Research Press Release

Physics: Women are cited less than men

Nature Physics

October 6, 2022

Physics papers authored by women are significantly under-cited compared to those authored by men, according to an analysis of over one million papers in 35 physics journals, presented in Nature Physics. The findings may inform effective strategies for tackling gender disparities in citation practices.

Citation numbers are routinely used by academic hiring committees and funding bodies to measure the research output and impact of a particular physicist. As women are underrepresented in physics and can face bias and discrimination, this bias may be reflected in citation practices, which can negatively affect the recognition of their work.

Dani S. Bassett and colleagues analysed the gender of first and last authors cited in approximately 1.07 million papers published between 1995 and 2020 in 35 physics journals. Author gender was inferred from their forename. The authors emphasize that this method of gender selection is not always accurate and does not consider trans and non-binary gender identities, however, it can be argued that those who cite a particular work also infer the gender from the forename and are influenced by the perceived gender of the author. Papers that had a first and last author who was a man were found to be cited more often than expected, whilst those with a first and/or last author who was a woman were cited less often than expected with an overall gender citation gap of roughly 4.23%. The citation imbalance in favour of man-authored papers was highest within papers written by men, within general physics papers and when citations reference work whose content or authors are less familiar to the citing authors.

The authors conclude that their findings suggest that there is a bias that favours the citation of articles by physicists who are men over those who are women. The authors go on to propose concrete actions that could help address this citation inequity. At the individual level, they point to tools for assessing the citation diversity statistics of a paper and the inclusion of a Citation Diversity Statement. On a journal level, publishing more papers authored by women might lead to more gender balanced reference lists.


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