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Updating the Community on ACS Publications’ Diversity Initiatives

Last month ACS Publications journals published a special joint editorial on “Confronting Racism in Chemistry Journals.” That editorial acknowledged and condemned the systemic racism afflicting the scientific community. It also committed ACS Publications to take the following steps to address bias in our journals:

  • Gathering and making public our baseline statistics on diversity within our journals, encompassing our Editors, advisors, reviewers, and authors; annually reporting on progress
  • Training new and existing Editors to recognize and interrupt bias in peer review
  • Including the diversity of journal contributors as an explicit measurement of Editor-in-Chief performance
  • Appointing an ombudsperson to serve as a liaison between Editors and our community
  • Developing an actionable diversity plan for each ACS journal

These steps represent several complex and interrelated processes. Properly addressing these matters requires research, thoughtful examination, and careful planning. At the same time, the complexity of these issues must not become an excuse for inaction. 

This post is the first of a series of updates regarding the processes and questions ACS Publications is confronting as we move toward these goals. The hope is that these updates will provide transparency to the community and perhaps even help other scholarly publishers address similar concerns. 

Here is the current state of each of the five core initiatives:

Gathering baseline statistics on diversity within our journals: This initiative is an essential first step toward the goals outlined in our joint editorial. A working group is currently meeting to decide what statistics this effort should include and how best to collect the data in a way that safeguards our authors’ and reviewers’ privacy. We’re working with experienced professionals in this area to ensure we’re following best practices. ACS is also collaborating with other publishers to align data collection practices across a range of subjects. ACS Publications aims to begin collecting these expanded data near the end of the year. We will use the information gleaned for our public reports to measure our progress in addressing bias in our journals.

Bias training for Editors: ACS Publications is currently researching and comparing training options for new and continuing Editors. The goal is to find both informational and practical training, helping our Editors recognize and interrupt their biases. This training will be an ongoing commitment for every Editor throughout their tenure.

Diversity as an EIC performance metric: The baseline data we collect, coupled with the broad makeup of the community a journal serves, will help determine this metric. Once we’ve determined the appropriate targets, they will need to be vetted by ACS Publication’s Joint Board-Council Committee on Publications. 

Appointing an ombudsperson: ACS Publications is in touch with other publishers with similar positions about how best to define and implement this new role. ACS Publications has received several recommendations for the position. We hope to be able to appoint an ombudsperson in early 2021.

Developing each ACS journal’s diversity plan: ACS Publications is developing a range of actions that our journals can implement to improve their contributors’ diversity. Editors will work with ACS Publications team members to tailor the plan for their journals. This effort relies on having baseline diversity statistics and will begin in earnest once ACS Publications has collected this information, though a number of planning efforts are already underway. 

Several community members have also asked about the possibility of implementing different models of peer review, such as a double-blind review. ACS Publications is already studying this issue. We’re evaluating other publisher’s pilot projects to understand the kinds of unintended consequences that can arise. ACS Publications continues to consider the issue, aiming to implement our own pilot in the coming months.

ACS Publications remains committed to addressing the issues of race and bias raised in the June editorial. We will publish another update in October regarding our progress on these initiatives. 

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