Nature journals raise the bar for sex and gender reporting in research

Many research studies do not consider sex and gender.Credit: Getty

In late 2020, the European Commission announced that its research grant recipients should integrate sex and gender analyzes into their study design. This could include disaggregating data by gender when examining cells or considering how a technology might perpetuate gender stereotypes. At the time, Nature wrote that this was an important step and urged other funders to follow suit (see Nature 588, 196; 2020). At the same time, we said that publishers also have a role to play in encouraging reporting on sex and gender. The responsibility does not lie solely with the donors.

Some journals have promoted the publication of sex and gender analyzes for years, and the number of research studies that include such data has increased significantly over the past decade. But gaps remain, in particular insufficient reporting of sex- and gender-disaggregated data13.

To remedy this, researchers who submit articles to a subset of Nature Portfolio journals (see list on go.nature.com/3mcu0zj) will be asked to indicate if and how sex and gender were taken into account in their study design, or to indicate that no sex and gender analysis was carried out, and to specify why. They should note in the title and/or abstract if the results apply to only one sex or gender.

They will also be asked to provide sex- and gender-disaggregated data where this information has been collected and informed consent for reporting and data sharing at the individual level has been obtained. The changes apply to studies with human participants, other vertebrates, or cell lines, where sex and gender are an appropriate consideration.

At the same time, we urge care and caution in reporting results on sex and gender, to prevent research findings from having unintended and harmful effects, especially when it is there is potential for impact on society and public policy. More details on these changes can be found at go.nature.com/3mcu0zj. They are part of the SAGER guidelines (Sex and Gender Equity in Research)4.

In addition, from June 1, four journals — nature cancer, Nature Communication, natural medicine and Natural metabolism — will communicate updated recommendations in letters to authors and reviewers during peer review. The aim here is to improve understanding of the extent to which sex and gender reporting is already part of study design, data collection and analysis in research published by these journals. Reviews will also assess the reception of changes by authors and reviewers so that we can reiterate them as we learn from experience.

The new measures are needed because research still fails to consider sex and gender in study design, sometimes with disastrous results. Between 1997 and 2001, ten prescription drugs were withdrawn from use in the United States; eight of them have been reported to have more severe side effects in women than in men (we recognize that not everyone fits into these categories). These differences were likely missed, in part, due to insufficient or inappropriate analysis of data on sex differences in clinical trials.

By introducing these changes, we aim to promote transparency in study design and ultimately make the results more accurate. Over time, we hope to see the integration of sex and gender analysis into the default study design.