the passage I just quoted, but it still boggles the mind that apparently they had no problem trying to explain away this embarrassing result by making a point which is clearly at odds with their own data.