ChatGPT identifies gender disparities in scientific peer review

Elife. 2023 Nov 3:12:RP90230. doi: 10.7554/eLife.90230.


The peer review process is a critical step in ensuring the quality of scientific research. However, its subjectivity has raised concerns. To investigate this issue, I examined over 500 publicly available peer review reports from 200 published neuroscience papers in 2022-2023. OpenAI's generative artificial intelligence ChatGPT was used to analyze language use in these reports, which demonstrated superior performance compared to traditional lexicon- and rule-based language models. As expected, most reviews for these published papers were seen as favorable by ChatGPT (89.8% of reviews), and language use was mostly polite (99.8% of reviews). However, this analysis also demonstrated high levels of variability in how each reviewer scored the same paper, indicating the presence of subjectivity in the peer review process. The results further revealed that female first authors received less polite reviews than their male peers, indicating a gender bias in reviewing. In addition, published papers with a female senior author received more favorable reviews than papers with a male senior author, for which I discuss potential causes. Together, this study highlights the potential of generative artificial intelligence in performing natural language processing of specialized scientific texts. As a proof of concept, I show that ChatGPT can identify areas of concern in scientific peer review, underscoring the importance of transparent peer review in studying equitability in scientific publishing.

Keywords: artificial intelligence; meta-science; natural language processing; neuroscience; none; peer review.

Plain language summary

Peer review is a vital step in ensuring the quality and accuracy of scientific research before publication. Experts assess research manuscripts, advise journal editors on publishing them, and provide authors with recommendations for improvement. But some scientists have raised concerns about potential biases and subjectivity in the peer review process. Author attributes, such as gender, reputation, or how prestigious their institution is, may subconsciously influence reviewers’ scores. Studying peer review to identify potential biases is challenging. The language reviewers use is very technical, and some of their commentary may be subjective and vary from reviewer to reviewer. The emergence of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which uses machine learning to process large amounts of information, may provide a new tool to analyze peer review for signs of bias. Verharen demonstrated that ChatGPT can be used to analyze peer review reports and found potential indications of gender bias in scientific publishing. In the experiments, Verharen asked ChatGPT to analyze more than 500 reviews of 200 neuroscience studies published in the scientific journal Nature Communications over the past year. The experiments found no evidence that institutional reputation influenced reviews. Yet, female first authors were more likely to receive impolite comments from reviewers. Female senior authors were more likely to receive higher review scores, which may indicate they had to clear a higher bar for publication. The experiments indicate that ChatGPT could be used to analyze peer review for fairness. Verharen suggests that reviewers might apply this tool to ensure their reviews are polite and accurate reflections of their opinions. Scientists or publishers might also use it for large-scale analyses of peer review in individual journals or in scientific publishing more widely. Journals might also use ChatGPT to assess the impact of bias-prevention interventions on review fairness.

MeSH terms

  • Artificial Intelligence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Peer Review
  • Publishing*
  • Research Report
  • Sexism

Grants and funding

No external funding was received for this work.