Doctoral Researcher | Imperial College London
Knowledge Production

The role of geographic bias in knowledge diffusion: a systematic review and narrative synthesis

Reduced Inequality

This research synthesised the evidence from three randomised and controlled studies investigating geographic bias in the evaluation of research.

This summary, including its recommendations and ideas, was created by Mark Skopec and is based on original research. The original research itself was conducted in collaboration with the following researchers.

Original research
Journal article: The role of geographic bias in knowledge diffusion: a systematic review and narrative synthesis (2020)
Peer Reviewed

Mark Skopec, Hamdi Issa, Julie Reed and Matthew Harris


This research used a quantitative approach, combining narrative analysis and systematic review.

A systematic review was conducted. Based on the research question, a number of different search terms were used to systematically search several databases. The results were screened to exclude articles which did not fit the criteria (randomised or controlled studies). The abstracts of the remaining articles were read to further narrow down the articles. After reading the remaining articles in full, three were chosen. Narrative synthesis was used: different outcomes were described and compared. Limitations included the fact that the databases searched were predominantly medical databases, and only published articles written in English were examined.



This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

  • For development
  • For Academia & Research
  • higher education
  • inequality
  • Summary made: 2023

Key points

  • Biases can interfere with the objective assessment of research. Research should be judged on its merits, rather than where it is from. This applies to peer review, as well as at the individual level.

The research was designed to highlight the role biases play in the prejudgment of research on a global scale, and to provide recommendations on how to create a more equitable playing field in the diffusion of knowledge, both at the level of peer review for academic journals and for research consumption at the individual level.


  • Anecdotal evidence suggests the presence of geographic bias in knowledge diffusion. Yet, there are few controlled or experimental studies investigating this phenomenon. This makes it difficult to draw strong conclusions about causality. This review only found three experimental studies conducted on the topic, suggesting further experimental research could be necessary.
  • Institutions that contain a geographic identifier or a recognizable "brand" linked to a country elicit a bias. Research from an institution in a high-income country ("Harvard University" or "University of Freiburg") was rated higher than research from a low-income country ("University of Addis Ababa" or "University of Mzuzu"). Separately, reviewers recommend articles for acceptance if they were from top-ranked universities, which were more often in high-income countries.
  • Academic journals that contain geographic identifiers could also elicit bias. The two studies that investigated this dimension of geographic bias did not find conclusive results of its effect on the evaluation of research. Future studies could be designed to investigate this in more detail.

What it means

This research helps to illustrate that we all have biases based on our different backgrounds. These biases are neither good nor bad, but we need to be aware of them when we review and consume research. This is particularly important in STEM subjects and the sciences, which are founded on the principles of objectivity and merit. Understanding and accepting that biases affect us all can make us better scientists and researchers.

How to use

  • People should reflect on how their biases impact them personally and professionally
  • Teachers should seek to give their students a more inclusive representation of topics


Special thanks to Ramya Zwaal for preparation assistance

We would like to extend a special thank you to Ramya Zwaal, for their invaluable contribution in assisting the preparation of this research summary.

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Skopec, Mark. 'The role of geographic bias in knowledge diffusion: a systematic review and narrative synthesis'. Acume.