News Release

Central to evaluating researchers, publication citations reflect gender bias, barrier to women

Research analyzed 5.5 million research papers, 27.3 million authorships worldwide

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Indiana University

Average Citation Impact by Types of Collaboration

image: Lead author gender and citation: papers with female authors in key positions are cited less than those with male authors in key positions, be they papers with one author, or those resulting from national or international collaborations. Numbers reflect average number of relative citations. view more 

Credit: Chaoqun Ni - Indiana University

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Whether from the trickle-down effects of having fewer female elders in science or the increased opportunities for male researchers to participate in international collaborations, barriers to women in science remain widespread worldwide, according to new work led by Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing professors.

The new cross-disciplinary quantitative analysis of academic publication patterns relating gender and research output found that female authors were underrepresented at a 30 percent to 70 percent authorship rate with males, and that for every female first author on a scientific paper there were nearly two (1.93) male first authors.

Led by assistant professor Cassidy Sugimoto with Rudy Professor of Information Science Blaise Cronin as co-author, the team analyzed nearly 5.5 million research papers and over 27.3 million authorships, assigned gender using U.S. Social Security databases and other international records, and then aggregated the data by country, discipline and U.S. state.

Generally, the work found that female authorship is more prevalent in countries with lower scientific output, that women's publication portfolios were more domestic than their male colleagues, and that articles with women in dominant author positions -- either first or last author -- received fewer citations than men in the same positions.

"Women profited less from the extra citations that international collaborations accrue," Sugimoto said. "And since citations play a central part in evaluating researchers, this situation can only worsen gender disparities."

The team, which also included University of Montreal assistant professor Vincent Larivière, University of Quebec at Montreal professor Yves Gingras and IU doctoral candidate Chaoqun Ni, said the findings should serve as a call to action for the development of new higher education and science policy.

Countries with the highest degrees of male dominance were Saudi Arabia, Iran, Japan, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Cameroon, Qatar and Uzbekistan.

U.S. states with the highest male dominance were New Mexico, Mississippi and Wyoming, while states and Canadian provinces with the greatest gender parity included Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Quebec.

"Note that some of these states and provinces that exhibited the most gender parity were also among the lowest ranking in terms of scientific output," Sugimoto said. Such was the case internationally: Female authorship was more prevalent in countries with lower scientific output, such as Macedonia, Sri Lanka, Latvia, Ukraine, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It is indisputable that age played a major role in explaining gender differences in scientific output, collaboration and impact, the team noted.

"Seniority, authorship position, collaboration and citation are highly interlinked variables, and the senior ranks of science bear the imprint of previous generations' barriers to the progression of women," Sugimoto said.

The report noted that since collaboration is one of the main drivers of research output and scientific impact, programs geared specifically toward fostering international collaboration for female researchers might be one way to advance parity.

"But we also recognize that if there was one simple solution the problem would already be solved," she added. "Behind the global imbalance are local and historical forces contributing to the systemic inequalities that hinder women's participation in the scientific workforce. Any realistic policy must take into account those social, cultural, economic and political contexts -- those micromechanisms -- that contribute to reproducing the past order."

Cronin said the research gives a glimpse of the current conditions, conditions which he predicted were on a trajectory toward change.

"Snapshots are starting points, not the whole story," he said. "The data may not lie, but I doubt that the world of science will be quite so blue 10 years from now."

"Global gender disparities in science," by Larivière, Ni, Goingras, Cronin and Sugimoto, appears in the Dec. 12 edition of Nature.


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