Female scientists less likely to get credit in all fields and at every level, research finds

‘Unless you shout or make a strong point, our contributions are often underestimated’

Vishwam Sankaran
Thursday 23 June 2022 18:40 BST
Tory Burch is helping to create opportunities for women in science

Women in science are less likely to receive authorship credit for the work they do than their male counterparts, a new analysis has revealed.

Women are less likely than men to get credit at every position level, with the gap particularly evident at earlier stages of their careers, showed the study, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

Women are also less likely than men to be named on patents related to projects they both worked on with a gap of nearly 60 per cent even while controlling for all factors, said researchers, including those from the US’s New York University (NYU).

They said only 15 out of 100 female graduate students were ever named as authors on documents, compared to 21 out of 100 male graduate students.

In all scientific fields – from ones where they are in the majority, like health, to those where they are the minority, such as engineering – women are less likely to get due credit for their research output, scientists said.

“We have known for a long time that women publish and patent at a lower rate than men. But because previous data never showed who participated in research, no-one knew why,” said study co-author Julia Lane from NYU.

“There were anecdotes – like that of Rosalind Franklin, who was denied authorship in a famous Nature article by James Watson and Francis Crick despite correctly demonstrating the double helix structure of DNA – but there was no evidence,” explained Dr Lane.

In the new study, scientists analysed the Umetrics dataset available through the Institute for Research on Innovation and Science that contained detailed information on sponsored research projects for 52 colleges and universities from 2013 to 2016.

The analysis included data on 128,859 people who worked on 9,778 research teams, including faculty members, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, research staff and undergraduates.

“There is a clear gap between the rate at which women and men are named as coauthors on publications. The gap is strong, persistent, and independent of the research field,” Dr Lane said.

Women are less likely to be listed as authors even on what scientists consider “high-impact” articles, stated the research.

“There should never be a gap in credit between men and women. But you really don’t want a gap on the research that has the biggest impact on a scientific field. That’s a huge source of concern,” said study co-author Bruce Weinberg, from the US’s Ohio State University.

“This is consistent with the Rosalind Franklin anecdote. The gap in attribution will have clear negative affects on the career prospects for women in science. I fear that it will deter young women from pursuing science as a career,” said Dr Lane.

Researchers also included in their analysis a complementary source of data from a survey of over 2,400 scientists.

It revealed that women and other historically marginalised groups often put in significantly more effort for their scientific contributions to be recognised.

Researchers said 43 per cent of women surveyed said they had been excluded from a scientific paper to which they had contributed compared to 38 per cent of men.

Women are also likelier than men to report that others underestimated their contributions and that they faced discrimination, stereotyping and bias, the study noted.

“Being a woman [means] that quite often you contribute in one way or another to science but unless you shout or make a strong point, our contributions are often underestimated,” one survey respondent reportedly said.

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