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Raising the bar for sex and gender reporting in research

Nature Metabolism and the Nature journals are raising the standards for reporting on sex and gender in research. Starting this June, authors will be prompted to provide details on how sex and gender were considered in study design.

For nearly a decade, Nature Portfolio journals have asked for information about sex and gender in research studies, and more recently we have also encouraged authors to use the Sex and Gender Equity in Research (SAGER) guidelines in their work. We are now updating our guidance and practice so that authors are more clearly and actively encouraged to report on select items within the SAGER guidelines. In addition, Nature Metabolism — together with Nature Cancer, Nature Communications and Nature Medicine — will be testing a stronger application of this guidance in a pilot from June 2022.

Funders and journals have had policy initiatives in place for many years, and the number of research studies that include sex and gender as key variables has increased substantially across most biological disciplines in the past decade. However, important gaps remain, including presentation of data that is disaggregated by sex and gender, a reliance on a single sex or gender without appropriate justification and a lack of appropriate sex and gender analysis1,2,3. Analysis of the Nature journals’ efforts, introduced in 2013 through Nature’s reporting checklist, also found that sex was reported in 52% of the studies in Nature journals versus 36% in non-Nature journal studies4.

Given the importance of understanding sex and gender as variables that affect rigour, generalizability and translation of research findings, we are making changes that we hope will support authors and reviewers in providing and vetting this information during peer review. These changes apply to studies with human research participants, vertebrate animals and cell lines, where sex and gender is an appropriate consideration. First, our updated guidance more clearly focuses on the key items from the SAGER guidelines, which we are introducing in a new section on ‘Reporting on sex and gender’ in the Nature Life Science Reporting Summary. This new section asks authors to state whether and how sex and gender were considered in study design; to indicate if no sex and gender analyses were carried out and to clarify why; to note in the title and/or abstract if findings apply to only one sex or gender; and finally, to provide data disaggregated by sex and gender, where this information has been collected and where informed consent for reporting and sharing individual-level data has been obtained. We hope that requiring these details in a structured manner through established implementation routes will induce more authors to provide this information in published articles.

Second, Nature Metabolism — together with Nature Cancer, Nature Communications and Nature Medicine — will be raising awareness of our updated recommendations by sending letters to authors and reviewers during peer review and by actively asking authors to provide disaggregated data when available. This pilot will allow us to better understand the degree to which these considerations are already part of study design, data collection and analysis for the research we publish; to identify any challenges in its implementation; and to evaluate author and reviewer reception to our updated guidance, so that we may iterate on these recommendations as we learn through experience.

The emphasis of these new policy expectations is on promoting transparency in study design and improved reporting, and over time, we hope to see integration of sex and gender analysis in study design by default. Alongside the push for inclusion of sex and gender in study design, analysis and reporting, we also urge care and due caution in communicating findings about sex and gender, so as to avoid inadvertent and harmful effects of research findings, especially where there is the potential for societal and public policy impact. We look forward to engaging more deeply with our authors, referees and readers as we roll out these updated policies.

References

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Raising the bar for sex and gender reporting in research. Nat Metab 4, 495 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s42255-022-00581-1

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