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  • Joy Barnes-Johnson

So IN: Sphere of Influence NetworkDetecting Bias in Peer Review/Strategies to Strengthen Fairness &

Background: In spite of attempts at fairness, the review process can feel nepotistic and subjective to the novice researcher. Largely because the “field” of experts that shape discourse may be beyond reach for novice and/or isolated researchers, it is not difficult to argue that publication and funding are a matter of values and capital (fiscal and social) among a small band of players and interests. Determination of what gets published and what gets funded is made by small constituencies with significant impact. 

Field composition defines the peer review process in profound ways. If you consider a specific discourse or field of study, there are multiple perspectives from which the problems (and solutions) can be viewed.  Just as our identities are shaped on multiple levels, so too are our ideas. Unilaterally, most of our ideas are born from “strong-tie” (Granovetter, 1983; Louch, 2001) conversations we have with self and within corporate structures like our family, immediate peer group/social circle, neighborhood or local community. We “trust the pictures in our head” (Lippmann, p. 4) previously validated by others within our strong-tie groups. These conversations impact how we feel, what we believe and how we think about regional and national issues and may also determine our global perspectives. Structural holes that exist in our networks actually act as binders that could potentially help mediate weak ties (Seibert, Kraimer & Liden, 2001). 





The theoretical framework for “So IN” builds on ideas presented by Granovetter (1983), Louch (2001) and Seibert, Kraimer & Liden (2001): field specialization and work create weak social ties. “Individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends” (Granovetter, p. 202). When additional stressors are placed on social systems (language differences, racial differences, religious differences) value-differentials and even political gradients surface and may further widen gaps within systems. Bound only by weak ties, barriers are created.

New ideas will spread slowly, scientific endeavors will be handicapped, and subgroups separated by race, ethnicity, geography, or other characteristics will have difficulty reaching a modus vivendi (ibid., p. 202-203)

Citing Burt, Feld, Fisher, Marsden and others, Louch (2000) describes the characteristics and effects of homogeneity and homophily on networks from various sources of social survey data. After analyzing information on relational triads, several hypotheses about ties and connections, cleavage points and foci were affirmed or rejected. Seibert, Kraimer & Liden (2001) issue a future research challenge to consider mentoring networks and their relationships to career satisfaction and success outcomes.These articles form the basis of this proposal addressing the question of potential sources of bias in the reviewer pool. 

There are four Aims of the So-IN project:

  • increase the number of scholars of color who write successful grants

  • build stronger ties to novice researchers’ field of study

  • create pre-application vetting procedure

  • improve quality of feedback provided to non-funded applicants 

Approach: Many agencies have preliminary submission requirements (including letters of support). Adding a second layer of preliminary work to the application process (whether treated as voluntary or mandatory) may broaden a researcher’s scope, provide program officers opportunities to identify potential conflicts of interest and provide researchers with opportunities to vet ideas before full review.



References:

  1. Granovetter, M. (1983). The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited.Sociological theory, 1(1), 201-233.

  2. Lippmann, W. (1932). Public opinion. Transaction Publishers.

  3. Louch, H. (2000). Personal network integration: transitivity and homophily in strong-tie relations. Social networks, 22(1), 45-64.

Seibert, S. E., Kraimer, M. L., & Liden, R. C. (2001). A social capital theory of career success. Academy of Management Journal, 44(2), 219-237.

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