Dr. John Armstrong rejected by journal for being “outspoken on EDI”.

A subject access request has revealed that the editor in chief at the journal BMJ Open assessed a paper for publication in part based on the author’s political commitments, as expressed on social media. 

Dr. John Armstrong is a reader in financial mathematics at King’s College London. In July 2022, Armstrong submitted a paper to the BMJ Open titled “A time-series analysis of the impact of Athena Swan on the representation of women in senior Roles”. The paper purports to show that Athena Swan membership has no effect on the rate at which institutions move towards equality in the appointment of women to senior positions in Higher Education Institutes.  

After initial revisions had been made, all four reviewers recommended the paper for publication. However, Adrian Aldcroft, the editor in chief at the journal, rejected the paper, giving the following reasons: 

Specifically I was concerned that the conclusions are not supported by the data. They are a statement of your viewpoint rather than a summary of the data. I generally felt the editorialising throughout the manuscript was not appropriate for a research article (e.g., stating your viewpoints in the Introduction and testing hypotheses based on assumptions rather than stating a research question to investigate). Finally, the use of causal language throughout (e.g., exploring the effect/impact of Athena Swan) was not appropriate due to the limitations of the data and the complexity of the issue discussed. 

Armstrong then obtained, via a subject access request, an email in which Aldcroft, discussing the rejection, stated the following: 

The author’s social media account also coloured our impression of the manuscript as the author is very outspoken on issues relating to EDI. <<redacted>> It made it clear that he does have a broader agenda, rather than just questioning the statistical approach taken on the original article. 

Aldcroft states explicitly that his assessment of the manuscript is based on an examination of the author’s social media. The “broader agenda” to which Aldcroft refers is presumably Armstrong’s publically stated opposition to the influence of Athena Swan.  

Whatever the strength – or otherwise – of the reasons for rejection which Aldcroft stated openly, it is appalling that an academic’s political views, as inferred from his social media, should enter into the decision whether to publish his work. 

CAF has written to the BMJ group, which owns the BMJ Open. You can read the letter here.