Women researchers are less cited than men. Here’s why and how to fix it | Science

Women’s scientific contributions are often undervalued and cited less often than those of their male counterparts, including in neuroscience, astronomy, medicine and, according to two new studies, physics. This new body of work also highlights a variety of factors that contribute to this citation bias, which could potentially help researchers and institutions address gender inequality in academia.

According to the first new study, published in Natural Physics over the last week, the overcitation of male researchers is mainly due to other male researchers (which has also been seen in political science) and to researchers less familiar with this field of work. “When you’re in a place of uncertainty, you want to choose something that has all the status symbols associated with quality, for good or bad,” says Cassidy Sugimoto, a professor in the Georgia Institute’s School of Public Policy. of Technology. who did not participate in the study. So when determining which authors to cite, “you’re going to over-select men and under-select women who may have a similar quality but aren’t necessarily associated with those status symbols.” (Researchers excluded self-citations to focus on how researchers cite each other, but previous work has shown that men cite each other more than women.)

The second study, published today in Physics of communications, identified an additional factor at play: “first-mover advantage”. The researchers found that among similar articles, as determined on the basis of the entire cited literature, those authored by men were published before those by female authors. The consequence is that men can establish themselves in the field earlier than women, which allows them to develop their network and ultimately obtain more recognition. “It was really alarming,” says study author Fariba Karimi, a social scientist in computer science at the Complexity Science Hub in Vienna.

These types of effects can accumulate over the course of an academic’s career. Among members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), for example, men had on average about 14,000 more lifetime citations than women, according to an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month. And the shape and characteristics of the citation networks also varied greatly by gender—women have fewer peers than men and generally have more women as peers, among other differences—to the extent that researchers could determine the gender of an individual based solely on network characteristics.

Understanding these underlying biases is key to assessing progress towards gender parity. For example, a recent working paper found that when comparing men and women who had similar publications and citations in the fields of psychology, mathematics, and economics, women were actually up 15 times more likely to be accepted into NAS and American Academy. arts and sciences over the past 20 years. But the researchers warn that interpreting these results is complex. “We shouldn’t take from this article that women have an unfair advantage because we know productivity and citations are biased,” says Roberta Sinatra, a social scientist in computer science at the University of Copenhagen, who doesn’t did not participate in the study. As the authors write in their paper, women scholars face more hurdles in publishing, and those who are successful “may actually be better scholars than men with a similar track record, which could justify a raise in their probabilities of selection as members of the academies”.

Some scholars also worry that the focus on studying elite groups in science doesn’t paint the full picture. “You’re looking at something exceptional and drawing conclusions for an entire population,” says Sugimoto.

But overall, these studies highlight factors where individual action could help weed out unjust systems, says Dani Bassett, a systems neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania who co-authored one of the recent physics studies as well as the study of neuroscience quotes. . One of the strategies Bassett’s team employs is to quantify the proportion of articles authored by men and women cited by researchers in a study using tools such as the gender balance and include this information in a diversity statement. This, Bassett points out, not only informs citation parity in a study, but also signals a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. “These are areas where we can make a lot of change without having to convince specific leaders, which I think is really exciting for academics.”

At the same time, the researchers also say the strategy should be collective, from individual researchers to journals and academic institutions. “We can’t change the system without the community on board,” says Karimi.

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