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Voluntary declarations in submitted manuscripts can describe gender balance in study samples, for example.

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Cell’s publisher invites statements in papers about studies’ diversity and inclusion efforts

After reading a paper about Amazonian frogs in May 2020, behavioral ecologist Daniela Roessler of Harvard University was astonished. The study named 27 authors, all male. The publication sparked an outcry on Twitter for more diversity in science. Roessler and colleagues then wrote a letter to journal publishers suggesting a way for authors to help advance that goal: publicly declare in their submitted manuscripts whether they had considered diversity, equity, and inclusion in the study.

Last week, Cell Press, publisher of more than 50 journals, became one of the first publlshers to invite authors to do so. The publisher—whose titles include the prestigious Cell, as well as Neuron and Current Biology—said the declarations can highlight authors’ personal characteristics or elements of a study’s design. These can include, for example, researchers’ use of ethnically diverse cell lines and genomic data sets and efforts to ensure gender balance in study samples and on lists of citations and authors.

Submitting such a declaration is not mandatory and will not affect whether submitted manuscripts are accepted for publication, Cell Press said.

“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,” said Deborah Sweet, vice president of editorial, in a statement. The company plans to track the diversity disclosures during the coming year to measure progress toward that outcome.

“I’m happy to see this transform into action,” Roessler said. In recent months, she and colleagues emailed more than 60 publishers pitching ideas to implement diversity statements. Many journals wrote back agreeing to discuss options with her or saying they would consider the suggestion. One of the journals they contacted, the ecology-focused Oikos, has begun to request that new authors confirm they adhered to their institutions’ best practices for promoting diversity in their studies and work life. The policy “is a gentle push,” said Pedro Peres-Neto, the journal’s strategic editor and a biologist at Concordia University in Montreal.

“These [manuscript] statements might arguably only be done by those who already understand the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion,” Roessler said. “But giving it a place will increase the visibility and allow not only authors but also journals to take a public stand on the matter.”