Top scientific journal pushes diversity litmus test for would-be authors

A top scientific publisher asks academics to complete an “inclusion and diversity form” before publishing their research.

The form asks whether the authors self-identify as “an underrepresented ethnic minority in science,” “a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” or someone “living with a disability.”

A top scientific publisher asks academics to complete an “inclusion and diversity form” before it officially accepts their work.

Before studies are published in Cell Press’s journals, academics must fill out a form that aims to “assess inclusion and diversity initiatives and their impact.” With this information, authors can also choose to add an inclusion and diversity statement to their papers — which, according to the form, would “increase transparency, raise awareness concerning inclusion and diversity in the world of academia, and highlight your publication as a best practice example.”

Among Cell Press’s outlets are Cell, Cancer Cell, Molecular Cell, and Trends in Cell Biology, which were respectively listed third, tenth, thirteenth, and twentieth in a recent ranking of top biochemistry, genetics, and molecular biology journals.

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Researchers must complete the form for “all original research content,” including articles, reports, and case studies.

The form asks researchers to check boxes if they “worked to ensure gender balance in the recruitment of human subjects,” “worked to ensure ethnic or other types of diversity in the recruitment of human subjects,” or followed similar inclusivity steps.

The form also asks whether one or more authors self-identifies as “an underrepresented ethnic minority in science,” “a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” or someone “living with a disability.”

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Authors can also check boxes indicating that they “worked to promote gender balance” in their reference lists.

One question — which asks whether the authors included “contributors from the location where the research was conducted who participated in the data collection, design, analysis, and/or interpretation of the work” — seeks to discourage “helicopter science,” defined as “authors, generally from a high-income country or non-indigenous group, [relying] on people and resources from a lower-income or indigenous group but then analyze and publish the data without appropriate involvement or recognition.”

If researchers do not wish to complete the form, they may explain their reasoning in an open-ended question at the end of the document.

Cell Press senior communications manager Joseph Caputo directed Campus Reform toward a statement about the form.

”We hope that this new inclusion and diversity initiative will give our authors a powerful opportunity to share their contributions in a visible way within the context of their article,” said Cell Press Vice President of Editorial Deborah Sweet in the statement. “We see it as a way to acknowledge current authors who have worked to improve inclusion and diversity in science and encourage others to do more going forward. We also hope it will be a source of inspiration and confidence within the scientific community and beyond.”

One biotechnology graduate student — who spoke on the condition of anonymity— told Campus Reform that he believes there is a financial incentive behind the creation of the form.

“Most people believe that the purpose of an academic journal is to produce the highest quality work. This, however, is not entirely true,” he explained. “Journals are businesses and their metric of success is their ‘impact factor,’ which is determined by the number of times their articles get cited over a period of time. The decision of Cell Press to include this form is a calculated business decision. They are allowing authors to publish, as part of their article, a statement about how diverse they are. They think people will be more inclined to cite articles that are produced by diverse teams; and they might be right.”

He further explained that “academia is primarily composed of a spectrum of left-leaning to full-on woke individuals who virtue signal in other areas of their life.” The option to complete the diversity form “is yet another mechanism of virtue signaling.”

“If you have a member of the LGBT community on your author list, you are considered more virtuous. If you have an ethnic minority on your author list, you are more virtuous. If you select the papers you cite to include more women authors, you are more virtuous,” he added.

The form’s existence therefore points toward a decline in American academia, he claimed. 

“These problems are not endemic to the structure of academia, but rather the priorities of the individuals in the system. When all of their priorities converge, the result is the transformation of academia into an equity-enforcement division of American science.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft