There's a Stark Gender Gap in Scientific Publishing


Here’s a pretty shocking number: According to a new study, women don’t even account for a full 30 percent of scientific publishing globally. Less than six percent of countries come within spitting distance of parity.

Ars Technica reports that researchers crunched the numbers from papers published between 2008 to 2012, available via the Thomson Reuters Web of Science database. That’s around 5.4 million total. The topics tackled by these papers might seem to outsiders as boring as watching paint dry, but they’re absolutely crucial for advancement in academic settings, where it’s publish or perish.

A particularly telling detail, from the Ars write-up: “When women are the first, last, or sole author on a study, the paper attracts fewer citations than when a man has one of these roles.” That’s important for building up a rep in one’s field.

What’s more, women are often writing in fields already stereotyped as feminine:

The study also found that “care”-related fields such as nursing, midwifery, education, and social work were dominated by women, while men dominated fields such as engineering, robotics, aeronautics, and high-energy physics. Women publish significantly fewer papers in areas of research that require expensive equipment, such as high-energy physics.

The study’s authors attribute the gap to a variety of factors. One is age: Fewer women make it to the upper echelons, because “the academic pipeline from junior to senior faculty leaks female scientists.” There are more old guys around to write more papers, in other words.

If you’re formulating a dudes-are-just-better thesis, by the way, let the researchers stop you right there:

Those of a misogynistic bent might read this study as confirming their view that women’s research is weaker than men’s and there is less of it. Such a simplistic interpretation dismisses the vast implications embedded in these data. Our study lends solid quantitative support to what is intuitively known: barriers to women in science remain widespread worldwide, despite more than a decade of policies aimed at levelling the playing field.

The question is, what are we gonna do about it?

Image via Shutterstock

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