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Citations of Peer-reviewed Publication Reveal Gender Bias and Barrier to Female Scientists

After investing 540 peer-reviewed publications, Vincent Larivière an information scientist from University of Quebec at Montreal and his co-workers at Indiana University, point out that female sceintists’ contribution to science might be substantially undervalued in current journal publication system. The new findings have been published on recent Nature.

 “Although the amount of female students is always larger than that of male students, the number of professors or that of authors of journal publications, male scientists always prevail over females,” said Professor Larivière, “Our study is the world’s first program aiming to investigate quantatively on gender imbalance. Although scientific community is always trying to avoid talking about this issue, we need to fully understand it before we can address it. It is really a big problem that half of the brains all over the world are excluded.”

The researchers gathered publications from 2008 to 2012 through Web of Science database and collected information such as author’s name and affiliation. Those published not though peer-reviewed system, or considered to have no contribution to original knowledge were excluded from this research. Moreover, areas where the number of publications was less than 1,000 also didn’t take part in this research.

The order of authors was selected as an evaluating standard to assess the influence of gender difference. In order to confirm authors’ genders, the researchers utilized data from US Census and analyzed the unique gender-indicating structures in the names via programs. In this ways, the researchers confirmed the gender of 65.2% authors from 2,700 in total.

gender and research output

The blue zones indicate areas where male scientists publish more articles while the red zones present areas where female scientists are superior in publication numbers. The white zones display areas where males and females publish comparable number of articles. Interestingly, the white zones all represent countries that were used to be communist countries. *Image source: Cassidy R. Sugimoto. 2013. Nature.

The conclusion of this study meets most people’s expectations that in countries that are highly productive in publications, such as North America and Western Europe, citations of male scientists as major authors are more than females. In the meanwhile, international cooperation between male scientists is more active than that between females, which is thought to be an important factor influencing the probability of being cited.  This phenomenon does not appear in South America and Eastern Europe, mainly because these used-to-be-communist countries values much on gender parity.

This study also focused on different areas in the same country. For example, in U.S. and Canada, “Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, Nova Scotia and Quebec, the amounts of journal articles published by males and females are in good balance, while in New Mexico, Mississippi and Wyoming, it’s the opposite.” Noted Larivière. In addition, from survey on various scientific subjects, it is found that female scientists dominate in nursing, education, social work, midwifery, library science, and language; male scientists prevail in military science, mathematics, information science, economics, robot technology, aeronautics, high-energy physics and philosophy.

Lead-author gender and citation

Female-directed researches have low relative average citations compared with male-directed. In terms of national and international cooperated research, publications with females as first author or corresponding author are less cited compared with males. *Image source: Cassidy R. Sugimoto. 2013. Nature.

Although the study itself didn’t explain why such gender difference is generated, the researchers believe that these data can provide reference for further resolution on addressing gender difference and is helpful for people to be aware of current situation. Larivière notes:” According to current publication evaluating system based on citations, the gender difference may be even worse. We should investigate thoroughly whether the gender imbalance has other obvious causes.” Larivière also admits, “Some intrinsic factors of different research areas might attract or repel researchers with certain genders. If we look into gender imbalance from a non-quantitative angle, we may see a totally different picture.”