Science is more impactful when it accounts for diversity. The most valuable biological results are ones that hold true across a panel of different model organisms and by an array of different approaches. The study that can be replicated by many hands at multiple institutions has lasting value. And in clinical research, the findings that show robust efficacy across diverse, randomized cohorts hold the most promise for therapy. Likewise, when manuscripts are evaluated from diverse perspectives, they become stronger. When we make an editorial decision on a paper, we tend to have a more favorable opinion if the work is appreciated by referees that represent different viewpoints (e.g., the technical expert, the field-specific expert, and if relevant, the clinician). At Cell Metabolism, we pride ourselves in making sure that papers are evaluated by reviewers with the diverse scientific training necessary to assess the breadth of the research that we publish. However, we often overlook the value that can be added to an article by ensuring that it comes from and is reviewed by scientists with diverse gender, geography, and career-stage perspectives.
At the first of the year, we assessed the diversity of our Editorial Board (now renamed Advisory Board). We are not proud to report that Cell Metabolism had the lowest female representation (just 15%) of any Cell Press journal. We also fell short on diverse geographical representation. In addition, when we analyzed Cell Metabolism’s reviewer pool, we found that the top 100 most invited reviewers over the last three years included just 10% women, and 66% of referees were from the United States. Recently, Cell reported similar shortcomings in the gender diversity on their own Editorial Board and reviewer pools (Narasimhan, 2019), and other publishers have also acknowledged that they are inviting too few women to referee papers (Lerback and Hanson, 2017). We owe it to the metabolism community to make sure that the advice we get from our Advisory Board, the direction that authors and editors receive from our referees, and the articles that we commission and publish do not represent too singular a voice. Cell Press has made a commitment to improve. At Cell Metabolism we reiterate this commitment with our June 2020 issue focusing on diversity.
We are currently making changes at the journal. First, we have begun to reshape our Advisory Board to provide a better balance from the perspectives of gender, geography, and career stage. Please join us in welcoming Heather Christofk, Sadaf Farooqi, Tiffany Horng, Peng Li, Deborah Muoio, Almut Schulze, Anu Suomalainen, and Katherine Wellen to the Board. These women, who represent five countries, three continents, and span different stages in their careers, have already been strong contributors to the journal. As Advisory Board members, they will continue to provide us with a broader perspective in many of the emerging scientific areas that Cell Metabolism publishes in, including immunometabolism, cancer metabolism, and human and clinical research. In a Voices section of this issue, many of these women reflect on their rewarding journeys in science, their visions for the future of metabolic research, and their thoughts about supporting women scientists during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the year progresses and into the future, we will continue to diversify the Advisory Board by including members from the growing multidisciplinary fields in metabolism and adding expertise in the burgeoning technologies that impact metabolic research. We value the sage advice and experience of established figures in the field, but we also want to balance such support by embracing the new ideas, fresh enthusiasm, and diverse perspectives that can come from researchers earlier in their careers. Therefore, we will be reassessing our Advisory Board every three years.
We also commit to promoting diversity behind the scenes. Cell Metabolism is currently diversifying our reviewer pool with respect to gender, geography, and career stage and will continue to do so, but we ask for your help in this endeavor. In an informal survey at the Nature journals, editors found that authors only recommended female reviewers 12% of the time (Editorial, 2017). We also find that reviewers tend to suggest experts that are more senior, male, and in their own geographic region. As you make suggestions for reviewers of your paper, we ask you to consider diversity among those you suggest. Even if we do not end up using these reviewers for your paper, we will take note of them, and they can enrich the reviews of future relevant submissions.
Cell Metabolism pledges to embrace the diversity of our Advisory Board and reviewer pool, but also within our pages. Since 2015, Cell Metabolism has been highlighting the perspectives of women in metabolism research with the Rosie Project. Although we will continue to build on the Rosie Project, we will also showcase diversity of authors in the Reviews, Perspectives, and Previews that we publish. In this month’s issue we are excited to note that the corresponding authors on 7 out of 9 research articles in these pages are female, representing work from a wide array of countries.
In this issue, we also focus on researchers in the early stages of their career. It is critical for first-author graduate students and postdocs to have their published work seen and promoted. This is even more relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, when shutdowns have impacted not only in-lab research but networking opportunities. We also understand that the shutdown may unequally impact female researchers who may also be juggling other responsibilities such as childcare (Kitchener, 2020, Staniscuaski et al., 2020). In this issue of Cell Metabolism , we are encouraged to find that the large majority of the first authors are women. This may not seem surprising, given that over half of the post-doctorate and graduate student population is female (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2018). However, a recent analysis in Science suggests that despite equivalent numbers of postdocs and graduate students in life sciences, just over 25% of publications are first-authored by women (Berg, 2019). The community often focuses on the imbalance of female scientists in tenured and more senior positions; however, these data suggest the existence of gender inequity beyond the numbers, which is present at even an early career stage. We want to help. In a second Voices section of the issue, Cell Metabolism highlights the faces and voices of the creative and dedicated young scientists whose research fills our pages.
In biology, heterogeneity drives resilience. At Cell Metabolism , we believe the study and evaluation of science is strengthened by diverse perspectives. Thus, not only with this Special Issue, but over the coming year and beyond, you should expect to see a more conscious effort on our part to promote diversity on our Board, among our referee pool, and with our commissioned content. While we are proud of these goals, they are not adequate. We must go beyond gender, geography, and career stage. All minorities and backgrounds of diverse races and ethnicities are paramount to creating an inclusive culture necessary to strengthen science for all (Asai, 2020). We were struck by the insightful words of Javier Barrientos from our May 2016 issue, who stressed that promoting diversity through increased representation is important, but may be too narrow (Voices, 2016). Moving forward, we must all play a part. By listening to all voices, showcasing diverse perspectives, and removing the barriers to inclusion, we can strengthen not only the science that we produce and publish, but also its impact and value to our lives and our communities.