Updated report on Isis submissions and gender during the pandemic

At the beginning of August of 2020, we circulated a report on Isis submission data, organized by gender covering the months of January 1 – June 30, 2020. The goal with that analysis was to document whether and to what extent Isis contributors were being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic along gender lines. Already within weeks of the pandemic-enforced closures of universities, reports had been circulating across academic disciplines of a precipitous decline in women’s scholarly productivity. As the pandemic and its effects on the social and economic fabric continued into the summer, anecdotal accounts were supplemented with data. 

The Isis report covering submissions for the first half of 2020 confirmed the more general trend of declining article and book review submissions by women scholars. In order to document whether these trends continued through the summer and into the fall of 2020, we have run a similar analysis, covering submissions from July 1-December 31, 2020. Isis does not ask authors to give demographic data at the time of submission (or later). As before, we are deeply uncomfortable with our informal assignation — and in some cases, likely mis-assigning — of binary gender based on assumptions about gender presentation in person on the internet. Nevertheless, we felt it important to maintain stable categories for the sake of comparing this set of data to the previous one.  

In statistical terms, Isis is a small journal. Over the course of our five-year terms as Co-Editors, we will oversee the publication of approximately 80 articles. Our sample size of submissions over a six-month period does not permit statistically rigorous conclusions. In general, however, compared to the first six months of 2020, our new data is suggestive of heartening news. Female and male authors both submitted original and revised manuscripts in nearly equal numbers, better representing the gender distribution of the field of history of science. 

Remarkably, in the second half of 2020, manuscript submissions increased across the board beginning at the end of the summer. Original manuscript submissions increased by 40% in the second half of 2020 over the first. Manuscript resubmissions in the second half increased by nearly 90% over the first half of 2020. Between July and December of 2020, we received 72 new submissions and 36 resubmissions. It is difficult to explain this overall increase, except to surmise a sudden surplus of travel-free time in which to complete writing projects, but we suspect there are demographic trends hidden in this shift. These submissions are perhaps coming from authors with few dependent care obligations, those further along in their careers, those that had already completed archival research before the pandemic, those that did not need to spend their summers migrating courses online, and so forth.  

This significant increase in the manuscript submissions (which we were quite pleased to see), however, came at the same time as a commensurate increase in manuscript reviewer requests being declined. That is, rather than inviting between two and four individuals before our minimum of two review invitations were accepted, we often found ourselves inviting as many as 10 reviewers. Frequently, these invitations languished for several weeks before being declined (or clearly ignored). The reasons given for declining to review manuscripts included illness, lack of childcare, the work of migrating courses online, and unrelenting service requests. Two individuals (both women) informed us that they had decided to leave academia. We offer this as additional anecdotal evidence of the ongoing impact of the pandemic on academic life. 

The article submission data for the months of July through December of 2020, suggests that the alarming drop in manuscript submissions by female scholars seen in the first half of the year has not continued. Gender parity has not yet been achieved, but we are trending closer to it. The ratio of female authors to male authors in new submissions was 4:5. Women resubmitted more manuscripts than men, by a 5:4 ratio. Please note that while most manuscripts are single-authored, some are not, which affects the tabulation. Between July and December of 2020, 18 submitted manuscripts were co-authored, with 2-7 co-authors per manuscript. For comparison, submission numbers from the previous six months as well as July 1 through December 31, 2019 can be found in the tables at the end of this report. 

Male authorsFemale authorsTotal authorsTotal manuscripts
Original submission50419172
Resubmission19254436
Total6966135108
Table 1. Article manuscript submissions for period July 1 – December 31, 2020 
Male authorsFemale authorsTotal authorsTotal manuscripts
Currently under review24315544
Desk rejected22123422
Rejected1091915
Invited to revise and resubmit571212
Accepted (including pending revisions)771414
Withdrawn1011
Total6966135108
Table 2. Current Status on December 31, 2020 

We also again reviewed the gender distribution in our invited contributions. Most of these are book reviews, but this category also includes authors of pieces in special sections (Focus, Second Look, Open Conversations, and so forth), essay reviews, Eloges, and printed lectures. Note that because of the rhythm of the publishing calendar, the data in the case of invited contributions is even more muddled, but also hints at where gender equity gets skewed. To be clear, in both the long special sections (which in this period featured 14 female contributors and 12 male) and book reviews, we have striven to secure an inclusive list of contributors that represent the gender, racial, ethnic, geographic, and career diversity of the HSS membership. We are pleased that, for the most part, we have been able to achieve as much in the printed pages of Isis

Between July 1 and December 31, the Book Review Editor invited 176 female and 58 male scholars to review recently published works. In this same period 40 female scholars submitted book reviews for Isis, compared to 32 male. To us, the numbers of accepted invitations to review books for Isis suggests that our internal protocols for inviting book reviewers is sound. The fact that women are invited at a rate of 3:1 compared to men, in order to achieve parity in the pages of Isis, however, suggests that troubling factors outside our control continue to affect who accepts invitations and who submits finished materials. 

In the Report on Isis Submissions Organized by Gender we circulated last August, we asked what should we do next. As before, we ask the membership for input on this. We note that in the interim, we have circulated the report widely to the Isis Advisory Board, our fleet of Associate Editors, HSS Council, various HSS committee chairs, and the membership generally via hssonline.org. Likely because we were offering concrete numbers in our analysis, this report was also picked up by academic media. We also discussed the report at the Virtual Forum in October 2020, in both the Futures II session and the Business Meeting. We remain committed to collecting and distributing this data every six months as well as engaging in ongoing conversations about its implications. 

As in our previous report, we offer this friendly message encouraging scholars considering submitting their work to Isis: our purpose in publishing scholarly work of significance in the history of science is indistinguishable from that of nurturing the work of scholars across the breadth of our society’s membership. We cannot create article submissions ex nihilo, but we can and will do everything we can to make the editorial process as efficient and helpful as possible for those who do send us their manuscripts. Please be assured that we will do everything within our power to render decisions quickly, with an ecumenical eye towards the ever-changing boundaries of our discipline. We’d also like to emphasize our flexibility with respect to revisions: we do not impose deadlines on authors whose work is invited for resubmissions, something we hope will be helpful for scholars now facing additional demands on their time and energy. 

Finally, we want to emphasize that we recognize the ongoing toll the pandemic has taken on scholars in our field. Additional related economic crises, political strife… it has been a year. Even in the face of vaccination programs underway, observing a year of heartbreaking stories of calamity has convinced us that current social safety nets (mostly in the US but not entirely) are failing. What is being asked of academics right now — by others and of themselves — is not sustainable. This we see. Since we first applied to co-edit Isis, we have regularly revisited the question of what power editors and journals have to enact broader cultural change. We continue to bump up against the limits of that power, but we also continue to hope that through careful self-assessments such as this report and invitations to the scholars in our field to wrestle with its implications. We hope that by doing so we may create something that better reflects both who we are as a field, and maybe even what we want to be. 

Male authorsFemale authorsTotal authorsTotal manuscripts
Original submission40206051
Resubmission1992819
Total59298870
Table 3. Article manuscript submissions for period January 1 – June 30, 2020 
Male authorsFemale authorsTotal authorsTotal manuscripts
Original submission48307863
Resubmission951413
Total57359276
Table 4. Article manuscript submissions for period July 1 – December 31, 2019