Racism and Discrimination in Publishing Biomedical Research

In their recently published letter to the “BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine,” Niriella et al. (2020) publicly asked a loudly-whispered question: ‘Is there racism in academic medical publishing?”. The Sri Lanka doctors bitterly shed light on the sensitive topic. They criticized the negative view of research originating from African and Asian countries by some editors and reviewers of “most” prestigious medical journals. From the authors’ point of view, those editors and reviewers regard to research conducted in these countries as inferior to that undertaken in the West. They expressed their disappointment because their papers are rejected despite fulfilling all the standards of high-quality research.
The frank and eloquent doctors described a process of “finding a Western mentor,” which means including a Western co-author to enhance the odds of accepting the paper for publication. This is a sensitive issue that the scientific community should honestly address. We should applaud the courage of Dr. Niriella and coworkers, and at the same time, we should condemn this discriminatory and racial behavior of supposedly transparent organizations.
In the Arab World, the situation doesn’t differ. In fact, unexplained rejection of papers submitted by Arab researchers is a routine part of their efforts to publish their work. The same journals accept and publish other articles of lower quality just because they originated from Western institutions and were authored by Western authors. Such behavior should be publicly discussed, and researchers should be able to complain and protest. Without open and transparent peer review and without efficient bibliometrics that assess equity in research publishing, science is in a big problem, simply because we learned that for science to “see,” it should be “blind.”

Niriella MA, De Silva AP, de Silva HJ, Jayasinghe S. ‘Is there racism in academic medical publishing?’. BMJ Evid Based Med. 2020 Jul 28:bmjebm-2020-111487. doi: 10.1136/bmjebm-2020-111487. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32723765.

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