APA journal editors have long sought a way to involve more ethnic-minority psychologists in the peer-review system. Recently, APA created a tool to do just that--and in its first few months, the new strategy has met with rave reviews.
APA has launched a database of scholarly publications written by members known to belong to an ethnic-minority group. Using the database, APA journal editors can search for prospective ethnic-minority reviewers in any specific subject. The database is available only for APA journal editors and associate editors.
So far, editors' response to the new author database has been "outstanding," says Gary VandenBos, PhD, APA's executive director of publications and communications.
"After I introduced it at the Council of Editors' meeting in March," he recalls, "about 10 people used it in the next 24 hours."
In the first six weeks that the database was available, journal editors examined the credentials of as many ethnic-minority researchers as had served as peer-reviewers for APA journals in all of 2000.
"I find it a very useful tool," says James Dannemiller, PhD, editor of Developmental Psychology. "It's important to get more minority psychologists involved in reviewing for APA journals, and up until this point, it's been hard to do that--about the only way we've been able to do it is by relying on people who volunteer, and that's not very efficient."
The new database, a special subset of PsycINFO, currently contains about 10,000 records and is continually updated. When editors enter a search term into the database, they are shown full PsycINFO records of all published work relevant to their search, including abstracts. The names of authors who are known members of an ethnic-minority group, along with contact information, are highlighted.
"This search tool allows you to broaden your knowledge of who's out there who might be a suitable reviewer for a given topic," says Mary Beth Kenkel, PhD, editor of APA's Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.
In addition, she observes, editors--and hence, APA--will now be able to keep better track of the number of ethnic-minority psychologists they use as ad-hoc reviewers. This improved accounting, she hopes, will further boost the representation of ethnic minorities in the review process.
What's more, observes Linda Garcia-Shelton, PhD, associate editor of Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, ethnic-minority reviewers bring a critical perspective to journal articles.
"A lot of articles that I see come through carry the assumption that if the study participants are predominantly white, that doesn't challenge the generalizability of the findings--whereas if the participants are predominantly ethnic minorities, that tends to be seen as a limitation of the study's generalizability," she explains. "Those kinds of biases aren't necessarily going to jump out at a majority-group person in the way they might for a minority-group member."
Developing an effective way to involve more ethnic-minority psychologists in APA's review process has been a top priority for APA. For 15 years, APA's Publications and Communications Board, Council of Editors and Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs have worked to increase ethnic-minority participation in a variety of ways, from seeking help from psychology departments to developing a directory of members who have identified themselves as ethnic minorities.
But such strategies have been fairly hit-or-miss, says VandenBos. During the last five years, only about 4.5 percent of ad-hoc editorial reviewers for APA journals were known members of an ethnic-minority group--about 1 percent below the percentage of APA members who are ethnic minorities. But about 15 to 18 percent of graduate students in psychology are known to be members of an ethnic-minority group.
That means, explains VandenBos, that "We can't be satisfied at this point, even if we had exact proportional representation of ethnic-minority psychologists as ad-hoc reviewers." Now, with the new database in place, APA can begin to meet the goals that journal editors have set for years.
"The editors have pleaded for tools that would allow them to do a better job more easily," says VandenBos. "So this year, we found a way to develop it."