Women are less likely to be credited with authorship on scientific publications than men, suggests an analysis of US data published in Nature. The gender gap in attribution is found across almost all scientific fields and career stages. The findings may help to explain well-documented disparities in the apparent contributions of men and women in the field of science.
Women scientists are observed to publish and patent less than men, and it has been postulated that this might be because women receive less recognition for their scientific contributions. Rosalind Franklin’s initially unacknowledged role in the discovery of the structure of DNA is just one example of these circumstances. Calculating the extent to which women’s contributions have not been credited is challenging, because it is difficult to measure what is not there. Julia Lane and colleagues have taken on this challenge by gathering an extensive dataset of research teams, publications and patents. To verify their findings, they also carried out a survey of scientists.
The authors assessed data on 128,859 individuals from 9,778 teams in the US over a four-year period (including information about their field of research and career stage), and matched the names to 39,426 journal articles and 7,675 patents. They looked at how many people from a team ever become an author and found that women account for only 34.85% of the authors on a team, even though they make up just under half of the workforce (48.25%). Similarly, women were less likely than men to be named on patents. Surveys also revealed that women report that their scientific contributions are less likely to be recognized than those of men, because they believe their work is ignored or not appreciated.
The authors note some important caveats; for example, the data from the research teams studied (from research-intensive universities) might not represent the experience for all researchers. They conclude that at least some of the observed gender gap in scientific output might be due not to differences in scientific contribution, but to differences in attribution.
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