Economics - General

Is there peer-reviewer bias against research from low-income countries?

According to a paper from Harris et al. (2017), the country from which a study takes place greatly influences the academic community’s perception of that study.  The authors used a unique study design approach:

In our randomized, controlled, and blinded crossover experiment, participants rated the same abstracts on two separate occasions, one month apart, with the source of these abstracts changing, without their knowledge, between high- and low-income countries.

The high-income countries in the study were the U.S. and Germany and the low-income countries were Ethiopia and Malawi.  Author affiliations also came from high-quality universities within each country [e.g., Harvard University (US), Freiburg University (Germany), University of Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), and University of Mzuzu (Malawi)]. Using this methodology, the authors surveyed 347 English physicians and found that:

…changing the source of a research abstract from a low- to a high-income country significantly improves how it is viewed, all else being equal. Using fixed-effects models, we measured differences in ratings for strength of evidence, relevance, and likelihood of referral to a peer. Having a high-income-country source had a significant overall impact on respondents’ ratings of relevance and recommendation to a peer.

The study detailed results are perhaps more interesting than the top-line findings.  In 3 of 4 sample abstracts, there was no statistically significant difference between the scientific strength of the article depended on where the study took place and the combined results were not statistically significant either.  However, in 3 of 4 cases (and in the combined results) the study in the first-world countries were seen as more relevant; overall peer-reviewers were more likely to recommend papers from high-income counties to their peers.

Thus, it appears there is little scientific bias against the quality of research from low-income countries, but researchers may claim that that research is less relevant to their own or the academic community’s greatest interest.

Interesting throughout.


Harris, Matthew, Joachim Marti, Hillary Watt, Yasser Bhatti, James Macinko, and Ara W. Darzi. “Explicit Bias Toward High-Income-Country Research: A Randomized, Blinded, Crossover Experiment Of English Clinicians.” Health Affairs36, no. 11 (2017): 1997-2004.



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