A new study shows that having a big name in science will help your paper get published. Only 10% of reviewers of a test paper would recommend acceptance if the sole author was obscure.

Mario Malicki is the editor-in-chief of Research Integrity and Peer Review and was not involved in the study. It's the largest randomized controlled trial we've ever seen.

The Matthew effect is a term used by sociologists to describe how high-status researchers are more likely to get the same results. There is a parable about abundance in the Bible.

Efforts to document bias were often hampered by a small sample size or lack of randomization. To avoid those problems, a team led by Jrgen Huber of the University of Innsbruck sent an email to thousands of researchers asking if they would review an economics study. The study had two authors, both at Chapman University: Vernon Smith, a 2002 Nobel Laureate in economics who last year had more than 54,000 citations listed on Google Scholar, and Sabiou Inoua, one of Smith's former PhD students. Smith was listed as the corresponding author in one of the three descriptions of the paper.

The team reported last week at the International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publication that 822 researchers agreed to review. Smith's prominence appeared to sway the responses: Of the researchers given just his name, 38.5% accepted the invitation to review; the figures were 30.7% for those given no name and 28.5% for those given just I noua's.

A second step was taken to avoid bias in the study. They focused on the 313 reviewers who were randomly assigned to review one of three manuscripts, one listing only Smith, another just Inoua, and a third with no authors. The team told the reviewers that their evaluations would be part of an experiment that involved more than a few invited peer reviews but did not reveal the study design.

Reviewers praised the manuscript for including new information and supporting data. More than double the share that endorsed the version credited to Inoua was recommended by those who reviewed the version with no authors. Smith and Inoua posted a preprint of the revised paper on their website.

It is not surprising that the disparity is stark. The author of the study told the congress that it's troubling. Christian Knig-Kersting said thattical work shouldn't be evaluated differently based on who wrote it. It's difficult for younger and unknown researchers to get their foot in the door.

Some reviewer decisions may have been influenced by discrimination based on perception of race or geographic origin. Knig-Kersting noted that Smith and Inoua are both white and dark skinned.

Double-blind reviews, in which the identities of both authors and reviewers are masked, might reduce the Matthew effect, according to researchers. Reviewers can often identify authors from a preprint or conference presentation, so that tactic might not work.